It has been a week full of fast-moving news from Japan, a country facing humanitarian, environmental and economic challenges of extraordinary proportion. But unlike the natural catastrophes of recent memory — the earthquake in Haiti, the tsunami in Southeast Asia, our own Hurricane Katrina — Japan’s has also produced a nuclear crisis. And that has implications for the future of nuclear power, not just in Japan, but around the world.Its proponents have long touted nuclear energy as a cleaner alternative to that generated by oil and coal. An and as recognition of global climate change has become more widespread, pro-nuclear arguments have been bolstered by nuclear energy’s relatively lower greenhouse gas emissions.
Just this year, President Obama has asked for $36 billion in loan guarantees to break ground on the country’s first new nuclear plants in nearly 30 years. Anti-nuclear advocates have long noted its potential for disaster, should harmful amounts of the poisonous radiation produced by the nuclear process suddenly escape human control.
Need to Know’s Alison Stewart spoke with Michael Levi about the policy implications that Japan’s nuclear crisis has for the United States. Levi is a senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations and director of its Program on Energy Security and Climate Change.