Barbara Boxer, Mar 16. (Photo: Brendan Hoffman/Getty)

The crisis in Japan is fueling a debate all over the world about the wisdom of relying on nuclear power.

That includes the U.S., where the Senate’s Environment & Public Works Committee yesterday held a Briefing on the Nuclear Plant Crisis in Japan and Implications for the United.

The committee is chaired by Barbara Boxer, who grilled the Executive Director of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Bill Borchardt, about the safety of California’s two nuclear power plants, at San Onofre and Diablo Canyon.

On Tuesday, The California Report’s Rachel Myrow talked about the safety of San Onofre with a nuclear-leak rate testing expert, who said that the plant was built to withstand a 7.0 quake, a higher magnitude than the 6.4-limit temblor projected for the area.

But that assurance probably won’t satisfy Boxer, who said at the hearing, “We go in and we decide what the earthquake risk is, and Mother Nature says ‘excuse me, you didn’t ask my opinion. We have 7 million within 50 miles of San Onofre, we have about a half a million near Diablo. That’s a lot of people.” The 50 miles that Boxer mentions is the radius from Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant within which the U.S. has advised people to evacuate.

You can watch the entire Senate hearing, which is posted on the committee’s site. Boxer’s questions start around 26:40.

She also discussed the issue on MSNBC:

Later, both Boxer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein released a letter sent to Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chair Dr. Gregory Jaczko, “calling on the NRC to perform a thorough inspection at the San Onofre plant, located in San Clemente, and the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant near San Luis Obispo, both of which are near earthquake faults to evaluate their safety and emergency preparedness.” Read the letter here.

(Today, Boxer and Feinstein also introduced in the Senate a reauthorization of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP), which seeks to enhance earthquake preparedness, and which expired in 2009.)

On the previously cited California Report segment, Rachel Myrow also questioned a PG&E spokesman about the safety of the Diablo Canyon plant, which sits near several fault lines in San Luis Obispo County. He said the plant is “actually safer than we originally thought.”

And lest you think there’s a rush to abandon nuclear power in the country, ranking minority member of the Environment & Public Works Committee Sen. James Inhofe, for one, thinks that would be premature. As does the Obama administration

Video: Barbara Boxer Grills Nuclear Official on California Nuke Plants and Earthquakes 17 March,2011Jon Brooks

  • Michael Woods

    Nuclear reactors allow us to cut CO2 emissions and to buy less oil from anti-democratic countries. I understand that modern reactor designs (versus the half-century old plant in Fukushima) rely on water towers to cool the reactors passively in an emergency instead of on pumps. The Fukushima failure seems to show that ancillary structures and piping need to be protected from environmental loads and that the storage of hot, spent fuel must be improved.


Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks is the host and editor of KQED’s health and technology blog, Future of You. He is the former editor of KQED’s daily news blog, News Fix. A veteran blogger, he previously worked for Yahoo! in various news writing and editing roles. He was also the editor of, which documented user-generated content about the financial crisis and recession. Jon is also a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S. He has written about film for his own blog and studied film at Boston University. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College.

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