The Senate voted 99 to 0 today to confirm James D. Watkins as energy secretary, handing the retired admiral the “daunting challenge” of refurbishing the Energy Department’s crippled network of nuclear weapons factories.
The vote came less than four hours after the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 19 to 0 to recommend that Watkins, 61, be made the first career military man to head the department since it was created in 1977.
J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), chairman of the committee, told the Senate that the job of reviving and cleaning up the nuclear weapons complex is a top priority.
“It is perhaps the most daunting challenge that we have ever given to anybody in the Cabinet . . . anytime in the history of this country,” Johnston said.
Johnston called Watkins “a man of that substance and that reputation,” echoing the warm praise Watkins won during his confirmation hearing last Wednesday.
Although he has no experience in the conventional energy field, Watkins developed an expertise in nuclear power during a 41-year Navy career that included training in reactor technology as well as the command of a nuclear submarine.