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No time to overreact U.S. must learn from Japan's disaster while turning toward nuclear energy

No major source of energy is problem free. Currently, the two biggest sources are petroleum and coal. With gas expected soon to top $4 per gallon, the fiasco in the Gulf of Mexico still being cleaned up, and the nation at the mercy of autocratic Arab nations, the cry to replace petroleum has never been louder -- and there's still nothing being done about it.

Coal has just about every environmental problem imaginable surrounding it, and let's not forget what happened to the miners in Chile, one of many mine tragedies that have killed people around the world.

Meanwhile, very attractive, renewable sources such as wind and sun cannot, at this point, produce enough energy to address the country's needs.

The only major source of energy that has killed no one in the United States yet and is potent enough to take the pressure off of oil and gas is nuclear.

That word -- nuclear -- conjures up images of Nagasaki and Hiroshima and now Fukushima. But this is no time to let exaggerated fear and knee-jerk reaction delay relief for America. This is a time to learn from the tragedy in Japan and to establish for the first time a real energy policy for the country.

Two related facts are worth noting. First, it wasn't the earthquake that knocked out the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. It was the tsunami, but even then, not how you would think. What happened is that sources of electricity that would have cooled down the reactors were knocked out by rising water. If those sources of electricity had been built on higher ground, there would have been a completely different outcome.

Secondly, the Platts Global Energy Awards, often called the Academy Awards of Energy, awarded its top honor to the China National Offshore Oil Corp. Where is the United States in international leadership on energy?

Not surprisingly, congressional committees are conducting hearings on nuclear safety in the United States, and finding there were federal inspectors in each of the 103 nuclear plants in the country, and no serious problem has occurred in any of those plants.

The people of New York have an immediate stake in the game.

The Indian Point nuclear plant in Westchester is the issue.

Environmentalists are calling for the plant to be shut down -- the same people who make New York the only state with a moratorium on the use of hydrofracking to access natural gas.

It's easy for the environmentalists to complain, but if Indian Point is shut down, New York loses 12 percent of the state's electric power. Where is the replacement going to come from? We have no excess capacity.

One has to ask why France has been able to count on nuclear to supply 80 percent of its electricity output while the United States seems paralyzed in moving forward.

Fortunately, President Obama has taken a strong position on the need to increase nuclear power. But the lead time in getting a nuclear plant up runs from seven to 12 years, largely because of antiquated regulation and needless law hurdles. It's time for Congress to act quickly in behalf of the nation, with the lessons of Fukushima prominently in mind.

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