Energy secretary defends U.S. nuclear industry
By the CNN Wire Staff
March 16, 2011 9:56 a.m. EDT
Washington (CNN) -- Energy Secretary Steven Chu sought to reassure Congress on Tuesday that America's nuclear power plants are sufficiently protected against the kind of disaster now facing Japan.
He also insisted that, contrary to assertions of many skeptics within the environmental movement and elsewhere, nuclear power needs to play a key role in the development of a more balanced U.S. energy policy.
Chu said federal authorities responsible for overseeing U.S. nuclear plants have accounted for combined earthquake and tsunami scenarios similar to what led to the crisis in Japan.
"The American people 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," Chu told members of a House subcommittee. Officials are "committed to learning from Japan's experience as we work to continue to strengthen America's nuclear industry."
The secretary said that "whenever there is a reactor near a (potential) earthquake site, we look to what's the maximum size of that particular earthquake that geologists (say) can ever happen, and we design considerably above that."
President Barack Obama's fiscal year 2012 budget request includes $36 billion in loan guarantee authority to help spur growth in nuclear industry. The push to expand such power has gained significant momentum in recent years, a reversal in attitudes adopted after the 1979 Three Mile Island disaster in Pennsylvania.
Members of the House panel expressed a need for caution in moving forward with nuclear power but appeared generally supportive of the administration's stance.
"As a country, I can't imagine how we go forward ... if we don't have nuclear in the mix," said Rep. Chakah Fattah, D-Pennsylvania.
Good for them.