Reporting from Washington — The threat to the United States of a meltdown at a Japanese nuclear plant is minimal, the chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Monday.
Speaking at the White House, Gregory Jaczko said there is "a very low probability" of harmful radiation levels affecting any U.S. territories, and that the government is providing technical assistance to Japanese officials in response to the crisis at Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant.
"Right now, based on the information we have, we believe that the steps that the Japanese are taking to respond to this crisis are consistent with the approach that we would use here in the United States," Jaczko said. "We advise Americans in Japan to listen to and to follow the instructions of the Japanese government with regard to the nuclear facilities."
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that President Obama has been briefed multiple times since Friday's earthquake and tsunami. The White House counter-terrorism advisor, John Brennan, is coordinating the administration's response.
Officials also told reporters that the U.S. is well-equipped to respond to events like the one in Japan. The government reviewed its readiness to deal with natural disasters in the wake of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
"We believe we have a very solid and strong regulatory infrastructure in place right now," Jaczko said.
Amid calls for a moratorium on construction of any new domestic plants, Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman said nuclear power must be considered as part of any energy strategy. He said 20% of all U.S. energy comes from nuclear power, and it accounts for 70% of all carbon-free energy.
"We do see nuclear power as continuing to play an important role in building a low-carbon future. But be assured that we will take the safety aspect of that as our paramount concern," he said.
Two experts from the NRC are on the ground in Japan, primarily working with the U.S. Embassy there and also keeping in contact with their Japanese counterparts. The United States stands prepared to offer additional support as requested, the officials said.
Monday brought not only continued concern over loss of life and the threat of a nuclear meltdown, but questions over whether the Japanese economy can withstand the devastating blow of multiple disasters. Carney said Obama has "full confidence in the capacity of Japan to address the economic challenges."