Author: Gordon Platt

MILESTONES: UNITED STATES

By Gordon Platt

Panic-stricken residents of Western US states cleared pharmacy shelves of potassium iodide tablets last month, amid fears that radiation from Japan’s nuclear crisis could reach the West Coast.

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Obama: No plans to cut back nuclear power development

The tablets, which were being hoarded and sold at exorbitant prices, are known to protect victims of radiation exposure against thyroid cancer.

Cooler heads prevailed in the Obama administration, though, with energy secretary Steven Chu telling Congress that nuclear energy has an important role to play in the US energy portfolio. The US has 104 nuclear plants, which supply 20% of the nation’s power, although no new plants have been completed since the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in March 1979.

President Obama’s budget for fiscal 2012 includes $36 billion in loan guarantees to expand nuclear plants across the US, and Chu says there has been no change in those plans as a result of the Japanese disaster. The Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan was already leaking radiation into the environment and threatening a full-scale meltdown as Chu sought to reassure US lawmakers.

“We need to apply the lessons that can be learned from Japan,” Chu says. “However, reactors can be used safely.”

Meanwhile, New York governor Andrew Cuomo renewed his call for Indian Point, the nuclear power plant in Westchester County that provides a third of New York City’s power, to be shut down. Some 20 million people live within 50 miles of the plant. “It should be closed,” Cuomo says. “This plant in this proximity to the city was never a good risk.” A recent federal study found that Reactor 3 at Indian Point posed the highest risk of core damage from an earthquake of all the reactors in the United States.

In other parts of the country, such as Waynesboro, Georgia, where the first nuclear plant construction in decades is planned, and in Bay City, Texas, where there are plans to expand a nuclear plant, residents spoke favorably of the new jobs that would be created. It seems that not all Americans are afraid to have a nuclear power plant in their own backyard.