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U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Thursday that Japan's nuclear crisis shouldn't cause a halt in the construction of new nuclear power plants in this country.
He told journalists in a conference call from Washington he has confidence in America's nuclear power industry. He said the U.S. uses a newer plant design than Japan's older units, which rely on technology from the 1970s.
"I have a lot of faith in the nuclear industry, and I feel safe living five miles away from a nuclear power plant," Graham said of the Oconee Nuclear Station run by Duke Energy Corp.
Graham said it would be ill-advised to stop building nuclear power plants, noting that 20 percent of U.S. power comes from nuclear sources.
Opponents to nuclear power have said plans for new plants should be put on hold until the problems in Japan can be analyzed.
Graham argued that halting the construction of new plants would require America to rely more on older nuclear plants, instead of building plants with newer, safer designs.
He said the four new nuclear reactors planned for South Carolina use a gravity-fed cooling system, not the boiling water system used in the troubled Japanese plants.
Power company officials say nuclear plants along Japan's coast survived the massive earthquake on March 11 and shut down properly. Trouble came when the subsequent surge of seawater swamped diesel generators powering the backup cooling system.
Graham said that plants in Japan were hit by "a double whammy" of the earthquake and tsunami, and that U.S. planners are taking such crises as earthquakes, terrorist strikes and tornadoes into account in their planning.
Graham said that in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks, it became clear that some plants could be vulnerable to attacks or being hit by aircraft. Steps have been taken to address those concerns, the senator said, but he declined to detail the steps taken to improve security.
It's important for the nuclear industry to be more forthcoming so the public understands how nuclear power is produced, Graham said.
"The public is very correct wanting to be reassured," Graham said, adding that the nuclear industry needs to do a better job explaining itself than the oil industry did after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Graham praised Energy Secretary Steven Chu and President Barack Obama for standing up for new nuclear power since the Japanese earthquake, saying he appreciated them not overreacting. However, he said he did not agree with the administration's stance on scrapping the nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
The senator said the current crisis in Japan may prompt a review of that decision.
Graham said he wants to learn from the crisis in Japan, "but I want to make sure the lessons learned are logical."
Two planned projects for new nuclear power plants are in the Southeast. The Atlanta-based Southern Co. and its partners are seeking to build two more reactors at Plant Vogtle in eastern Georgia. And SCANA, based in Cayce, S.C., has proposed adding two reactors to its Plant Summer site in Jenkinsville, S.C. Both utilities have said they expect to be granted operating licenses this year. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is still evaluating both.