America's Reckless Nuclear Policies Have Got to End

03/20/2012 09:31 pm ET | Updated May 20, 2012

On March 10 2011, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a 20-year license extension for the Yankee nuclear power plant in Vermont. Hour laters in Japan, tsunami waves smashed into the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant, which contained reactors with the same design as Yankee's, setting in motion the largest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

The Fukushima-Daiichi disaster resulted in irreparable damage to wildlife, agriculture and the surrounding community. Land within 20 kilometers of the plant was deemed an "exclusion zone" that effectively sealed it from the rest of the world. Livestock and other animals affected in the zone were simply abandoned to die. Nearly 2,000 people were evacuated, likely to never see their homes again.

Less than a year on from this tragedy, giant corporations have used their influence to get approval for opening a new nuclear power plant right here in the United States. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently signed off on two reactors to be built in Georgia even though their safety mechanisms have never been tested on an active nuclear plant.

Even more worrying is the NRC's continued approval of licenses for aging nuclear reactors -- dozens of outdated facilities continue to receive approval to operate for the next 20 years despite their age and careless placement. The Indian Point Nuclear Plant is located just 38 miles from New York City and sits on a seismic fault. Its license expires in a few years and its operator has applied for a 20 year extension from the NRC.

These decisions require more scrutiny and oversight, and as a candidate for Congress for Hawaii's Second District, I promise to deliver both to the U.S. House of Representatives if elected.

We know all too well what the awful consequences of nuclear can be yet policy makers in Washington, D.C. seem to think that it could never happen to us. If elected, I'd relentlessly challenge that thinking in public and private and be a tireless advocate of the truth about nuclear power.

And the truth is pretty simple. Disaster at nuclear plants can happen at any time through the unlikeliest of circumstances, costing billions of dollars and surrendering huge swaths of land, and the communities they contain, to nuclear oblivion.

On a visit to Europe in 2009, I made a point of visiting Chernobyl to see how dangerous the use of nuclear energy can be firsthand. There, decades later, I saw almost unimaginable devastation. The entire town surrounding the plant completely deserted; the eerie silence a reminder of the toll of nuclear power.

Sadly, the consequences from a nuclear disaster are not isolated to the immediate areas surrounding failed plants.

Recently, my local evening news ran a story about people walking Hawaii's beaches and testing debris floating onto the shores for radioactivity. If even one of those pieces turns up radioactive, even if it's a tiny amount, it will completely destroy Hawaii's way of life and the tourist industry so many of us rely upon for a living.

Situations like these are the result of irresponsible and short-sighted policy making.

In Congress, I will work to ensure that none of us will be forced to bear the burden of nuclear energy by seeking to slash federal funding that nuclear depends on for research and development. The Department of Energy's 2013 budget has $800 million set aside for these projects in addition to the billions the department has already committed to spending as part of its loan-guarantee program to encourage the construction of new nuclear plants.

We shouldn't gamble away another cent towards this destructive and dangerous energy technology. I will fight to end these spending policies and instead aim federal funding toward clean, safe, renewable energy -- the type that we can all feel comfortable living next to.
That's the responsible path forward for our communities, country and planet and one I'll champion in Congress.