Nuclear power remains the focus of the global media as more details come out of Japan, and the energy source is also producing some political rhetoric here in the U.S. The tragic circumstances in Japan may have had an interesting effect on politics: normally diametrically opposed lawmakers are now talking from unified scripts.
Some of the most powerful committee chairmen in the House of Representatives have gone on the record expressing serious skepticism about nuclear power. On CBS’ "Sunday Morning with Bob Schieffer," Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said the economics of the industry could be its downfall. "It won't be protesters," he said. "It will be Wall Street investors that are going to be raising real questions about its viability going forward." The ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee added that the popularity gains of the nuclear industry before the earthquake were "ancient history” already.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) is the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Over the weekend he said in an interview with Southern Pacific Public Radio that the Japanese disaster gives us good reason to second guess our technological safety nets. He calls Japan "an industrial, technologically capable country, cognizant of the danger from earthquakes and tsunamis. And yet all the design features that they used for their nuclear facilities have not been sufficient to stop what’s happened from occurring. And we don’t know the full extent of it yet."
Then there is Rep. Darrell Issa (R- Calif.). Issa is the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He is the polar opposite of Waxman and Markey — but he loves investigations. When Issa sees an opportunity for one, he jumps at the chance. “Are plants safe?" Issa asks in the same NPR piece as the Waxman quote. "Are current plants safe? Do there need to be retrofits? All of those are legitimate questions. But we do the same thing when a liquefied natural gas facility explodes. We do the same thing after a coal mine incident. We do the same thing after British Petroleum’s fiasco in the Gulf. I think we always have to get to the bottom of a legitimate analysis for what happened and can it be prevented and if so, how do we do it?"
The California conservative then went on to talk about learning from Japan when it comes to any type of future power plant policy. "There is such a thing as an unsafe power plant. There is such a thing as a better design and our question is do we have the best design, particularly for ones that will go on line in the future?"
If there’s something to take away from this, it's that the future of nuclear power in the United States is uncertain. Just a month ago, politics seemed to be aligned for the expansion of nuclear power. Now, the politics are once again aligned ... but this time on the other side.