In 2011, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on Japan’s east coast suffered a meltdown after a tsunami knocked out generators, causing its cooling system to fail. During the incident, pools storing spent fuel rods also overheated.
The incident caused massive radioactive contamination that forced entire cities and towns to be abandoned. To be sure, a disaster on that scale at the California facility is unlikely because it no longer has functioning nuclear reactors.
Perry on Tuesday said lawmakers have a moral obligation to find a permanent solution for the country’s nuclear waste. He backed a long-delayed plan to store the waste at Yucca Mountain, an option that former Democratic leader Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada managed to scuttle for many years.
The plan faces continued opposition from Nevada lawmakers and many environmentalists. However, it has support among many members of Congress eager to see nuclear waste shipped out of their states and stored at a secure, central facility.
During his confirmation hearing, Perry played to both sides of the issue.
Locations of nuclear waste for geologic disposal (2002), source: Department of Energy
On Tuesday, Perry also raised the prospect of temporarily storing nuclear waste from around the country at the Nevada National Security Site, a former testing ground for nuclear devices. He also mentioned sites in New Mexico and Texas that have previously been discussed as interim storage sites.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced legislation to authorize the Department of Energy to enter into contracts to store high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel at temporary facilities. Perry needs that authorization, as well as permission to tap funds, to establish the sites.
On Monday, Perry told CNBC reviving the U.S. nuclear energy industry is “on the front burner” for the Trump administration.