Should U.S. Stop Building Nuclear Plants After Japan Earthquake?

Nearly 3 million Americans live within 10 miles of an operating nuclear power plant.

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A nuclear power plant in Japan suffered one explosion on Saturday and a second this morning as a result of last Friday’s record 8.9-magnitude quake. Fears of a nuclear meltdown come on the heels of the devastation the quake and resulting tsunami brought to the island nation, leaving at least 10,000 dead. More than 200,000 residents living in the area surrounding the plant have been evacuated. Like most structures in Japan, the nuclear plants were built to survive the earthquakes that frequently hit there, but Friday’s seismic rumble was the largest on record in Japan. By comparison, Haiti’s 2010 earthquake measured 7 on the Richter scale, and the infamous 1906 quake that destroyed much of the San Francisco area measured around 8.

Japan’s disaster leaves many asking: Could it happen here? The United States has more than 100 nuclear power generators, and, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s website, “nearly 3 million Americans live within 10 miles of an operating nuclear power plant.” President Obama, as well as other Democrats and Republicans, have pushed expansion of nuclear power in the United States as a way to ease dependence on foreign oil while creating new jobs. [Read the U.S. News debate: Does the United States Need More Nuclear Power?]

Independent Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman believes it’s time for the United States to put a moratorium on building new plants. "We don't know where it's going with regard to the nuclear power plants in Japan right now, and I think it calls on us here in the U.S., naturally, not to stop building nuclear power plants, but to put the brakes on right now until we understand the ramifications of what's happened in Japan," he said on CBS’s Face the Nation. He added that he is a strong supporter of nuclear power since “it’s domestic, it’s ours, and it’s clean,” and because the country has had a “good safety record.”

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News Sunday that he doesn’t think “right after a major environmental catastrophe is a very good time to be making American domestic policy,” he said. “This discussion reminds me, somewhat, of the conversations that were going on after the BP oil spill last year.”

Still others believe this is a wake-up call for the world to pursue safe and greener sources of energy.

What do you think? Should the United States temporarily put the brakes on building new nuclear power plants? Take the poll and post your thoughts below.

This poll is now closed, but the debate continues in the comments section.

Previously: How should the U.S. government respond to Japan’s earthquake and tsunami?