Japan’s Nuclear Crisis: Where Is Steven Chu?

Anyone who has done a little reading on the Japan nuclear crisis will know that we’re facing a less dangerous situation than Three Mile Island. The maximum exposure to radiation anyone has suffered has been 155 millirems, well beneath the proven threshold for ill effects (as I explained in my June 2008 article on nuclear power). While there is still a chance of meltdown, the fact is that this will not be a catastrophe. British tabloid editors can put away their “ATOM DEATH BLAST” headlines. For more on the physics, see William Tucker, author of Terrestrial Energy, MIT’s Josef Oehmen, or the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Yet it is unfortunate that we have to go to these authors for accurate information, because our very own secretary of energy, Steven Chu, has until this point been a vocal supporter of nuclear energy. He has the authority and the credibility to be all over our airwaves and the Internet telling Americans that their nuclear installations are safe and this terrible but extraordinary incident is no reason to slow down our move to speed up new nuclear construction. Yet he is absent without trace.

Americans expect leadership from their leaders. Chu has the track record to provide it in this case, yet he is failing to do so. If he is being hamstrung by special-interest pressure within the administration, one would expect that to be a resigning matter. I fear it is more likely that he has succumbed to pressure from his erstwhile allies, the greens, and is simply displaying a lack of backbone.

Yet he should consider what this means for his own plans. The administration’s energy plan, based on the EPA’s draconian regulations against greenhouse gas emitters, depends on a hundred new nuclear power plants being built. The administration knows that that powering America by wind and solar energy is as likely as extracting sunlight from cucumbers, which is why nuclear figures so heavily in the plan. If that option is now off the table — and the Left has been so successful in its opportunistic framing of this issue that it might well be — then there is a massive gap in the plan that can only be filled by coal or natural gas. Secretary Chu will be forced to argue that, if there is a nuclear ban, then the EPA’s beloved greenhouse-gas regulations will also have to be taken off the table. This is a circle that simply cannot be squared.

Again, it is up to Steven Chu to provide leadership here. It is his job to be realistic about America’s energy needs. If he fails to perform his duty, the American people must demand someone who is up to the job.