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House Energy Committee Chair Visits North Texas Nuclear Plant

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(Photo by Krafft Angerer/Getty Images)

(Photo by Krafft Angerer/Getty Images)

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GLEN ROSE (CBSDFW.COM) - Not only are American nuclear power generators keenly aware of the problems with Japan’s smoldering nuclear reactors, they’re learning from them.

“One thing in the nuclear industry is that we share all the information, its almost like a family,” said Rafael Flores, Chief Nuclear Officer for the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant. “We stick together. We learn from each other and we improve so from my stand point we’ll look at some things that happened there.”

Comanche Peak, 80 miles southwest of Dallas, operates two nuclear units. Japan’s problems come at a crucial time as Comanche Peak’s operator, Luminant, is seeking federal licenses for two more units.

“It brings it to the public’s attention,” said U.S. Representative Joe Barton, (R – Ennis) who visited Comanche Peak Wednesday. “I think its very fair for the public to ask some tough questions about the safety of existing plants and the safety of any potential new plants.”

Which is why Barton’s visit was so important. Barton is the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, a key committee for steering national nuclear power policy in coming years.

Luminant wants to build two next-generation reactors with the help of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd., or MHI, which already builds the reactors in Japan.

In light of the crisis in Japan, the debate now is whether there are enough protections in the new design to continue the lengthy permitting process. Barton says there are.

“Our safety systems in the United States are much more robust than the systems in Japan,” Barton said. “Both our older systems and the new systems that are beginning to be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”

The designs and permits proposed by Luminant and MHI are currently under federal review. Luminant hopes to have a license by 2013 and the two new power units online by 2021 or 2022.

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