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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.

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At the State Department, officials noted that the first evacuation flight of US citizens from Japan had already left.

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The flight had fewer than one hundred people on it, mostly dependents of US diplomats, said Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy.

“The flight did not leave full,” he said.

The State Department will mount another flight in a day or so if demand warrants, he said. In addition, the US has dispatched a convoy of 14 buses to the area of northeastern Japan slammed by the earthquake and tsunami to try and evacuate US citizens who lack transport to Tokyo.

Wider zone around plant is 'prudent'

At a separate White House briefing, Nuclear Regulatory Commission head Gregory Jaczko said that the US recommendation of a 50-mile exclusion zone around the Fukushima plant remained “prudent” in light of continuing developments. He declined to directly criticize the Japanese government for recommending a smaller zone.

“I would stress that this is a very difficult situation. There’s often conflicting information,” Mr. Jaczko said. On Wednesday Jaczko testified before a congressional subcommittee that radiation levels at the stricken plant remained very high, and that the water in a spent fuel pool at the No. 4 reactor had run dry, contradicting statements by Japanese officials.

The NRC has 11 technical experts in Tokyo working with the Japanese government, Jaczko said Thursday. Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Poneman said his department has dispatched a US Air Force C-17 airlifter with 33 additional experts and 17,000 pounds of equipment.

The Department of Energy has in place in Japan two aircraft-mounted pods that measure the amount of radioactive material that has fallen to the ground, said Mr. Poneman. Those pods, one on a helicopter and one on a fixed-wing aircraft, have already begun making flights.

US collecting own data

So in terms of the US gathering data about what is going on, “It’s not just people talking to people,” Poneman said, alluding to the fact that the US is not depending solely on Japanese officials for data.

NRC chief Jaczko said that given the struggle of the Japanese to bring cooling systems at Fukushima under control it now appears it could be weeks before the crisis eases.

“And that’s why, as I said, we’re continuing to do everything we can to provide assistance to the Japanese as they deal with this situation,” he said.

Japan nuclear crisis: Nuclear terminology 101

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