The US military on Wednesday ordered a Marine unit specializing in emergency nuclear response to deploy to Japan to assist local authorities in addressing the massive crisis, officials said.
Some 155 Marines from the service's Chemical Biological Incident Response Force are scheduled to leave the United States on Thursday and arrive in Japan Friday, a US defense official told AFP.
The CBIRF team, trained in identifying chemical agents, monitoringradiation levels and decontaminating personnel, would not participate in the frenzied efforts to stabilized the reactors of the FukushimaDaiichi nuclear plant, crippled by a huge earthquake and tsunami on March 11.
It was also hit by several explosions, triggering fears of a catastrophic meltdown as radiation has wafted into the air and seeped intothe ocean.
US military personnel are currently barred from penetrating a 50-mile (80-kilometer) radius around the stricken plant, far exceeding the 12-mile (20-kilometer) exclusion zone imposed by the Japanese government.
Another military official characterized the deployment as "prudentplanning," a precautionary move to have the Marines on hand if needed, not an emergency.
The team is "an initial response force," the official added, because it is only one part of the larger CBIRF unit based at the Indian Head Naval Surface Warfare Center in Maryland.
"They would provide radiological expertise to the on-scene commander and, if needed, to the JSDF (Japan Self-Defense Forces) in the areas of medical, logistical, chemical, biological, nuclear and hazardous materials," the official said.
The unit is specially trained to counter the fallout from a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive (CBRNE)incident, usually assisting local, state or federal agencies in their response.
On March 17, Admiral Robert Willard, who is overseeing American military assistance after Japan's earthquake and tsunami, said 450 radiological and disaster specialists were awaiting orders to deploy as Japanese teams tried to cool fuel rods in reactors at the damaged Fukushima plant.
Rear Admiral Scott Swift, director of operations at US Pacific Command, said that around 15,000 US personnel were taking part in the round-the-clock relief operations since the disaster began as part of amission dubbed Operation Tomodachi, or "friend."
The United States stations some 47,000 troops in Japan, a close USally which lies near the tense Taiwan Strait and Korean peninsula.
The US military says it has taken more than 50,000 tons of fuel and 650 tons of cargo to areas of northern Japan hit by the earthquake,which has killed more than 11,000 people and left over 16,000 othersmissing.