The worsening nuclear crisis in Japan is beginning to look like the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, a leading Democratic lawmaker said Wednesday.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said that in the wake of the incident, the U.S. must conduct a thorough review of the safety of its nuclear sites, but stopped short of calling for a moratorium on nuclear power development.


"I think we have to have a lot of pause after what's happened in Japan," said Waxman during an interview on ABC's "Top Line" webcast. "They're looking like Chernobyl or close to it at the moment."

Waxman's comments underscore the increasing concern of U.S. officials as the Japan's nuclear power plant crisis heads toward a tipping point.

Japanese authorities are trying to prevent a large leak of nuclear material from the Fukushima Daiichi power plan, which was severely damaged by a massive earthquake and tsunami that struck the country last week.

A number of experts, however, have said that because of key technical differences the Japan crisis is not likely to reach the level of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, which is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history.

Still, experts say it is still possible a large leak could occur in Japan, which would have dire consequences for public health and safety as well as the environment.

Waxman said he didn't support a full-blown moratorium on new nuclear facilities, saying there could be some further along in the development process.

But he added, "I think it would be a mistake to move forward with nuclear facilities without learning what happened in Japan."

Waxman said that President Obama should not back away from his support for nuclear power, but called for a large-scale review of U.S. nuclear facilities and a renewed commitment to a diverse energy plan that includes renewables.

"I don't think we ought to put all our eggs in the nuclear basket," Waxman said. 

Waxman hit Republicans, saying they are too reliant on nuclear power, oil and coal.

"They're not for a balanced portfolio," he said.