Could House Restore Nuclear Safety Funding?

U.S. lawmakers are sticking to their past support for nuclear power despite Japan’s ongoing crisis, but the disaster could put the kibosh on proposed funding cuts to nuclear safety programs in America.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) has called on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where he is the ranking minority member, to hold hearings on nuclear safety, and National Journal quotes a Republican aide saying that there will a budget hearing on the issue in the wake of Japan. The Republicans’ proposed bill funding the government through September would cut $131 million from the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy as well as $1.4 billion from emergency response training to chemical and radioactive disasters.Lawmakers from both parties have been wary of abandoning their support for nuclear power in the wake of the Japan disaster given that any comprehensive energy deal would likely include support for such plants as an integral component. White House spokesman Jay Carney reiterated President Obama’s support for nuclear power since the Japanese crisis last week while Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who worked on an energy bill last year, have both issued cautious support for continuing plans to expand nuclear power.

In an interview with TPM, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) offered a vigorous defense of nuclear power this week, arguing that Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant is an outdated facility and should not deter more modern construction.

“I don’t hear a moratorium to stop building high-rise buildings in earthquake areas,” he said. “You try to make buildings as safe as possible, you learn from every national disaster, but most of the reactors being built now are light years ahead of the 1971 version. The problems associated with this reactor couldn’t happen.”