In testimony today before a Congressional subcommittee, Energy Secretary Steven Chu stood behind the U.S.’s nuclear energy industry, reiterating the administration’s commitment to diversifying the nations energy portfolio. That means a lot of things like wind, solar, and natural gas, Chu said. It also means more nuclear.
Speaking to the energy and water subcommittee of the House appropriations committee today, Chu said that administration is also committed to learning from Japan’s experiences during its ongoing nuclear crisis. But he declined to speculate on whether Japan’s disaster would put the kibosh on America’s nuclear ambitions, saying it’s too early to tell.
American nuclear power development ceased after the 1979 “partial meltdown” event at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, where a mix of design flaws, mechanical failures, and human errors allowed reactor coolant to escape the facility. But nuclear has experienced a resurgence of late, and the President’s 2012 budget calls for $36 billion in loan guarantees to spur growth in the field. Nuclear energy is seen as a key technology to bridge the gap between a carbon-based and a green economy.
Chu took the opportunity to bolster assurances made earlier by the White House that America’s nuclear reactors are safe, and that the one-two punch (earthquake followed by tsunami) that compromised the Fukushima Daiichi reactors in Japan couldn’t cause a similar disaster here.
That’s all well and good, but it does contradict what some nuclear experts have been saying this week. The Union of Concerned Scientists has been holding daily pressers since Monday, and not only have experts there pointed out that the U.S. has 23 of the same GE Mark 1 containment systems deployed at nuclear facilities around the country–that’s the same design used at Fukushima Daiichi–but also that in a situation where both the primary and secondary power sources fail, the majority of American nuke plants have half the backup battery power that Fukushima Daiichi had (Japan had eight hours of reserve battery power on hand; most American plants have four).
We don’t bring this up to be alarmist or to stoke the fear machine, but to point out that even at home in good old, safe America there are safety and regulatory shortcomings that need addressing. Like, now. Sec. Chu assured Congress today that “We will learn from this.” Let’s hope so.