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March 14, 2011

Japan’s Nuclear Disaster Holds Lessons for United States

Statement of Tyson Slocum, Director, Public Citizen’s Energy Program

The whole world is horrified and saddened at the death and destruction wrought by an earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan.

But the horror continues with the escalating fears of nuclear meltdown at three 1970s-era Japanese reactors. Such an event could eclipse the damage and destruction already wrought by Mother Nature.

This is nuclear power’s Achilles’ heel and shows why it is sheer folly to pour resources into building and maintaining nuclear reactors in the U.S.

Despite the assurances of our elected officials and the industry, there is no way to guarantee the public’s safety when a natural disaster or terrorism strikes commercial reactors. The Japanese are arguably the best prepared to deal with earthquakes, yet they failed to adequately plan for the impact of a tsunami. This demonstrates the difficulty in planning for both the “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns” that impact nuclear reactors from natural disaster and terrorism. There are alternatives. Had Japan invested in rooftop solar and wind turbines to the degree it spent maintaining and building nuclear reactors, the country wouldn’t be grappling with the potential of a full-scale nuclear meltdown.

U.S. policymakers should watch events in Japan closely and understand the implications to public safety of committing U.S. taxpayer resources to building new nuclear plants. We call on the federal government to do the following:

1) Immediately stop activity relating to relicensing aging U.S. reactors;
2) Halt all activity geared toward building new reactors; and
3) End federal subsidies - such as loan guarantees - for commercial nuclear power, which total $500 billion to date. 

Instead, the U.S. should focus on developing wind power and assisting families in the installation of rooftop solar systems.

We went through a similar debate shortly after Sept. 11, but quickly forgot. We can’t afford to forget again.

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