Never a bad time for hackery

Fred Upton:
"We want to find out why it takes so long to go from start to finish on a new nuclear reactor," Upton said Thursday — a day before the earthquake and tsunami struck. "Why does it take us 10 to 12 years and it takes the French and Japanese four to five years? We want to see what we can do to change that. By lowering the number years, we can lower the cost."

It really is too early to start thinking about what the effects will be on public perception of the US nuclear energy industry, which is probably why everyone was talking about exactly that on the Sunday morning talk shows. So let's just address the "the French and Japanese are building them faster" canard. There are multiple reasons why nuclear power plants aren't built as fast here as in Japan, however, the governmental regulation side has recently been fixed:
In the U.S. many new regulations were put in place in the years before and again immediately after the Three Mile Island accident's partial meltdown, resulting in plant startup delays of many years. The NRC has new regulations in place now (see Combined Construction and Operating License), and the next plants will have NRC Final Design Approval before the customer buys them, and a Combined Construction and Operating License will be issued before construction starts, guaranteeing that if the plant is built as designed then it will be allowed to operate — thus avoiding lengthy hearings after completion.

In Japan and France, construction costs and delays are significantly diminished because of streamlined government licensing and certification procedures. In France, one model of reactor was type-certified, using a safety engineering process similar to the process used to certify aircraft models for safety. That is, rather than licensing individual reactors, the regulatory agency certified a particular design and its construction process to produce safe reactors. U.S. law permits type-licensing of reactors, a process which is being used on the AP1000 and the ESBWR.
In light of what might happen with Japan's nuclear power plants following the tsunami, it is appropriate to now impose a limited moratorium, assess what went wrong and what went right in Japan and where our vulnerabilities lie. Especially, however, the older plants, some of which are getting to around 40 years old, which is about the same age as the at-risk Japanese plants, should be re-examined.