Ambassador John V. Roos Speaks to the Press - March 16

U.S. Embassy
March 16, 2011
Tokyo, Japan

AMBASSADOR ROOS: Well, first of all, good afternoon everyone. I just want to start by reiterating that the United States obviously continues to have Japan and the consequences of this tragedy and the victims in our thoughts and prayers, and those who are in the, particularly in the devastated areas, we are thinking of them at this time. We are continuing to have obviously massive search-and-rescue and recovery operations as well as humanitarian support. We know it's as urgent as ever, and I'm very proud of the fact that the United States, our government and its people, are stepping up in countless ways for the Japanese people during this time of need. I also understand that there's a lot of conflicting information out there and we're committed to providing you as much up-to-date information as possible. As you know, it's an evolving situation in areas throughout Japan, but we'll try to get you as up-to-date information on an ongoing basis. I will take several questions today, and as in the past I'm joined by several members of my team here who we can rely on for some of the specifics. In addition, I think as you know, we have significant numbers of experts coming from the United States to help in the humanitarian disaster relief effort, the issues with regard to the nuclear situation, and we will be announcing many of those resources as they come.

First, why don't I just spend a minute giving you a list of some of the new information today. First of all, with regard to the Fukushima nuclear plant, as you know there are two NRC engineers as well as a Department of Health and Human Services radiation emergency specialist, and Department of Energy radiation health hazards experts have been already on the ground since last Saturday. I was just told an additional seven experts from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have arrived in Japan today. In addition, U.S. aerial and ground radiation monitoring equipment and 34 personnel arrived in Japan last night. These personnel have expertise in health physics and airborne and ground-based radiation field monitoring. The equipment includes detectors, data acquisition systems, and health physics kits. In the military support area, we have delivered over 7,000 pounds of food and water to the disaster area and more is on the way. Nine ships are assisting in the relief operations, and helicopters and other aircraft have now flown over 50 missions to conduct survivor recoveries, transport passengers, and distribute food and water supplies in the most needy areas. With regard to some of the other assistance that's being provided by USAID, at this point in time more than 5.8 million dollars of United States aid has come to Japan so far and more is on the way. Urban search-and-rescue teams are working under the instruction of the Japanese and are coordinating with UK and Chinese teams to ensure a coordinated international response. So, this is just obviously a small piece of the incredible resources that the United States is providing to this human tragedy. Again, our thoughts are with the people of Japan in this incredibly difficult and tragic time, and we will continue to provide assistance in any way possible as Japan confronts its enormous challenges in the weeks and months and years ahead. Thank you.

QUESTION: Anthony Rowley, Singapore Business Times. Mr. Ambassador, I've just been at a briefing at the Prime Minister's office given by an official and he said, “We do not expect that there will be a significant increase in radiation levels on the basis of what's happened up till now.” He also said, “At this time, we do not see that those living beyond the 30 km radius need to take further precautionary measures.” My question is: Is that the same assessment that your own U.S. experts have of the situation?

AMBASSADOR ROOS: Well, I would defer – are you talking about the latter half of your question, is it the same? I think with respect to the first part of your question, I would defer to the Prime Minister on that. With regard to the second part of the question, I think that our experts both here on the ground with massive support at the highest levels of the United States have continued to review on a continual basis and have, after careful analysis of the radiation levels and damage assessments of the units at Fukushima, our experts continue to be in agreement - and particularly the NRC statement that came out that they recommended to continue to follow the advice of the Japanese government in this regard.

QUESTION: Ken Moriyasu from Nikkei. Has the Japanese government requested the U.S. military helicopter assistance in pouring coolant or water over the nuclear reactors? And what kind of capabilities would you say that the U.S. military has in this regard?

AMBASSADOR ROOS: Well, we've been consulting with the Japanese on a whole broad range of requirements. I would defer to the Department of Defense with regard to that specific request. Justin Cooper, do you have anything to add to that?

CAPTAIN JUSTIN COOPER: These types of requests for specialized equipment are all being coordinated through our bilateral joint operations center in Yokota Air Base by USFJ.

QUESTION: Satoru Suzuki with TV Asahi. I'm following up on the previous question. You're not sure that you have received such request for helicopter operations from the government of Japan?

AMBASSADOR ROOS: I would just refer to Captain Cooper's response on that.

