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Lawmakers to Vote on Nuclear Power Subsidy With Virtually No Debate

Nov. 26, 2001

Lawmakers to Vote on Nuclear Power Subsidy With Virtually No Debate

Price-Anderson Act Being Rammed Through the House; Act Promotes New Reactors, Subsidizes Nuclear Industry in Event of Accident or Terrorist Attack

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? The U.S. House of Representatives should not vote on the Price-Anderson Act ? which establishes a subsidy for the nuclear industry ? as scheduled Tuesday because lawmakers will have no opportunity to amend it and virtually no time to debate it, Public Citizen said today.

The act allows the nuclear power industry to operate with only a sliver of private-sector insurance coverage relative to the enormous costs that would be incurred in the event of an accident at a commercial reactor. 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. Those limits are far below the potential cost of an accident, so taxpayers could pay billions of dollars if a meltdown occurs or a reactor is attacked by terrorists. Such taxpayer support reduces the incentive for the nuclear industry to increase security.

H.R. 2983 would reauthorize the act, which was first passed in 1957 and has been reauthorized throughout the years. The law is scheduled to expire next year, but nuclear industry proponents contend it must be extended now to cover a new generation of nuclear power plants or those plants won?t be built.

The House leadership has placed H.R. 2983 on the suspension calendar, a legislative device normally reserved for non-controversial measures virtually certain to pass, such as bills to name post offices and courthouses or resolutions expressing congressional support for holidays. By considering the bill under a suspension of the rules, House members are not allowed to amend it, and just 20 minutes of debate are permitted per side.

“This country needs to have a broad, deep discussion about its energy future,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “Yet the leadership in the House of Representatives is pretending that national energy policy is no more important than naming a courthouse.”

To be lifted from the suspension calendar, 145 members of the House would have to vote to return H.R. 2983 to the normal legislative process, where the merits of promoting nuclear power could be debated and amendments could be introduced.

A full debate on the wisdom of the United States encouraging more nuclear plants ? which could be terrorist targets ? is particularly important after Sept. 11. Since that time, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has announced a comprehensive review of security safeguards at nuclear plants, National Guard troops have been summoned to bolster security at several plants, and Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have announced they intend to introduce legislation to federalize security forces at nuclear power plants.

Citing security concerns, a coalition of citizens and political and civic leaders in New York have petitioned for the closing of the Indian Point nuclear power plant, which is located only about 25 miles from New York City. And associates of Osama bin Laden have been quoted in media reports about the desire to attack a nuclear power plant in the United States. Should a plant be attacked, radiation could spread widely, killing countless numbers of people, making more people sick and rendering whole cities uninhabitable.

Even before Sept. 11, the White House sparked vigorous debate and protest by proposing a far-reaching energy program loaded with subsidies for industries close to the administration, including the nuclear power industry. The Senate is expected to take up that controversial legislation early next year.

But in the House, Hauter said, heightened interest in energy policy, heightened concern for security at nuclear plants and heightened awareness of the relationship between the two don?t appear important enough to warrant democratic debate.

“If House members vote to build new nuclear power plants ? and make no mistake, that?s what Price-Anderson reauthorization is all about ? with virtually no debate, they are depriving the nation of exactly the type of vigorous democratic discussion we?ve asked our military forces to defend,” Hauter said.