DEVASTATION IN JAPAN | US nuclear concerns

Kerry urges debate on energy policy

By Theo Emery
Globe Staff / March 15, 2011

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WASHINGTON — The emerging threat of nuclear meltdowns from damaged reactors in Japan should trigger an overdue discussion on energy security concerns as the nation tries to develop a comprehensive policy encompassing many forms of fuel, Senator John Kerry said yesterday.

“A lot of folks took a new hard look at nuclear because it’s low-carbon energy,’’ the Massachusetts Democrat said in a statement, describing ongoing efforts to shift the nation’s energy policy away from fossil fuels, “but the safety questions about meltdowns and waste were always part of the discussion.’’

Kerry’s comments follow reports detailing extensive damage to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

In his months-long effort to develop a consensus on energy and climate legislation in the Senate last year, Kerry had embraced nuclear power as a key element in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which scientists say lead to global warming.

Those efforts failed.

Senator Joseph Lieberman, independent of Connecticut and a longtime supporter of nuclear energy who helped Kerry develop his climate change legislation, has called for the United States to “put the brakes on’’ nuclear power until events unfolding in Japan are understood.

Kerry’s statement did not call for any such slowdown. Instead it offered reminders of why skeptics came to support nuclear power as a flawed but necessary part of the nation’s energy policy.

“In recent years, environmentalists and policy makers in both parties started taking a fresh look at nuclear power because none of our current energy options are without a downside,’’ he said.

“We have to get our energy from somewhere, and right now none of our options are entirely attractive.’’

Also yesterday, Representative Edward J. Markey, a Democrat from Malden, called on the Obama administration to distribute potassium iodide, which is ingested to counteract radiation, to state and local governments for residents within 20 miles of nuclear plants.

Congress approved the requirement in legislation in 2002, but the federal government never instituted the bill, which was proposed by Markey.

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