- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2011

Rep. Doc Hastings, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said Thursday that nuclear energy remains a vital part of America’s energy future, despite concerns in the wake of Japan’s ongoing crisis.

“This is always predictable, especially from the environmental left, when something like this happens. The first reaction is to close everything down,” Mr. Hastings, Washington Republican, said during an interview with The Washington Times-affiliated “America’s Morning News” radio program.

“It’s predictable, but I don’t think it’s good policy,” he said. “That simply ignores what humanity is all about. … There are risks involved, and we ought to learn from those risks and proceed forward,” Mr. Hastings said.

Some lawmakers in recent days have talked about “putting the brakes on” when it comes to the American nuclear energy industry, which seemed in recent years to be poised for a new period of growth, he said.

But Mr. Hastings, 70, said some of the concerns about potential and existing plants, especially along the earthquake-prone Pacific coast, are unwarranted.

“I have heard my colleagues talk about nuclear reactors, especially in the Western part of the United States, [whether we should] have have them there. I think we can build them as long as we have contingencies,” he said.

Concerns about the safety of nuclear plants have skyrocketed around the world in the wake of last week’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which have seriously damaged several reactors there. A number of countries have suspended or shut down their existing nuclear power plants to reassess their safety protocols.

Mr. Hastings, a nine-term congressman, said some of those concerns are an overreaction.

“Keep in mind, this was a 9.0 earthquake 75 miles away from these reactors, and the reactors were not harmed by the earthquake. It was not the earthquake that caused the problem in Japan, it was the tsunami. I think that’s very significant.

“The Japanese had some contingencies and some barriers that obviously didn’t work, and we just have to learn from that,” he said.

Mr. Hastings had some sharp criticism for President Obama, whom he accuses of failing to lead on the question of energy.

“Absolutely, he is not,” Mr. Hastings said.

He said the crisis in Japan and the unrest in the Middle East have made it more important than ever for America to spur domestic energy production, something he said the Obama administration is hindering.

“We still have a de facto moratorium [on new drililng permits] going on in the Gulf,” Mr. Hastings said. “He essentially put a moratorium on the Intercontinental Shelf. His words on every energy action are 180 degrees from his actions.”