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U.S. nuclear panel urged to give daily Japan updates

By Ayesha Rascoe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. lawmaker on Friday called on the top U.S. nuclear regulator to provide daily briefings assessing the nuclear crisis in Japan to ensure the public is getting accurate assessments of the situation.

U.S. Representative Edward Markey said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission needs to provide more details about what the commission's experts in Japan have observed as they assist in the response to the nuclear disaster.

"I believe that it is vitally important to all those who may be considering leaving the vicinity of the impacted reactors to be receiving an accurate and unbiased written assessment of current conditions," Markey said in a letter to NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko.

Japan is struggling to prevent a catastrophic meltdown at the country's Fukushima nuclear complex, which was critically damaged by a devastating earthquake and a tsunami last week.

The U.S. nuclear commission on Friday sent a notice to U.S. nuclear plants describing its assessment of the events that led to the crisis in Japan. The nuclear plants are expected to review the information and consider taking actions to avoid similar issues, the commission said.

Markey asked in his letter that the commission issue daily reports including its evaluation of conditions at the damaged reactors and radiation readings. He also asked to be provided with the commission's analysis of worst-case scenarios.

The nuclear crisis in Japan, which is now rated at least as bad as America's Three Mile Island in 1979, has sparked fears about the spread of radiation to the United States. The commission has said it does not expect any harmful levels of radiation to reach U.S. shores.

On Friday, the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency confirmed "minuscule" amounts of radiation that appeared to have come from Japan's damaged reactors were detected in Sacramento, California.

The agencies also said between March 16 and 17 trace amounts of radiation that may have come from Japan were detected in Washington state.

They said the radiation amounted to one-millionth of the dose rate that a person normally receives from natural sources such as rocks, bricks and the sun. No radiation levels of concern have been detected in the United States, according to the agencies.

Separately, a coalition of environmental and public advocacy groups on Friday asked the White House to release information about radioactive contamination coming from the crippled nuclear station.

The groups, including the Sierra Club and Public Citizen, also asked the Obama administration to set up an interagency entity to report all information about radiation releases inside and outside Japan.

(Editing by Bill Trott)

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