The USS Ronald Reagan is in the news because several dozen crewmembers of the Reagan are trying to sue TEPCO, the Tokyo Electric Power Corporation, for concealing the radiation release and thereby damaging their health (unsurprisingly, members of the armed services are precluded from suing the US military for damage to their health, so redress must be sought elsewhere). I try to tiptoe between the two extremes of radiation alarmism and, I guess, radio-blasé-ism, but in the end I come down on the side that the contamination was pretty serious. The Ronald Reagan was caught in a washout. As the Fukushima plume was passing overhead, a snowstorm brought radioactive nasties down to the ship, and the water surrounding the ship.
The “nothing to see here” position is that the Reagan was exposed to the equivalent of an extra few weeks of background radiation. Trouble is, washed-out fallout isn’t distributed in a neat, uniform radioactive haze. It’s lumpy, sticky, filled with hot particles, and prone to “hot spots.” It is not terribly reassuring to Sailor A that measured radioactive contamination is averaging out to a gentle buzz if he or she is worried about standing on or next to a hot spot. The USS Ronald Reagan spent a couple months at sea after contamination trying to clean itself up; then, according to a lawyer for the sailors claiming injury, it was decontaminated at a port in Washington state for another year and a half before returning to service.