Washington’s perennial White Knight and my own favorite DC delegate, Senator Bernie Sanders, appears poised to do it again.
Asserting the privilege enjoyed by those rare individuals who can claim some independence in the captive environment of Capitol Hill, the Senator may be ready to take on the Price Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act.
For half a century, this stealth cost-shift mechanism has allowed the nuclear industry to enjoy an unfair advantage in the market for alternative energy over solar, wind, geo-thermal and anything else that might come down the pike.
Drafted in the infancy of atomic energy initiatives to give that fledgling U.S. industry a unique leg-up over conventional energy sources, Price-Anderson continues to artificially prop-up the nuclear balance sheet.
While lending nuclear a competitive edge, Price Anerson disadvantages truly clean energy alternatives that have been developing in the interim.
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.
As provided for under Price Anderson, the U.S. nuclear industry collectively pays into an “insurance account” which is available to fund the collateral costs of a nuclear emergency. The industry’s maximum liability is capped at the amount in the fund. The current value of that fund is estimated at $12-billion dollars.
To put that figure into perspective, the cost of the single disaster at Fukushima has been estimated at $80-billion dollars.
And, who gets to take up the slack? Why the American taxpayers, of course!
…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.
Holding what amounts to a “Get Out of Jail Free” card, the American nuclear industry has enjoyed the double advantage over other energy industries of paying a significantly reduced premium for insurance and being able to make the public claim that nuclear energy was “cheap.”
When Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer recently criticized the NRC’s slow uptake of lessons from Fukushima, Senator James Inhofe (R) of Oklahoma sniffed
“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.”
To which Senator Sanders responded by offering that perhaps Senator Inhofe might like to join him in introducing legislation to repeal Price-Anderson in order to
“get government out of the nuclear industry.”
Now that the proverbial gauntlet has been thrown down, I hope we’ll see Bernie follow through.