US & World

GOP: Wait for facts on Japanese quake before changing nuclear policies

Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy with Majority Leader Eric Cantor
Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy with Majority Leader Eric Cantor
Kitty Felde

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Southern California Edison says it has taken precautions to protect the San Onofre nuclear power plant. It is built to withstand a 7.0 magnitude earthquake and has a 25-foot-high concrete tsunami wall. The recent quake in Japan registered at least 8.9, and a wall of water more than 30-feet high hit the coastline. Republican leaders want to wait before they make decisions about the safety of nuclear energy.

U.S. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, acknowledges that Californians are jumpy about the nuclear power plants in their earthquake-prone state.

But McCarthy says that before Washington starts passing legislation re-regulating nuclear power plants it’s best not to jump to conclusions.

"Let’s see what are the facts in Japan," he says, "but let’s learn from them at the same time. Because California, we are prone to earthquakes. And let’s make sure we’re best prepared, but learn from this if they’re other things that we need to do to prepare to make it stronger. We’ll do that. But only after we get the facts."

The Obama administration says it still includes nuclear energy in its "clean energy" agenda. The head of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Agency testifies before the House Energy Committee on Wednesday.

The earthquake and tsunami in Japan has also become part of the conversation about trimming the federal budget. The US House-approved version of the federal spending bill includes big cuts to the federal agency that warns people in the Southland about possible tsunamis.

Several Democratic lawmakers say reductions at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would mean furloughs for some of the employees who provide tsunami warnings.

But House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., says NOAA will still get more money than it did three years ago. He says there was a 20 percent or more increase in NOAA’s funding.

"And essentially, what we’ve done is allow NOAA to keep half of that increase," he says. "And nowhere have we indicated that we’re directing NOAA not to emphasize services it provides for the safety, health and welfare of Americans."

Senate Democrats restored most of the funding for NOAA in their version of the budget bill. But the US Senate has yet to pass any version of a funding measure.