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Japan disaster may mean setback for U.S. nuclear industry

Meanwhile the Republican takeover of the House last year catapulted one of the industry's biggest backers, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), to the head of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

"The details of this tragedy are still unfolding," Upton said in a statement Saturday evening. "The head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is scheduled to testify before the Energy and Commerce Committee next week, and we will use that opportunity to explore what is known in the early aftermath of the damage to Japanese nuclear facilities, as well as to reiterate our unwavering commitment to the safety of U.S. nuclear sites."

Momentum for the nuclear industry grew following the passage of the Energy Policy Act in 2005, which included several subsidies.

Of the 65 reactors being constructed worldwide, three are in the United States, according to NEI. Flint estimates that by 2020, four to eight new plants will be running.

Nuclear energy provides 20 percent of this country's electricity, compared with 30 percent in Japan.

Some experts said that two plants in California near fault lines - Diablo Canyon and San Onofre - could come under extra scrutiny. They have been checked by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for their ability to withstand a tsunami and earthquakes.

"Just when Japan needed power most for recovering from the natural disaster, the collapse of the electrical grid system basically complicated the crisis . . . ," said Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Oversight Project at Beyond Nuclear. "It clearly demonstrates that this technology in times of national crisis . . . cannot be relied upon when you need it the most."

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