USS Reagan captain said crew exposed to radiation only once - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

USS Reagan captain said crew exposed to radiation only once off Japan

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The crew of the San Diego-based aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan was exposed to radiation once during relief efforts off earthquake and tsunami-ravage Japan, the ship's commanding officer said Monday.

Capt. Thom Burke spoke to area media representatives in a conference call from the western Pacific Ocean, where the ship just completed an exercise with the Indian Navy.

Radiation from a damaged nuclear reactor passed over the ship shortly after it arrived off the northern coast of Honshu following the 9.0-magnitude earthquake on March 11, but the flattop was repositioned to avoid further contamination, Burke said.

"I do want people to understand that we didn't have any health concerns," he said. "It was ruled completely safe."

Since the Reagan is a nuclear-powered ship, its sailors take radiation concerns seriously and have a lot of sensitive monitoring equipment aboard, Burke said.

Right after the exposure took place, he worried they would have to deal with it daily, but that turned out not to be the case.

"The crew is fine," Burke said.

The bigger problem has been cleaning dust from shipboard equipment, a process that is ongoing, he said.

The Reagan left San Diego Feb. 2 for a regularly scheduled deployment, along with the cruiser USS Chancellorsville and destroyer USS Preble. They were just 800 miles off Honshu when the earthquake and resulting tsunami hit, according to the captain.

"Early on, our mindset was we're going to go get in there and help these people and get the job done," said Burke, who noted that Japan is the closest ally of the United States in the Pacific region.

Burke said most of the crew remained aboard ship, leaving the helicopter crews to witness the damage and interact with Japanese civilians.

"I flew in one day and witnessed the devastation," Burke said. "One picture doesn't get you there. You have to see the panorama of destruction."

He called the sight "amazing" and "tragic."

The Reagan will continue operating in the area, and the waters off the Middle East, over the next few months and will return to San Diego sometime in the late summer or early fall, he said.

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