President Obama reassured Americans Thursday that radiation from Japan's damaged nuclear plants poses no threat to this country, but added that he has ordered safety reviews of U.S. nuclear facilities.
"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 in an address from the Rose Garden. "That is the judgment of our Nuclear Regulatory Commission and many other experts."
Americans do not need to take any precautions against radiation contamination "beyond staying informed" of what's happening in Japan.
Update: On Saturday, Japanese officials said higher than normal levels of radiation were found in milk and spinach at farms up to 90 miles away from the damaged nuclear reactors, the New York Times
The death toll from the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunamis and aftershocks that struck northern Japan on Friday stood at more than 5,000. Another 10,000 people are still missing.
The disaster damaged four nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi facility, and officials fear dangerous levels of radiation will be released into the atmosphere. On Thursday, emergency personnel worked desperately to douse the overheated No. 3 reactor, using helicopters, heavy-duty fire trucks and water cannons to cool it with water.
The AP reported that Japanese and U.S. concerns were increasingly focusing on the pools used to store spent nuclear fuel: Some of the pools are dry or nearly empty and the rods could heat up and spew radiation.
At the embassy, he signed a condolence book, writing: "My heart goes out to the people of Japan during this enormous tragedy. 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."
In his address, the president called nuclear power an important part of America's energy future. He said that while our existing nuclear facilities "have undergone exhaustive study" and have been deemed safe under a number of rigorous tests, "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.
"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."
America has sent personnel and tons of relief supplies to its close ally, the president said. The U.S. military is working around the clock there, and has sent some of its top nuclear 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."
Obama urged the American people to continue their generosity toward the Japanese people, saying anyone who wants to lend a hand should go to usaid.gov for information.
The president ended his address on a note of optimism. "Above all, I am confident that Japan will recover and rebuild because of the strength and spirit of the Japanese people. Over the last few days, they've opened up their homes to one another. They've shared scarce resources of food and water. They've organized shelters, provided free medical care, and looked out for their most vulnerable citizens. One man put it simply: 'It's a Japanese thing. When hard times hit, we have to help each other.'"