Nuclear Industry Shouldn’t Be Let Off the Hook for Accident Costs; Lawmakers Wrong to Force Taxpayers to Subsidize Nuclear Indus

Oct. 4, 2001

Nuclear Industry Shouldn?t Be Let Off the Hook for Accident Costs

Lawmakers Wrong to Force Taxpayers to Subsidize Nuclear Industry?s Insurance Costs

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The House Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality was wrong to vote today to reauthorize the Price-Anderson Act, which calls for the government ? and therefore taxpayers ? to foot most of the bill in the event of a nuclear power accident, Public Citizen said today.

Not only is it a bad idea to reauthorize the act, but lawmakers should gather much more information about the security of nuclear power plants before even considering the legislation, particularly in light of the events of Sept. 11, Public Citizen said. The nuclear power industry has a dismal record of passing mock security drills, and recent published reports indicate that nuclear power plants could not withstand the attacks perpetrated on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

“This is absolutely the wrong time for the Congress to be considering the extension of this program,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “The current law doesn?t expire until next August, but the leadership in the House of Representatives has put this legislation on a fast track. It?s foolhardy to consider this until a full and thorough discussion of nuclear safety is conducted.”

The Price-Anderson Act was passed in 1957 to help the nascent nuclear power industry get off the ground by providing government-backed indemnification in the event of any nuclear power accidents. Now, nuclear power plants must buy $200 million worth of insurance, and the industry?s costs in the event of an accident would be capped at $9 billion. However, a nuclear accident would likely cost $500 billion, according to government estimates. The government would have to pay for what the nuclear industry doesn?t cover. Under the pending legislation, the act would be reauthorized for 15 years. Public Citizen opposes the reauthorization, but says that if lawmakers do approve it, they should impose strict security requirements to protect against terrorism and assure the security of the reactors and surrounding communities.

Of particular concern in light of the events of Sept. 11 is the subcommittee?s approval of concessions to new reactors constructed according to the pebble bed modular reactor design, which cuts costs by eliminating the traditional containment that protects the reactor from explosions and intrusions.

“This reckless move to promote dangerous new reactors is straight off the nuclear industry?s wish-list,” Hauter said. “There is no excuse for such blatant disregard of the safety risks that a new generation of nuclear plants would pose to the American public.”

Further, the bill continues to require the American taxpayer to pick up the tab for willful and negligent actions of private contractors at U.S. Department of Energy facilities. As Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member John Dingell (D-Mich.) pointed out, neither the Environmental Protection Agency nor the Defense Department provide this level of subsidized indemnification to their private contractors who perform unsatisfactorily.

“What?s the rush?” Hauter asked. “This is not the time to rush this legislation through the Congress. By doing so, we would expose our citizens to even more harm ? financially and otherwise. Congress should put an end to corporate welfare for the nuclear industry.”

For more information about the Price-Anderson Act, click here.

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