Price-Anderson Reauthorization in H.R.6: An Insurance Scam for the Nuclear Industry

At a time when energy trading scandals have highlighted the need for greater corporate accountability, reauthorization of the Price-Anderson Act in the House and Senate energy bills promotes nuclear irresponsibility. Price-Anderson establishes a taxpayer-backed insurance regime for nuclear power plant operators and Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear contractors that limits their liability in the event of an accident.  Absent Congressional reauthorization, the Act’s commercial nuclear provisions will expire at the end of this year, while provisions applicable to DOE contractors will expire in August 2004. The current draft of the energy bill in conference committee extends coverage to new reactors licensed over the next 20 years [Title VI, Subtitle A].

Oppose Price-Anderson Reauthorization!

  • Price-Anderson was originally enacted in 1957 as a temporary measure to support the fledgling nuclear industry and was expected to expire after 10 years.
  • Reauthorizing the Price-Anderson Act would extend this misdirected economic stimulus program to proposed new nuclear power plants.  Existing reactors will continue to be covered even if the Act expires.  If proposed new reactors are as safe as the industry claims, nuclear operators should be able to privately insure them.
  • The insurance coverage required under the Price-Anderson Act understates the calculated risk of atomic power, leaving the public inadequately protected and taxpayers potentially on the hook in the event of a serious nuclear accident.
  • The Price-Anderson Act is an indirect subsidy to nuclear operators in terms of annual insurance premiums they don’t have to pay.  This distorts economic viability assessments in the energy sector and gives nuclear power an unfair and undesirable competitive advantage over cleaner, safer energy options.
  • The Price-Anderson Act indemnifies Department of Energy contractors involved in nuclear incidents even in cases of gross negligence and willful misconduct.  No other government agency provides this level of taxpayer indemnification to non-government personnel.

Policy Recommendations

  1. Scrap Price-Anderson reauthorization provisions in the energy bill that would extend this subsidy to new reactors.
  2. Mandate studies to assess the annual value of the Price-Anderson subsidy and update analyses of estimated cost of a severe accident at U.S. reactors.
  3. Strengthen provisions covering DOE nuclear activities to hold contractors accountable for accidents caused by gross negligence or willful misconduct.
  4. Strengthen provisions covering existing nuclear reactors to increase the amount of compensation available to the public and require financial assurance (lines of credit, escrow accounts, etc.) to guarantee nuclear operators’ ability to meet Price-Anderson obligations in the event of an accident or attack.