QUESTION: On Monday, the Seventh Fleet repositioned their ships, including the USS Ronald Reagan, away from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. In the wake of the further radiation from the nuclear power plant, have you moved your ships farther away?

AMBASSADOR ROOS: Justin, do you want to take that? With regard to the first question, the first part, I want to reemphasize that Admiral Willard stated that those were precautionary measures and I would refer you to the statement that came out in the Defense Department with regard to the rationale for that. Captain Cooper?

QUESTION: Where's the Essex?

AMBASSADOR ROOS: You got away with an extra one.

CAPTAIN JUSTIN COOPER: I don't think I heard your third question.

AMBASSADOR ROOS: Where's the Essex?

CAPTAIN JUSTIN COOPER: Right, the Essex is on its way. It should arrive tomorrow, bringing critical supplies, men, and equipment, and those will be moved into the area as soon as possible.

MODERATOR: The second question, Captain Cooper, was in regard to the repositioning.

CAPTAIN JUSTIN COOPER: The reposition of the Navy ships, I really can't comment on that, but you can go to the Seventh Fleet of the U.S. Navy and they can provide those justifications.

QUESTION: Matt Frei from the BBC. Has the U.S. deployed its own radiation detection equipment because you're trying to help the Japanese, or you don't trust the data they're giving you? And also, what is your advice to American citizens at the moment, regarding the nuclear question?

AMBASSADOR ROOS: Well, I already answered the question with regard to the advice to the American citizens and that is with regard to the guidelines that are provided by the Japanese, the NRC is in concurrence with it. Let me see specifically. The Japanese are recommending a 20 km radius for evacuation and additional shelter-in- place recommendations out to 30 km. What was the second question again?

QUESTION: [inaudible]

AMBASSADOR ROOS: No, it's not. We're deploying all these capabilities because there is a crisis going on and it's important to provide as much assistance to the Japanese as possible, and in addition we have our own citizens here in Japan. Their health and safety is obviously our highest concern, so the bottom line is it's not a matter of a lack of trust in the data that's being provided, but the fact that we have these tremendous capabilities that we are deploying here to Japan.

QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, Jun Kaminishikawara with Kyodo News. French government and American think tanks are assessing the incident of the Fukushima nuclear power plant reactor as ‘class 6,' just below the Chernobyl. Is that the same as the American experts' assessing? And also, French government is considering to send special flight to evacuate, for evacuation from Tokyo. How do you think about that?

AMBASSADOR ROOS: Well, I think the French have to, every country has to make its own decision in that regard, and I respect the French. And they've made their independent judgment. The United States will continue to make its judgment, which is based on the primary importance of the health and safety of the American citizens in Japan. That will continue to be our number-one objective, and we will do anything we feel necessary in order to protect their health and safety. With regard to the first part of the question, I'd have to refer you to the NRC, and the analysis they apply in this type of situation.

QUESTION: Martin Williams from IDG. I wonder if you could tell me a little bit about the mood of American citizens in Tokyo. We're hearing reports of a lot of people at Narita Airport, on the Shinkansens, at the immigration center. Have you been getting a lot of calls? Are your words of reassurance, do you think, being heard? Or do you think there's a danger of some sort of panic amongst the foreign residents, particularly the Americans? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR ROOS: Well, I'll give you my take on the question. Obviously, American citizens, like all citizens, like all people in Japan and throughout the world, are concerned right now. There is concern, and it's only natural. With regard to specific calls we're receiving, why don't I call on Paul Fitzgerald, who is our Consul General here in the Embassy.

CONSUL GENERAL FITZGERALD: We have, since Friday, received a large number of calls, both here at the Embassy, at our five constituent posts around Japan, and to the Department of State from U.S. citizens concerned about their own welfare and whereabouts, and in many cases from concerned relatives and friends in the United States about individuals here in Japan. Is there another part?

QUESTION: The mood?

CONSUL GENERAL FITZGERALD: The mood? Again, people are calling with concerns, but I would call it just a concern at this point. We've seen nothing beyond that.

QUESTION: Hideki Yui, NHK Japan Broadcasting Corporation. I have a couple of follow-up questions on the USS Essex. The USS Essex and the other two amphibious ships were supposed to arrive in Sendai port, but because of the radioactivity concerns, they moved to the east of sea. And I'm wondering, if that's true, your assessment is different from the Japanese assessment, because Sendai port is pretty far away from Fukushima nuclear power plant. And my second question is, the mission of the 31st MEU, the mission of the 31st MEU was supposed to clean up Sendai Airport. Because of the destination change, has the mission been changed or not?

