(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama, among others, is standing by his support for expanding the use of nuclear power in the United States, despite events in Japan that have exposed the potential for catastrophic fallout at a nuclear power plant.
But some leading members of Congress aren't so sure.
On ABC’s Top Line Wednesday, Rep. Henry Waxman, the top Democrat on the House energy committee, said he doesn't believe industry assurances that U.S. facilities are safe and secure, and said the government should at least learn the lessons of the Japan crisis before green-lighting any new plants.
Asked if he's sure that U.S. nuclear plants are safe, Waxman said: "I can't reach that conclusion -- nor can anybody at this point. We've got to learn why it happened in Japan the way it did. We've got to learn from that whether we're equipped to handle whatever catastrophe may occur."
"The industry tells us to relax, we're okay. I wouldn’t take anything like that at face value,” said Waxman (D-Calif.) "We're talking about gigantic consequences to the public health and safety if there's a nuclear catastrophe. So we've got to make sure that the existing plants that we have now have all the state-of-the-art plans for failsafe to encounter a greater earthquake, a greater tsunami, a terrorist attack, whatever the case may be."
"We have to have a lot of concern about what's happening in Japan. Japan is an industrial, first[-world] country, capable of designing the most technologically able nuclear equipment. And yet they're looking like Chernobyl or close to it at the moment."
"We hope things will get under control quickly, but their plants are modeled exactly on ours. So we need to learn why this happened in Japan and whether we should put as much of our hopes for our energy future in the bag of nuclear energy."
At the very least, the crisis should prompt a reexamination of safety procedures and policies, he said.
"It would be a mistake to move forward with nuclear facilities without learning the lessons from Japan. I don't know whether there needs to be a moratorium, because that could stop some that are almost ready to go online. But we need to make sure that all of them have all the failsafe to deal with whatever emergency may come about."
The crisis in Japan serves as a reminder for why the US needs a balanced energy portfolio, Waxman said.
"We can continue to rely on nuclear, but I don't think we ought to put all the eggs in one basket. We've got to move toward renewables and efficiency and put a price on carbon so we move away from coal and oil, especially because of the national security consequences of our reliance on foreign oil." Critics have warned that many of the regulations that Waxman favors, such as so-called "Cap and Trade" regulations, would hit Americans square in the wallets and hobble an already-struggling American economy.
Waxman also issued an endorsement -- though clearly a self-interested one -- of Sarah Palin in 2012: "I think she'd be a terrific Republican nominee," he said.
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