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Congressman Holt, thank you very much for being with us tonight.
REP. RUSH HOLT (D), NEW JERSEY: Good to be with you, Rachel. And thanks for the reports from Bob and Lee. This is a good program. Thanks.
MADDOW: Thanks. Thank you very much. It"s nice of you to say that.
Let me get your reaction particularly to what Bob was talking about, which is the news that this third explosion at this reactor in Japan may be more serious than the previous two, that there may have been a significant new release of radioactivity. An American public listening to you tonight, thinking of you as both a congressman and physicist, what"s your advice about how we should understand the severity of this news?
HOLT: Well, it is troubling. And as you said, this is one of the worst, maybe the second worst nuclear accident in the history of nuclear power. You know, it is--it was supposed to be rare. These are well-designed plants.
The Japanese plants are operated, I think, at least as well as plants in the United States. The designs are similar to what we find in the United States. They have a lot of experience and, yet, these rare events seem to be occurring, you know, every decade or two--the ones that are supposed to occur only every many thousands of years.
You know, we"ve had some reminders in the last weeks that our oil supply is perilous, whether talking about Gulf Coast explosions or Libyan uprisings. And now, we have another reminder that our hopes for nuclear power are perilous as well. And it just underscores that we need a good energy plan. We don"t know how we"re going to get out of our energy predicament.
MADDOW: In terms of comparing this to previous disasters, what happened at Chernobyl is complicated but for me just--as a lay audience reading about it as far as I understand it, it seems like a poorly designed experiment that went bad. At Three Mile Island, it was also human error that really ended up being a significant part of the cause there.
That does not seem to be the case in Japan. As you point out, these are well-built facilities that are as well-run as anywhere else in the world. I worry that our comfort with nuclear power is based not on a lack of organization or a lack of being--or a lack of our ability to believe that we could be bad at our jobs, by a lack of imagination about how bad things are that the Earth could throw at us.
Are we basing our faith in this energy process on fundamentally unsound assumptions about how stable the world is in terms of our climate and earthquakes?
HOLT: I think we might call it human error that they put the backup diesel generators on low ground.
HOLT: So--I mean, the point is, none of these things are free or easy or cheap. I mean, we"re -- 10,000 Americans are dying prematurely each year because of our use of coal. You know, this is--there is no free energy and the nuclear power has problems with safety, mostly under control, with disposal of the used fuel, mostly under control.
But I must say the big issue--the looming issue that I think determines how aggressively we should move forward with nuclear power is the connection with weapons, weapons proliferation. Far more people would be killed with--and far more damage to civil society would be done with nuclear weapons than with any nuclear power plant accident.
And I know the industry says, oh, no, we"re not in the weapons business. We"re just in the power business. There is no connection.
I say, if there"s no connection, why is everybody so worried about Iran? Of course, there"s a connection. And that has to be figured in to the future of nuclear power.
MADDOW: Even when things don"t go wrong, when used as directed.
HOLT: Even when things don"t go wrong--that"s right.
MADDOW: Congressman Rush Holt, Democrat of New Jersey, and an actual physicist--it"s a real pleasure for us to have you here tonight with us, sir. Thank you.
HOLT: Good to be with you.
MADDOW: We will be right back.
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