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Congress Should Not Reauthorize Price-Anderson Act

Oct. 31, 2001

Congress Should Not Reauthorize Price-Anderson Act

H.R. 2983 Extends Taxpayer Indemnification of Nuclear Industry

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? The House Energy and Commerce Committee should not approve a bill that continues taxpayer subsidies to the nuclear power industry and paves the way for the construction of new power plants, Public Citizen said today. The committee first took up H.R. 2983, a bill to reauthorize the Price-Anderson Act, on Oct. 11 and resumed the markup this morning.

“This bill would improperly pave the way for new nuclear power plants without adequately addressing the issue of increasing security and improving safety at nuclear facilities,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “In light of the recent terrorist attacks, there should be a thorough assessment of security needs at U.S. nuclear power facilities before Congress considers reauthorizing the Price-Anderson Act.”

The Price-Anderson Act was enacted in 1957 as a temporary measure to support the fledgling nuclear power industry, and it has been reauthorized throughout the years. The act establishes a taxpayer-backed insurance regime for nuclear power plants that limits the liability of nuclear operators in the event of an accident and reduces the amount of insurance they are required to carry on operating reactors. The limits set by Congress are far below the potential cost of an accident, and provide the industry with a financial boost so it can operate much more cheaply.

Almost half a century later, the inherent risks of nuclear power should be fully incorporated into the cost structures of any proposal for new nuclear reactors, Public Citizen argued. Opponents and proponents of atomic energy have both recognized that industry proposals for new nuclear power plants hinge on the reauthorization of the Price-Anderson Act, which will sunset in August 2002 without congressional action.

“Not only does Price-Anderson give nuclear power an uncompetitive advantage over cleaner, safer energy options, but it leaves the nuclear industry with virtually no incentive to increase security,” Hauter said. “With such small liability, the industry won?t ever put a premium on making plants secure.

“Given the current heightened security concerns, Congress should not pass legislation that would facilitate the construction of new nuclear targets.”