First, our thoughts and prayers are with the Japanese people. We will continue to stand with them throughout the response and provide assistance as they struggle to recover.
I agree with the Obama administration that our nuclear plants are indeed safe and that we should continue to develop new nuclear plants. Reactors built in the U.S. are robust and designed to withstand significant natural disasters, including earthquakes, tornados and hurricanes. Two operating nuclear plants in California can withstand the impacts of an earthquake greater than the one in Japan, and, closer to home, the Wolf Creek nuclear plant in southeastern Kansas can weather an EF5 tornado with over 360 mph winds. All of our reactors are constructed according to a “defense-in-depth” approach, with multiple, independent safety systems in place so that if one safety system breaks down there are several backups.
My confidence comes from what I have learned in the days and weeks following the Japanese accident.
The safety of our reactors has long been one of my top priorities. When I served as the chairman of the Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, I learned that the committee had not held a hearing on the NRC in years, so we held several hearings each year to ensure that the agency was reaching the highest standards of safety and efficiency, and was capable of handling the workload of preparing for new nuclear plant development.
The NRC and the industry continually ask themselves, “What if…?” There is a systematic process in place to incorporate lessons learned from events worldwide to update and improve plant safety and security.
Shortly after learning of the accident, I spoke with NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko to discuss the necessary steps forward for nuclear power in the short term. A week after the accident, I had the chance to question Chairman Jaczko and the nuclear industry. I have been assured our plants are safe, and that the industry and the NRC are conducting systematic reviews of the protections currently in place. Both are working together to determine whether changes are needed.
There will certainly be lessons the industry can learn from Japan. Those lessons will no doubt help make nuclear energy safer for the American public. It is important, however, that any immediate scrutiny by the NRC should be focused on improvements that provide real safety benefits, not just red tape.
Nuclear power is a key element of our energy future: It is clean, reliable and affordable. We should learn from the accident at Fukushima, but it shouldn’t prevent us from harnessing the benefits of nuclear energy to power this great machine called America.
U.S. Sen. Inhofe, R-Okla., is a ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
Opinions expressed on the commentary page, in letters to the editor and elsewhere in this newspaper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ownership or management.