I've seen many articles online that talk about radioactive snow falling on the Reagan after the Tohoku tsunami and Fukushima disaster, from the NY Post and shakier sources like Liberty Voice. TYT had a newspiece on it as well, which sounded like it was thinly sourced from an article like the aforementioned (of which there are many clones).

The picture often associated is of "sailors cleaning snow off the deck", because I guess white stuff is snow (like cancer and fungus), despite it looking suspiciously like foam.

Crew members scrub contaminated snow off the deck of USS Ronald Reagan in March 2011 during a humanitarian mission off tsunami-stricken Japan.

Photo: Getty Images

Did snow actually fall on the Reagan, and if so, how much? Was there enough for "snowball fights", or is this a mix of a lawyer's statement, severely misinterpreted photo, and fear of the invisible?

  • 6
    And surely H&S would let them sweep radioactive snow without proper protection. And have a photographer sit on the radioactive stuff to take a picture from a cool angle...
    – nico
    Jul 3, 2014 at 7:41
  • 3
    The average temperature of the prefecture doesn't fall below 0C in January, much less March (when the min goes above 0, too). This is despite counting a nice mountain range in the interior where it can get to -16 or so (my pipes froze)! For reference, the nuclear plant is located farther south than San Francisco. I'm actually more curious how snow would become radioactive in the first place; that would suggest the entire water cycle was compromised, which would be a worse problem. Jul 3, 2014 at 12:44
  • @Clockwork-Muse I can't confirm what the weather was like off the coast, but it was a rather nice day (13C or so) at Yokota AB, about 100 miles or so south. Well, except for the whole earth-wobbling thing, that wasn't so nice.
    – Is Begot
    Jul 3, 2014 at 13:06
  • @Clockwork-Muse 3/16/2001: "Workers desperately trying to cool overheating nuclear reactors had to pull out from the Fukushima plant in Japan today amid a surge in radiation, as snow moved into the tsunami-hit region and made the search for survivors even tougher." metro.co.uk/2011/03/16/…
    – DavePhD
    Apr 7, 2016 at 15:35
  • Keep in mind that combatting NBC contamination is something sailors do routinely (or to be more precise, are trained to do routinely). A major source of NBC contamination for ships is a nuclear bomb that hits the water (but misses them). Sodium in salt water has a high neutron capture rate and becomes Sodium-24, a whole lot nastier than Cs137. And of course the explosion kicks it up into the atmosphere where it comes down as fallout or rain. NBC=Nuclear, Biological, Chemical. Apr 30, 2019 at 16:02

2 Answers 2


No, there is no evidence to support the claim that radioactive snow fell on the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). The photo in question was released by the US Navy with the ID 110323-N-DM338-142 and the following original caption,

PACIFIC OCEAN (March 23, 2011) Sailors scrub the flight deck aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) following a countermeasure wash down to decontaminate the flight deck while the ship is operating off the coast of Japan. Sailors scrubbed the external surfaces on the flight deck and island superstructure to remove potential radiation contamination. Ronald Reagan is operating off the coast of Japan providing humanitarian assistance as directed in support of Operation Tomodachi. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Nicholas A. Groesch/Released)

Operation Tomodachi was part of the US relief efforts following the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and other photos from the same time period such as 110323-N-IC111-533, 110323-N-IC111-436, and 110323-N-DM338-113 (included below) all make the same reference to scrubbing down the deck.

US Navy Sailors scrubbing down the deck ID 10323-N-DM338-113

  • 1
    Have I understood this?: The white stuff is sudsy foam, not snow. They are worried about radioactive contamination and are scrubbing the deck to avoid it, but not in snow form.
    – Oddthinking
    Jul 3, 2014 at 16:30
  • 3
    @Oddthinking Correct, most likely they look like they are dressed for the cold because it looks like they are wearing modified CBRN gear.
    – rjzii
    Jul 3, 2014 at 17:05
  • @rjzii it's not NBC gear, it's normal cold weather gear.
    – jwenting
    May 2, 2019 at 4:36

enter image description here

The March 17, 2011 article Snow Slows Local Sailors' Efforts in Japan shows the above photo and says:

Poor weather conditions hampered San Diego based Sailors’ relief efforts in Japan on Wednesday.

The Black Knights Anti-Submarine helicopter squadron, assigned to aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan ....

“It is one of the first times for many that it is snowing at sea, hope you are enjoying the SoCal weather,” the CMC [Command Master Chief] said.


One of the helicopters assigned to Preble tested positive for radioactivity. According to Cahill, the contamination was cleaned up with soap and water.


The USS Preble contamination case is one of 17 detected among USS Reagan Carrier Strike Group (CSG) crewmembers.

On an official US military website it is stated: 7th Fleet observes moment of silence, reflects on Operation Tomodachi says:

March 17: Although snow and poor visibility hampered helicopter operations, helicopters from the USS Ronald Reagan strike group and Carrier Air Wing Five in Atsugi conducted 10 helicopter sorties, delivering about 10 tons of HA/DR supplies.

Additionally, in the NY Post article in the OP, Lindsay Cooper states as an eyewitness aboard the USS Ronald Reagan that it did snow.

Also, months before the articles in the OP, Roger Witherspoon reported in The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 11, Issue 12, No. 1. March 25, 2013, in the article Lasting Legacy of the Fukushima Rescue Mission: Cat and Mouse with a Nuclear Ghost 福島救援活動の永続する遺産—核の幽霊といたち ごっこ:

Up on the captain’s bridge it became clear that the ship was contaminated. It had snowed and sailors had a snowball fight – till the sensors revealed that the snow itself was contaminated, having scrubbed skies of radioactive particulates.

So, while in the photograph in the OP the white stuff is soap suds, yes it did snow on the Ronald Reagan carrier group at the time of the Fukushima disaster and there was radioactive contamination which was attempted to be removed with soapy water.

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