President Obama just made his first public remarks since Friday on the unfolding crisis in Japan, and the state of America’s own nuclear industry. Much of his statement amounted to an expression of sympathy and solidarity. “Disasters like this remind us of our common humanity,” Obama said.
But the crux of Obama’s appearance was likely his explicit assurance that Americans needn’t panic over the still-spiraling catastrophe at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. “We do not expect harmful levels of radiation to reach the United States,” Obama said (that includes Hawaii, Alaska and American territories). There’s no reason for Americans to take “precautionary measures beyond staying informed,” he added–presumably including the hoarding of potassium iodide pills. (Too much of the alarming news coverage from Japan has failed, I think, to make this point as clear as it could be, and it appears that the White House agrees: Obama repeated this part of his statement in full for emphasis.)
Obama also assured that U.S. nuclear plants “have undergone exhaustive study and been declared safe for any number of extreme contingencies,” though he is ordering a Nuclear Regulatory Commission review of plant safety. That’s not a prelude to putting the brakes on nuclear power, though, which Obama called “an important part of our own energy future.”
Ultimately, what may have been most interesting is what Obama didn’t say. He did not express any frustration with the Japanese government or the Fukushima plant’s owners, who are not proving to be completely reliable sources of information. Not did he indicate whether he’s aware of any scenario under which the U.S. might, in fact, encounter harmful radiation. (Most experts seem to call it very unlikely. I’m not sure whether they rule it out entirely.)
As Obama walked back into the White House, a reporter shouted a question about Libya. (The U.N. Security Council is scheduled to vote on a no-fly zone resolution at 6pm today.) The president ignored it. It tells you something that, in a certain sense, the crisis in Japan may be the easier subject for him to address.