Graham: U.S. nuclear regulations are 'gold standard'

WASHINGTON — Sen. Lindsey Graham said Thursday that the Japanese crisis hasn't shaken his confidence in nuclear power and praised President Barack Obama for moving ahead with federal loan guarantees to build new plants.

Graham said four new reactors planned for South Carolina and Georgia — two in each state — have different designs than the Fukishima Daiichi plant facing possible core meltdowns at as many as six reactors.

"These new designs are completely different than the Japanese reactors built in 1971," Graham said. "The new designs do not depend on electrical pumps or mechanical systems to cool the reactors. The water going into the cooling system is gravity fed, so it's not reliant on electricity to cool the reactor."

House Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn said the Japanese catastrophe will deliver "important lessons," but he also pushed back against calls from some lawmakers to freeze all permitting of new nuclear plants in the United States.

"I have absolute confidence in the rigorous inspection and licensing regime in place at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission," Clyburn, of Columbia, said. "I remain convinced that a clean energy future will not be possible without an investment in a diverse set of energy sources, including a renewed commitment to nuclear energy."

Vermont, New Jersey, Connecticut and South Carolina are the only states that get more than half their electricity from nuclear power.

South Carolina has seven reactors at four plants, among them Oconee Nuclear Station on Lake Keowee near Graham's Upstate home in Seneca.

"I live five miles from a nuclear plant," he said. "I know people at the plant. They're very dedicated, hardworking people. I have a lot of faith in the nuclear industry."

The major electric utilities that build nuclear plants have been among the most generous campaign contributors to Graham and Clyburn.

Graham received $264,055 from the industry from 2005 through 2010, with SCANA Corp. his No. 2 corporate donor at $58,630, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington.

Clyburn got $483,863 from electric utilities from 1992 through 2010, with General Electric his third-largest donor at $74,800, according to the campaign-finance watchdog group.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu told the House Energy Committee on Wednesday that the Obama administration remains committed to seeking $36 billion in new loan-guarantee authority from Congress, beyond the program's current $18.5 billion.

Chu, a nuclear physicist, told lawmakers that he and other government experts "don't believe there is any danger" from the country's 104 nuclear reactors.

Obama said the nuclear plants are subject to "constant monitoring and oversight."