Even as the Japanese attempt increasingly frantic tactics to cool an overheated nuclear complex:
- U.S. officials warned the situation is deteriorating and challenged the Japanese government’s assessment of the radiation risks telling U.S. civilians and military personnel to stay at least 50 miles from the facility, in contrast to the 12-mile evacuation zone set by Japan.
- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko told lawmakers that the U.S. believed the damage at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex was even graver than Japanese officials had outlined in public; and
- U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu told those same lawmakers that he believed a “partial meltdown” had occurred at the Japanese nuclear power plant and that the accident was “more serious” than the 1979 partial core meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.
In the meantime, Jonathan Silver, executive director of the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program affirmed that it will continue to finance nuclear projects in the United States during a presentation he made today at the Cleantech Forum conference in San Francisco.
Mr. Silver’s remarks followed Congressional testimony in Washington by Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Gregory B. Jaczko, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In the same testimony that cautioned the situation at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant was more serious than Japanese officials were saying, Dr. Chu said that the Obama administration continued to support nuclear energy, noting the president had requested that $36 billion be appropriated for the nuclear loan guarantee program.
The loan guarantee program has come under fire from all sides, with Congressional Republicans, questioning whether the department has spent its money wisely and moving to cut funding for the $71 billion program.
An audit released last week by the Energy Department’s inspector general found that poor record-keeping made it difficult to evaluate some loan decisions. This is especially concerning when considering the high capital cost and high default rate of nuclear projects both here at home and internationally.
NRG’s South Texas Project (STP) proposed expansion near Bay City, TX is high on the list of projects being considered for a federal loan guarantee under this program. Many of NRG’s financial partners on this project, Toshiba, Tepco (the operators of the doomed Fukushima Dai-ichi plant) and the Japanese government (through loan guarantees) are probably looking at considerable contraints in being able to make substantial financial investments in projects outside of Japan for the foreseeable future. Taxpayers should be concerned about issues with loan guarantee program’s ability to adequately assess the risks of their loan decisions.
The U.S. should immediately halt subsidies and instead focus on developing solar and wind power.
The administration must take off the blinders, look hard at what is going on in Japan and realize that yes, a catastrophe can happen here.