Talk about bad timing: At a little-noticed public hearing in the state house energy, technology, and communications committee last week, representatives from the US nuclear energy industry touted nuclear power as the most important "industry in the history of humanity." And when pressed about the news coming out of Japan, reassured committee members that there was absolutely no risk of nuclear meltdown from reactors hit by last week's earthquake.

At the time---8:00 Friday morning---people were still unaware of the extent of the damage from the tsunami, which wiped out regular and backup cooling systems at the six-reactor Fukishima nuclear power plant. As Japanese authorities continued today to use ever-more-desperate measures (including water cannons and fire-truck hoses) to cool the melting fuel rods at several of the reactors, the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Administration said at least one reactor was bleeding radiation directly into the atmosphere and said "extremely high" radiation levels near the plant could make it impossible to continue trying to cool the reactors.

All of which makes the rosy picture painted by the nuclear industry Friday look even more dubious.

After representatives of the nuke industry touted the industry's safety record---working at a nuclear plant is  "safer than working at Toys 'R' Us," Hanford lab director Jim Conca told the committee---committee members asked the industry reps whether they were confident that all the safety systems they'd just praised would hold up in Japan.

Asked specifically about the nuclear situation in Japan, Nuclear Energy Institute public affairs director Jim Colgary reassured Rep. Deb Eddy (D-48) that the safety systems in place at the nuclear reactors "absolutely" would come through. "It's a conservative safety system," Colgary said.

"Now, there are some issues with cooling water systems, and they've brought in diesel generators on trucks to make sure that they're able to keep the reactors cool. It's not that the reactor is a problem, it's that all this metal is very much heated up and hot, so you have to cool that down. ... Yes, I'm adequately sure that the safety systems in place work."

Conca added: "I'm very happy that Japan has 26 percent nuclear because those will not be the problems. When you see the pictures things burning [in Japan], it won't be nuclear, it'll be the gas-fired power plants and things like that. Nuclear is no problem at all."

As we've seen, exactly the opposite has been the case.
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