The Obama administration's most vocal advocate for nuclear power said Tuesday that the nuclear disaster unfolding in Japan will eventually help the United States strengthen safety at its 104 reactors.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu told a House panel that "the American people should have full confidence that the United States has rigorous safety regulations in place to ensure that our nuclear power is generated safely and responsibly." But he said that the administration "is committed to learning from Japan's experience."
Chu said the initial step is to help the Japanese government cool down the damaged reactors and to stop the leaking radiation. After the reactors are secure, he said, the next step would be to understand what happened, and then assess whether U.S. reactors have similar vulnerabilities. Under questioning, he said that reactors in the U.S. are designed above what would be required to withstand a worst-case earthquake and tsunami.
The Energy Department has sent 34 people and 17,150 pounds of equipment to Japan to help monitor and assess the situation at a Japanese nuclear plant damaged by the earthquake and tsunami.
Chu said he was up early Tuesday morning evaluating atmospheric models produced by his department's national laboratories that predict where radiation could migrate.