Japan quake disaster shows U.S. at risk of Chernobyl-type event

Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, the senior Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, warned Saturday that the U.S. is vulnerable to the type of nuclear accident that has sent waves of fear through northeast Japan.

An explosion at the Fukushima nuclear reactor Saturday destroyed exterior walls and leaked radioactive material in the aftermath of an earthquake that measured 8.9 on the Richter scale.

The quake unleashed a tsunami that devastated the northeastern shoreline of the island nation, swamping roads, bridges and airports and leaving perhaps thousands dead.

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The explosion at the nuclear reactor has added the specter of nuclear fallout that could sicken hundreds of thousands.

Markey warned Saturday that U.S. reactors are not immune from such a catastrophe.

“As a result of this disaster, the world is now facing the looming threat of a possible nuclear meltdown at one of the damaged Japanese nuclear reactors,” Markey said.

Markey said he hoped the Japanese would act swiftly to bring the situation under control and avoid a Chernobyl-style disaster.

“I am also struck by the fact that the tragic events now unfolding in Japan could very easily occur in the United States,” Markey said. “What is happening in Japan right now shows that a severe accident at a nuclear power plant can happen here."

Markey called on the Obama administration and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to consider the implementation of several policy changes in light of the disaster.

Among the proposed reforms, he called for a moratorium of siting new nuclear reactors on seismically active areas and called for reactors in seismically active zones to be retrofitted with stronger containment systems.