New Nuclear Plants

Tuesday, March 22, 2011 - 2:43pm

Nuclear energy industry is touting new designs for future plants to be built in the U.S.

For another day workers in Japan fought to keep nuclear fuel cool enough to prevent a total meltdown. The crisis there has brought up a lot of questions about our own reactors, those built decades ago, and those planned for the future. Will those be any safer?

Independent Senator Bernie Sanders is calling for a moratorium on new nuclear plant licensing while Republican Lindsey Graham visited a plant in his home state today in support of nuclear power, so opinions in Washington are mixed, as they are in many places across the country now.

Thousands of miles from the crisis in Japan, fears a similar situation could unfold in American plants. There are currently 104 nuclear reactors in the U.S. Four more under construction, and another 13 applications filed for new units.

Joe Kowalewski, Vice President of Operations at the Waterford 3 Nuclear Power Plant, says "if it's done right, there IS very little risk here but we have to make sure it's done right. "

Doing it right means keeping radiation contained. At the center of any disaster scenario losing the ability to keep nuclear material cool. Nuclear energy advocates say back up systems here would prevent that, and new technology will make new plants even safer.

Like this Westinghouse design that isn't dependent on power.

Marvin Fertel, Nuclear Energy Institute President, says "think simply of gravity where water flows down because of gravity as opposed to pumping it up."

New plants would also use fiber optics and digital technology, more advanced, and advocates say safer than current systems. But opponents of nuclear power aren't quite so confident.

Damon Moglen of Friends of the Earth says "there is no technology out there that is going to stop these problems from existing."

The government is taking a closer look at all of it and emergency plans just in case.

Former FEMA Director James Lee Witt says "do we have enough warning systems and detections in place to be able to deal with something if we do have an accident or an event?"

A worst case scenario, now weighing on many minds.

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