One notable thing about the early reaction in Washington to the Japanese nuclear disaster is that the tenor from both parties has been cautious rather than alarmed. Before the tsunami, nuclear energy appeared to be one of the rare areas in which some sort of bipartisan action had seemed possible. In his FY 2012 budget, President Obama requested $36 billion in government-backed loan guarantees, as a way of jump-starting the nuclear industry. Despite the unfolding horror in Japan, that commitment doesn't seem to have changed--at least not yet. The latest and clearest sign of White House steadfastness in support of nuclear energy came this morning from Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who told a House Appropriations Subcommittee (will add link to transcript when it's available):
The American people should have full confidence that the United States has rigorous safety regulations in place to ensure that our nuclear power is generated safely and responsibly. Information is still coming in about the events unfolding in Japan, but the administration is committed to learning from Japan's experience as we work to continue to strengthen America's nuclear industry...To meet our energy needs, the administration believes we must rely on a diverse set of energy sources including renewables like wind and solar, natural gas, clean coal and nuclear power.We look forward to a continued dialogue with Congress on moving that agenda forward.
In terms of tone, that's quite different than the initial response after the BP oil disaster in the Gulf.
Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.