Speaking less than a week after a 9.0 earthquake and accompanying tsunami devastated northeastern Japan and provoked a nuclear crisis, President Obama sought to reassure Americans on Thursday saying that "I want to be very clear we do not expect harmful levels of radiation to reach the United States."
Obama said that included the West Coast, Hawaii, Alaska, and U.S. territories in the Pacific. He did say that the U.S. government continues to believe a 50-mile evacuation zone near the disabled reactors is wise. The Japanese government has ordered only a 12-mile evacuation.
The president added that he'd asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to conduct a full review of American nuclear safety.
For any Americans considering rushing out to buy medical supplies, Obama said "the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health experts do not recommend that people in the United States take precautionary measures beyond staying informed."
Obama did not back off his support of nuclear power, which the president called "an important part of our own energy future, along with renewable sources like wind, solar, natural gas, and clean coal. Our nuclear power plants have undergone exhaustive studying and have been declared safe for any number of extreme contingencies."
The president noted other American efforts to help Japan: "Search and rescue teams are on the ground in Japan to help the recovery effort. A disaster assistance and response team is working to confront the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami. The military, which has helped to ensure the security of Japan for decades, is working around the clock. To date, we've flown hundreds of missions to support the recovery efforts and distributed thousands of pounds of food and water to the Japanese people. We've also deployed some of our leading experts to help contain the damage at Japan's nuclear reactors. We're sharing with them expertise, equipment and technology so that the courageous responders on the scene have the benefit of American teamwork and support."
On Wednesday, the president enlisted charter flights to begin the voluntary evacuation of American government personnel in northeastern Japan. The first of those flights left on Thursday.
Obama billed Thursday's Rose Garden statement as an "update," and it's safe to say the president is likely to continue to address the Japan crisis even as he departs tomorrow for a long-scheduled visit to Central and South America. The White House has been eager to display its efforts to help Japan. Earlier on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney led his briefing with comments from Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Poneman and Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko.