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Obama urges review of U.S. nuclear plants, reassures Americans on radiation from Japan

In televised remarks from the Rose Garden, President Obama says he has requested a 'comprehensive review' of nuclear plant safety in the U.S. and stressed that 'we do not expect' harmful levels of radiation from Japan to reach the U.S. or its Pacific territories.

March 17, 2011|By Christi Parsons and Michael Muskal | Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Washington and Los Angeles — President Obama called for a comprehensive review of U.S. nuclear plant safety  on Thursday and sought to reassure Americans that they face no radiation danger from a damaged nuclear power plant in Japan.

In televised remarks from the Rose Garden,  Obama again pledged  to help Japan deal with its on-going nuclear and humanitarian crises caused by last week’s 9.0 magnitude earthquake that struck off the coast and sent a tsunami racing across the Pacific Ocean. The quake also damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility, sending radiation across the ocean.

"I want to be very clear: We do not expect harmful levels of radiation to reach the United States, whether it’s the West Coast, Hawaii, Alaska, or U.S. territories in the Pacific," Obama said. "Let me repeat that: We do not expect harmful levels of radiation to reach the West Coast, Hawaii, Alaska, or U.S. territories in the Pacific. That is the judgment of our Nuclear Regulatory Commission and many other experts."

He said precautionary measures against the coming radiation were unneeded, an unspoken reference to a run on iodine tablets in some areas caused by people worried about radiation sickness.

Obama defended U.S.. efforts which have included evacuating dependents and urging Americans within a 50-mile zone from the plant to leave. That is more than the Japanese government initially ordered. “We have a responsibility to take prudent measures,” the president said.

The United States remains committed to nuclear power as part of a mix of energy sources,

"Here at home, nuclear power is also an important part of our own energy future, along with renewable sources like wind, solar, natural gas and clean coal," the president said. "Our nuclear power plants have undergone exhaustive study, and have been declared safe for any number of extreme contingencies.

"But when we see a crisis like the one in Japan, we have a responsibility to learn from this event, and to draw from those lessons to ensure the safety and security of our people," Obama said. "That’s why I’ve asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to do a comprehensive review of the safety of our domestic nuclear plants in light of the natural disaster that unfolded in Japan."

As he has before, Obama said he was heartbroken by Japan’s difficulties and offered to help the ally deal with its humanitarian needs in the wake of the quake. Earlier, he paid an unannounced visit to Japan’s Embassy, where he signed the condolence book.

 “My heart goes out to the people of Japan during this enormous tragedy,” the president wrote.”Please know that America will always stand by one of its greatest allies during this time of need. Because of the strength and wisdom of its people, we know that Japan will recover, and indeed will emerge stronger than ever. And as it recovers, the memory of those who have been lost will remain in our hearts, and will serve only to strengthen the relationship between our two countries. May God bless the people of Japan.”

The president signed his name, adding “March 2011” after his signature, according to press pool reports.

“We are doing everything we can to stand by our great friend and ally, Japan, in this hour of need,” Obama told reporters.

“We are so grateful to the president and the people of the United States,” said Japan’s ambassador to the United States, Ichiro Fujisaki.

Michael.muskal@latimes.com

cparsons@latimes.com

Parsons reported from Washington and Muskal from Los Angeles

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