US troops banned from area around nuclear plant

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House is advising Americans in the area around a crippled Japanese nuclear plant to follow more stringent safety precautions than those set by the Japanese government.

The U.S. is recommending its citizens stay 50 miles away from the nuclear plant because of the risk of radiation exposure, while Japan is recommending people stay 20 miles away.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday it was clear that the situation in Japan is “deteriorating and fast-moving.” He sidestepped questions about whether the new U.S. recommendations signaled a lack of confidence in the Japanese government’s handling of the crisis.

“I will not from here judge the Japanese evaluation,” Carney said. “It is simply a separate analysis based on American standards.”

U.S. military relief crews near the troubled Fukushima Dai-ichi facility are receiving anti-radiation pills before missions to areas of possible radiation exposure, the Pentagon said Wednesday.

With the arrival of three more ships to the massive humanitarian mission, there were 17,000 sailors and Marines afloat on 14 vessels in waters off Japan, Defense Department spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said. He didn’t have the number of U.S. forces participating from other service branches.

The operation is fraught with challenges, mainly how to continue to provide help amid some low-level releases of radiation from the facility, which officials fear could be facing a meltdown.

Lapan said U.S. forces can’t go within 50 miles of the troubled plant without approval and that no one has yet been given approval. And the Navy has begun giving potassium iodide pills to helicopter crews that might be flying relief supplies or other missions into other areas where exposure is a risk.

Previously, only two people who had been exposed were given the pills, which can prevent the radioactive iodine type of radiation from being taken up by the thyroid gland.

Weather also temporarily hampered some relief plans on Wednesday. Pilots couldn’t fly helicopters off the deck of aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan until late afternoon because of poor visibility. The 7th Fleet said 15 flights with relief supplies were launched from the eight-ship carrier group, about half as many as the 29 flights reported the previous day to deliver food, water, blankets and other supplies.

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