AMBASSADOR ROOS: I would refer to Captain Cooper with regard to that.

CAPTAIN COOPER: I would direct you mostly to U.S. Forces, Japan to answer the specifics of that question. But I can tell you that they're looking to bring the equipment and the men in as soon as possible, in the most efficient way and the safest way, the quickest way they can get that equipment to the areas affected. So they're looking at that. And that's why they changed the location, it's to better support the Ground Self-Defense Forces in their role and response.

QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, Nao Tase from TBS. I have a question about the situation in Fukushima. What are the specific, can you be more specific about the measures that you are discussing with the Japanese government in order to handle the situation in Fukushima? And what will be the standard to move your fleet further away from what's happening in Fukushima?

AMBASSADOR ROOS: When you say, 'our fleet'?

QUESTION: Your fleet. Your ships, further away from where they are now.

AMBASSADOR ROOS: I think Captain Cooper already answered the second part of the question. With regard to the first part of the question, it's basically, we have our experts at the NRC, the Department of Energy, throughout our entire government, analyzing the data, consulting not only among themselves but with experts that have significant expertise in addressing the different complexities of this complex problem. So I think that you can't point to one determination or standard that the United States government is applying. The NRC has come out with a statement. I would refer you to the NRC. The NRC has come out with recommendations. I would refer you to their statement. But I don't think that, well, the bottom line is, it's a very complex set of decisions that involves significant numbers of people and data.

QUESTION: I am Iwata, Sankei Newspaper. I'd like to ask about the nuclear plant. Did the Japanese government give any request to U.S. nuclear experts?


QUESTION: Any request, any request?

AMBASSADOR ROOS: Any request? We have been in consultation – well, first, I should emphasize that the Japanese government has significant expertise – and that's probably an understatement saying ‘significant,' they're one of the most experienced countries in the world with regard to nuclear power and nuclear power plants. The United States government also has significant and massive expertise in the nuclear area that we have offered and made available to the Japanese. I think it's important to state that this is a Japanese nuclear power plant, and they are obviously the ones that are taking the lead and are responsible for addressing the issues that are faced at Fukushima right now. But the United States has and will continue to provide any support it can in continuing to address the issues as they have arisen.

QUESTION: Mary Kay Magistad from the BBC Public Radio International program “ The World.” Two questions: first of all, is there anything that the equipment or the experts coming in from the U.S. related to radiation detection, is there anything they can do that the Japanese already on the ground can't? Is there a complementarity, an enhancement of ability to figure out the situation, that the U.S. team brings? And secondly, what is your current advice to Embassy staff and their families in terms of staying in Tokyo regarding the level of radiation?

AMBASSADOR ROOS: Well, with regard to anything special about the equipment, I'd have to refer you to the experts. I mean, I think that the way that the United States has approached this issue, the overall issue of the earthquake, the tsunami, and the Fukushima plant, is to mobilize significant resources to be here in Japan, both for the United States citizens as well as obviously to confront the major issues that Japan is dealing with. And whether or not there is duplication in some of the capabilities, you know, is not really that important. Because what's most important is that we have the resources here, as things develop here in Japan, to confront the issues that are coming up, that have come up and will come up. And we're trying to, obviously, and our government is trying to anticipate future contingencies. So we will continue to provide that level of support here in Japan. With regard to what we're advising the American citizens, again I'd point back to the NRC guidance, and I would refer you to that. Obviously we're spending a lot of time with our employees here at the Embassy, because this is a difficult time for everyone in Japan. There have been horrible tragedies. There's the earthquake, there's the aftershocks. And this is something that is deeply felt by everyone in this country, whether you are an American or Japanese. And so, this is a time not only for our two countries and the international community to pull together to address this human tragedy, but it's an important time in our Embassy community to continue to, as we work 24 by 7, to address the tragedies here. It is a time for us to pull together and be with one another, and support each other as these days and weeks go on.

MODERATOR: We've run out of time for this session. Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. We will try to establish another time and place for the next update of information for the briefing, so please stay in touch with us and we'll send that information out. Thank you.