LOS ALAMOS, N.M. — U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Wednesday vowed to advocate for nuclear power as the nation looks for ways to fuel its economy and limit the effects of electricity generation on the environment.
Perry made the comments during a visit to Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico, where nuclear research has been among the main focuses since the lab’s founding years during World War II. Los Alamos played a key role in the top-secret Manhattan Project to develop the first atomic bomb.
Current work at the lab centers on nuclear deterrence, nonproliferation and the modernization of the U.S. nuclear stockpile.
Aside from working on weapons, Perry said scientists at the New Mexico lab are conducting research that has the potential to lead to discoveries that can benefit the nuclear power industry.
Los Alamos’ supercomputing capabilities can help with that, he said.
Perry seemed to echo his predecessor, Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist and former energy secretary under the Obama administration who often talked about the potential of nuclear power.
“If you really care about this environment that we live in — and I think the vast majority of the people in the country and the world do — then you need to be a supporter of this amazingly clean, resilient, safe, reliable source of energy,” Perry said during a news conference.
Perry also acknowledged the tons of radioactive waste that have piled up at Los Alamos and other federal facilities around the country after decades of research and bomb-making.
Just this week, a tunnel containing radioactive waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state collapsed. No one was hurt and federal officials said there was no radiological release, but the incident reignited concerns that time is running out for the federal government to deal with the Cold War-era waste.
Los Alamos has had its own problems related to legacy waste.
It was a container inappropriately packed at the lab that caused a 2014 radiation release and the costly shutdown of the federal government’s only underground nuclear waste repository in southern New Mexico.
Shipments of waste only recently began making their way to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant for disposal after state and federal officials cleared the way for operations to resume.
Perry planned to visit the repository later this week.
“I think it’s really important that we no longer continue to kick the can down the road,” he said. “There are too many places in America and American lives and the health of our citizens are in jeopardy because the federal government has failed to respond appropriately in removing this waste in a timely way.”
The problem transcends decades and presidential administrations. Perry said he knows it can’t be cleaned up overnight but he vowed to make progress.