Just a few weeks before the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant crisis, Republicans in the US House of Representatives voted, with exquisite timing, to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from programs that deal directly with responding to potential nuclear threats and disasters.
The National Journal reported:
With 135 total nuclear reactors in the United States, as well as storage facilities for radioactive waste and the threat of nuclear terrorism, the United States maintains a variety of programs to safeguard materials and prevent accidents. The programs range from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the industry’s primary safety regulator, to security programs, clean-up efforts, and disaster preparedness — all designed to safeguard against potential catastrophe.
[The Republican bill] would cut $131 million from the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy, which is responsible for safety research and nonproliferation efforts. It would also cut hundreds of millions from nuclear waste disposal and environmental clean-up programs; $97.1 million from nuclear nonproliferation efforts; and $1.4 billion from first-responder training for radiation, chemical, and biological disasters. That last cut would result in a reduction of 46,000 being trained for such emergencies, according to analyses provided by the House and Senate appropriations committees. Other cuts hit international nuclear security efforts, grants to protect ports, and Federal Emergency Management Agency preparations for all-hazards catastrophes.
I’m not ready yet to write off nuclear power as an option solely because of what happened in Japan. As I’ve said before, I’m a former opponent of nuclear power who has reconciled myself to it as a necessary part of the the future if the world is to reduce its dependence on CO2-producing fossil fuels. I’m afraid windmills and solar panels won’t be enough.
But if we are going to have nuclear power, we shouldn’t pretend– even with the strictest safety standards– that it’s failsafe. We need to be prepared for the unthinkable, even if Republicans think that’s an unaffordable luxury.