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Obama seeks to calm US radiation fears, calls for nuclear safety review

Obama, in a Rose Garden appearance, says radiation reaching US soil is not expected to be harmful. He says all is being done to help US citizens in Japan, and calls for a review of US nuclear plant safety.

By Staff writer / March 17, 2011

President Obama makes a statement about Japan following last week's earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear concerns on Thursday, March 17, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington.

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Washington

The United States is doing all it can to protect its citizens in Japan and is rushing support to a Japanese government beset by natural disaster and nuclear crisis, President Obama said Thursday.

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“We are bringing all available resources to bear to closely monitor the situation and to protect American citizens that may be in harm’s way,” said Obama.

Obama also said that he had asked for a comprehensive review of US nuclear plant safety in light of Japanese events. In particular, he’s requested that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission study whether US reactors could withstand once-in-a-lifetime natural events such as the earthquake and tsunami that turned much of Japan’s Fukushima I nuclear complex into a dangerous ruin.

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“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.

The president’s Rose Garden appearance – on a brilliant spring-like day in Washington – came at a time when the US and Japanese governments have issued different warnings as to how far from the Fukushima plant it is safe to be. A lack of status updates from Japan itself may have further added to a sense of confusion about what’s going on.

Thus Obama may have taken a moment to perform one of a president’s primary duties: serve as a voice of calm at a time when some US citizens might be anxious.

Fears that a radioactive plume might drift to the continental US have caused a run on potassium iodide pills, for example, which can offset some health effects of radiation. Obama stressed Thursday that the worry driving those purchases is unfounded.

“We do not expect harmful levels of radiation to reach the West Coast, Hawaii, Alaska, or US territories in the Pacific,” he said.

Obama’s appearance capped a day in which top officials fanned out across Washington to make public statements about the US effort in Japan.

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