Administration officials say that nuclear power will remain an integral part of the United States' energy portfolio, despite the disaster unfolding in Japan.
In light of Japan's growing nuclear emergency, some lawmakers, including Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), have called for a moratorium on the building of new nuclear powerplants in the U.S.
But at a March 14 White House briefing, officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Dept. of Energy said they remained confident that the nuclear reactors in the U.S. are built to high enough standards that they could withstand the effects of major earthquakes, tornadoes and tsunami. They said the president remains committed to nuclear power as part of the nation’s energy mix.
DOE Deputy Secretary Dan Poneman, said that the U.S. has 104 operating nuclear reactors, which contribute about 20% of the nation’s electricity. Moreover, 70% of the nation’s carbon-free electricity comes from nuclear power, he said. "We do see nuclear power as continuing to play an important role in building a low-carbon future."
However, Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Greg Jaczko added that as new information about the crisis in Japan emerges, officials would apply that information "to see if there are changes we need to make to our system." For example, following a 2004 tsunami in Japan, the United States reviewed its tsunami requirements for nuclear powerplants "and in fact went and made sure that our plants would be able to deal with that type of event."
Jaczko added that based on the type of reactors and the nature of the accident, the likelihood of harmful radiation levels reaching the continental U.S., Hawaii or any U.S. territories is "very low."
The NRC has dispatched two technical experts to Japan and is in the process of assembling a team of experts that will be dispatched in the near future.