President Obama acknowledged in an interview with CBS station KDKA Tuesday that there are risks to nuclear energy - even as his administration maintains in the wake of the disaster in Japan that nuclear plants in the United States are safe.
"Nuclear plants are designed to withstand certain levels of earthquakes, but having said that, nothing's completely failsafe, nothing is completely foolproof, and so each time these kinds of events happen, I think it's very important for us to examine how we can further improve the safety and performance of these plants," he said.
The president said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which regulates nuclear power in the United States, is constantly monitoring seismic activity for earthquake risks. He added that the NRC "thinks through all eventualities" when assessing risk.
"Obviously, all energy sources have their downside - I mean we saw that with the gulf spill last summer," he said. "But I do think it's important for us to think through constantly how can we improve nuclear technologies to deal with additional safety concerns that people have."
On Tuesday morning, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in testimony before Congress that Americans "should have full confidence that the United States has rigorous safety regulations in place to ensure that our nuclear power is generated safely and responsibly."
The United States gets 20 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, making it by far the country's leading source of energy that does not contribute to greenhouse gasses.
In the KDKA interview, Mr. Obama was also asked if he was worried that radiation from Japan would reach U.S. shores. The president responded that he is not.
"I'm deeply worried about radiation effects in Japan," he said. "Obviously, first of all, our hearts go out to the people of Japan. They are dealing with a triple whammy - the earthquake, the tsunami, and now this nuclear accident. So we're providing them all the support that we can. We want to make sure that they know that we have their backs and are one of our closest allies and closest friends."
"And there are some dangers for radiation release that could affect the immediate vicinity of nuclear plants and potentially could drift over other parts of Japan," he continued, "but I've been assured that it - any nuclear release dissipates by the time it gets even to Hawaii, much less the mainland of the United States."
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