Energy Secretary Steven Chu: 'Imprudent' to close US nuclear plants

US Energy Secretary Steven Chu discussed Japan's nuclear crisis, the clean-energy transition, and the future of nuclear power in the US at the Monitor breakfast April 1.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Energy Secretary Steven Chu speaks at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters, on April 1.

Energy SecretarySteven Chu had a distinguished scientific career before joining Barack Obama's cabinet. He shared the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics, was a professor at Stanford University, and ran the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He was the guest speaker at the April 1 Monitor breakfast in Washington, D.C.

Progress dealing with the damaged reactors at ­Japan's Fukushima Daiichi complex:

"They are making headway, but [in one reactor] ... there [are] significant levels of radiation that impede progress."

Nuclear energy's continuing role in US energy policy:

"We still believe that that has to be part of our energy mix.... We do not want to be generating our electricity from one source.... We want to have a diversified source as the renewables pick up ... steam, as the price drops and they become cost [competitive] without subsidy."

Calls to close nuclear plants close to population centers like New York City:

"It is premature to say that these plants have to shut down. New York State, in partnership with the nuclear regulatory agency, is reviewing the issue.... It would be imprudent to say we have 20 percent of our energy [from nuclear] so shut them all down. That's like saying you have a major gas leak somewhere and an explosion kills a lot of people – we don't want to use natural gas anymore."

The impact of Republicans' proposed cuts in his department's clean-energy R&D budget:

"I would hope Congress would appreciate the fact that the research-and-development budget is vital for our future prosperity.... This is a very competitive world out there.... You turn off the spigot for this research and ideas, you will be saying, 'All right, United States, you are not in the race anymore.' And that would be tragic."

Climate change and the transition to cleaner energy:

"There are two very good reasons for transitioning to clean energy and a more energy-efficient economy. One of them ... is the climate imperative. There are risks as we go forward; each year, we are learning more about those risks. The evidence is getting stronger and stronger. And there is a very compelling case. But there is another reason. And the other reason is: The world is beginning to realize that they will need to transition to clean energy, they want clean-energy sources, and those clean-energy sources – we believe within the coming decade or decades, but not too many – will become competitive with fossil fuel."

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