US lawmakers mull nuclear moratorium after quake

Japan Earthquake © AFP Kazuhiro Nogi 

AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The unfolding nuclear disaster in Japan at reactors damaged by a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami has led some lawmakers to call for the United States to “put the brakes” on domestic nuclear development.

“I’ve been a big supporter of nuclear power because it’s domestic — it’s ours and it’s clean,” influential Senator Joseph Lieberman told the CBS News television program “Face The Nation” Sunday.

Nevertheless “I think we’ve got to … quietly and quickly put the brakes on until we can absorb what has happened in Japan as a result of the earthquake and the tsunami,” said Lieberman, who is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

Experts must then “see what more, if anything, we can demand of the new power plants that are coming online.”

President Barack Obama wants to increase nuclear power as part of a US effort to decrease the nation’s dependence on coal and foreign oil. The administration has allocated $18.5 bn in Department of Energy loans guarantees to spur nuclear development.

The Obama administration “is committed to the re-launching of the nuclear power industry as a key part of moving the country to a clean energy economy,” a US official told AFP in December.

“This is a critical part of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating jobs in growing sectors of the economy,” the official said.

However Friday’s devastating 8.9 earthquake and subsequent tsunami, which sparked an emergency at two of Japan’s nuclear power plants and could result on catastrophic meltdowns, has many US nuclear energy advocates thinking twice.

In the first incident, part of a reactor at Japan’s aging Fukushima No. 1 atomic plant blew up Saturday, a day after the biggest quake ever recorded in Japan unleashed a 10-meter (33-foot) tsunami.

Excessive radiation levels were recorded at a second Japanese nuclear facility, Onagawa, on Sunday, although authorities insisted the facility’s three reactor units were “under control.”

US Representative Edward Markey, a nuclear power critic, called for a moratorium on building reactors in seismically active areas on Friday, New York Times reported.

“This disaster serves to highlight both the fragility of nuclear power plants and the potential consequences associated with a radiological release caused by earthquake-related damage,” Markey said in a statement Friday.

“We must ensure that America’s nuclear power plants can withstand a catastrophic event and abide by the absolute highest standards for safety,” Markey said.

He sent a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission seeking details on emergency plans for the US nuclear industry.

“Please inform me whether you believe that what happened at the Japanese reactors as a result of the earthquake suggests any need for safety improvements at any US reactor, and if so, what actions the commission is taking to ensure such improvements are made,” Markey wrote.

Events in Japan will likely give ammunition to those seeking to curb the US nuclear energy industry, and would likely spur a safety review of US reactors, especially in earthquake-prone California.

“It is considered to be extremely unlikely but the (nuclear) station blackout has been one of the great concerns for decades,” said Ken Bergeron, a physicist who has worked on nuclear reactor accident simulation.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” Bergeron told reporters Saturday.

“This is obviously a significant setback for the so-called nuclear renaissance,” said Peter Bradford, a former NRC member.

© AFPPublished at Activist Post with license


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