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Tulsa World: Legislators tout nuclear plant safety amid crisis
March 21, 2011

Posted by Matt Dempsey

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Tulsa World

Legislators tout nuclear plant safety amid crisis

by JIM MYERS World Washington Bureau

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Link to Article

WASHINGTON - Key members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation stand by their support of nuclear power as the horrific disaster continues to unfold in Japan.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe and Rep. John Sullivan expressed confidence concerning the safety record of the nation's existing nuclear plants, including those that surround Oklahoma in Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Texas.

"I don't see any danger,'' Inhofe said.

Perhaps more on point, the two Republicans, who serve on different congressional committees with oversight responsibility of nuclear power, warned against "knee-jerk'' reactions in the U.S. to the Japanese tragedy that could derail long-awaited progress on new plants in this country.

Inhofe said any conclusions drawn from the events in Japan would be premature, as he used a recent Senate hearing to discuss the evaluations made on U.S. plants to ensure they can withstand a "once-in-10,000-year event.''

He echoed comments from both the Obama administration and Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko that U.S. plants are safe.

"While every nuclear country will draw their own conclusions on the future of nuclear, I firmly believe the U.S. should continue forward,'' Inhofe said.

"We've been delaying for 30 years.''

Inhofe also used the hearing to recall that "a lot of people were actually celebrating'' the Exxon Valdez accident off Alaska's coast two decades ago, because they were going to parlay that huge oil spill into a campaign against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

"I didn't want that to happen (again) because we have to run this machine called America,'' he said of the current crisis.

Inhofe stood by those comments after being challenged by Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

"Honest to God, I don't know one person who celebrated,'' Boxer said.

Sullivan agreed with President Obama's request to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to conduct a comprehensive review of the safety of all domestic nuclear plants.

"I think that is a good idea,'' Sullivan said. "We don't need to have a knee-jerk reaction from Congress until all the facts are learned. We also need to make sure people here don't panic.''

He credited Obama for not changing his position on nuclear power, adding that the U.S. must not slow the progress of its own industry as a result of the disasters in Japan.

Sullivan cited the age of a number of U.S. plants, conceding that maturing plants should be examined.

"The record speaks for itself,'' he said. "People can feel confident it is safe.''

Rep. Dan Boren, the state congressional delegation's only Democrat, also expressed continued support for nuclear power.

"But I will say that with this tragedy I think a lot of people will be looking at natural gas, since we have such a large supply,'' Boren said.

He also backed the re-examination of existing plants, as well as a review of disaster prevention systems.

"We need backups to the backups,'' Boren said, noting that an once-in-lifetime event - a historic earthquake and a related tsunami - caused backup systems for nuclear plants in Japan to fail.

When asked how Oklahomans should think about safety, given the plants in nearby states, he said they should be aware of their presence but should not be concerned because of the industry's safety record.

Others in Congress are sounding a different note.

Boxer, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to investigate the vulnerabilities of all U.S. plants.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., agreed with Inhofe that a knee-jerk reaction should be avoided but called for a "thoughtful response.''

"People think that a terrible event is unthinkable until the day after that event occurs,'' Sanders said, listing the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill as examples.

"Unthinkable, unthinkable, unthinkable until the day after it happens.''

On nuclear power, he added: "It cannot be 99.99 percent safe. Can't be because its potential toxicity, if, God forbid, you ever have an accident, brings far-reaching and serious consequences as we are seeing in Japan right now.''


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