Senator Weighs Offering Legislation Ending Liability Limits for Nuclear Disasters

U.S. Bernard Sanders (I-VT) covers his face during a 2009 hearing. Sanders is considering introducing a bill that would end liability limits for the nuclear power industry in the event of a disaster.
National Journal
Douglas P. Guarino
Jan. 31, 2014, 10:11 a.m.

Sen­at­or Bern­ard Sanders (I-Vt.) is con­sid­er­ing in­tro­du­cing le­gis­la­tion this year that would over­turn the fed­er­al law in­su­lat­ing the nuc­le­ar power in­dustry from li­ab­il­ity in the event of a cata­strophe.

The ef­fect could be to put en­ergy com­pan­ies — rather than the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment — on the hook for any skyrock­et­ing costs that might fol­low any fu­ture U.S. atom­ic-en­ergy dis­aster.

Un­der the Price-An­der­son Nuc­le­ar In­dus­tries In­dem­nity Act, which Con­gress first passed in 1957 and has since re­newed sev­er­al times, the li­ab­il­ity of nuc­le­ar power plant op­er­at­ors in the event of a dis­aster is lim­ited. The in­dustry pays in­to an in­sur­ance ac­count — es­tim­ated to have a cur­rent value of $12 bil­lion — that is in­ten­ded to un­der­write such ex­pendit­ures as hotel stays, lost wages and re­place­ment of prop­erty for people af­fected by a nuc­le­ar power plant in­cid­ent.

Ab­sent an act of Con­gress pla­cing ad­di­tion­al li­ab­il­ity on the com­pan­ies, any costs that ex­ceed the value of the in­sur­ance fund would have to be covered by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment us­ing tax­pay­er dol­lars.

In ad­di­tion, doc­u­ments re­leased un­der the Free­dom of In­form­a­tion Act in re­cent years show that the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment has not de­cided on a plan for how the ac­tu­al cleanup of the con­tam­in­ated area sur­round­ing a com­prom­ised nuc­le­ar fa­cil­ity would be paid for.

In 2009, U.S. Nuc­le­ar Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion of­fi­cials in­formed their coun­ter­parts at the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment and the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency that the Price An­der­son money likely would not be avail­able to pay for off­s­ite cleanup. The rev­el­a­tion was made pub­lic one year later when in­tern­al EPA doc­u­ments were re­leased un­der the Free­dom of In­form­a­tion Act.

New York state of­fi­cials have since ar­gued the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment should re­solve the is­sue be­fore re­new­ing li­censes for the In­di­an Point nuc­le­ar power plant, loc­ated just north of New York City.

Dur­ing a hear­ing on Thursday, Sanders de­bated Re­pub­lic­an col­leagues on the Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee who ar­gued that the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment plays too big a role in reg­u­lat­ing the en­ergy in­dustry and is thus stifling its growth.

The hear­ing fo­cused on NRC im­ple­ment­a­tion of steps to pre­vent a Fukushi­ma-style cata­strophe in the United States, and com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Bar­bara Box­er (D-Cal­if.) used it as an op­por­tun­ity to chas­tise the agency for what she said was slow fol­low-through.

Sen­at­or James In­hofe (R-Okla.) sug­ges­ted dur­ing the hear­ing “that per­haps we are try­ing to reg­u­late the nuc­le­ar en­ergy in­dustry out busi­ness, just like we’re try­ing to reg­u­late the fossil fuels busi­ness out of busi­ness.”

Sanders countered that the nuc­le­ar power in­dustry would not be able to ex­ist in the United States were it not for the li­ab­il­ity lim­its in fed­er­al law and the gov­ern­ment’s ob­lig­a­tion to cov­er ex­cess costs re­lated to a cata­strophe.

He sug­ges­ted this was iron­ic, giv­en that Re­pub­lic­ans had giv­en “speech after speech” ar­guing that that it is gov­ern­ment that is pre­vent­ing in­dustry from suc­ceed­ing.

“I won­der if any of my con­ser­vat­ive friends would co-spon­sor with me le­gis­la­tion to re­peal Price An­der­son so that we can leave the nuc­le­ar power in­dustry alone and not get in­volved with gov­ern­ment,” Sanders said. “I look for­ward to work­ing with Sen­at­or [Dav­id] Vit­ter [R-La.] or Sen­at­or In­hofe on get­ting the gov­ern­ment out of the nuc­le­ar power in­dustry. Any vo­lun­teers at this point?”

After leav­ing the hear­ing early, Sanders told Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire he could in­tro­duce le­gis­la­tion re­peal­ing the law as early as this year.

“We may very well — we’ll look at it,” Sanders told GSN. “I think it’s im­port­ant to deal with some of the hy­po­crisy.”

What We're Following See More »
1.5 MILLION MORE TUNED IN FOR TRUMP
More People Watched Trump’s Acceptance Speech
16 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Hillary Clinton hopes that television ratings for the candidates' acceptance speeches at their respective conventions aren't foreshadowing of similar results at the polls in November. Preliminary results from the networks and cable channels show that 34.9 million people tuned in for Donald Trump's acceptance speech while 33.3 million watched Clinton accept the Democratic nomination. However, it is still possible that the numbers are closer than these ratings suggest: the numbers don't include ratings from PBS or CSPAN, which tend to attract more Democratic viewers.

Source:
×