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U.S. committed to nuclear power but wants to learn from Japan crisis, top U.S. official says

As Japan deals with leaking radiation and crippled reactors following an earthquake and tsunami, Energy Secretary Steven Chu says the U.S. is set on including nuclear power in its energy mix. 'But the administration is committed to learning from Japan's experience,' Chu said.

March 15, 2011|By Michael Muskal | Los Angeles Times

The United States remains committed to nuclear power, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said on Tuesday even as Japan sought to contain the nuclear danger at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Speaking before a House Appropriations Committee panel that is looking at the department’s budget requests, Chu said his department had sent 34 people and 7,200 pounds of equipment to the scene of the crippled reactors from which radiation had leaked.

The secretary, a Nobel Prize winner in physics, reaffirmed the administration’s position that the United States will learn from Japan’s difficulties but remained committed to safe nuclear power as part of an energy mix.

“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 said. "Information is still coming in about the events unfolding in Japan, but the administration is committed to learning from Japan's experience as we work to continue to strengthen America's nuclear industry.

“To meet our energy needs, the administration believes we must rely on a diverse set of energy sources including renewables like wind and solar, natural gas, clean coal and nuclear power," he said. "We look forward to a continued dialogue with Congress on moving that agenda forward."

Chu told the panel that  U.S. officials had included the danger from earthquakes and tsunamis in formulating their energy and safety plans.

The administration is seeking to add $36 billion to the Energy Department’s loan-guarantee authority to help finance the development of the first new U.S. reactors in decades. The Obama administration has pledged an $8.3-billion guarantee to Southern Co. for two planned reactors in Georgia. But that project still needs Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval.

Chu also expressed the administration’s support for Japan’s efforts to deal with last week’s magnitude 9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami.

As part of the U.S. help, Chu said, the department is “positioning Consequence Management Response Teams at U.S. consulates and military installations in Japan. These teams have the skills, expertise and equipment to help assess, survey, monitor and sample areas. They include smaller groups that could be sent out to gather technical information in the area.

“We have sent our Aerial Measuring System capability," he said, "including detectors and analytical equipment used to provide assessments of contamination on the ground."

michael.muskal@latimes.com
twitter.com/LATimesmuskal

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