Can Bernie end nuclear’s cost shift to the public purse?

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.

About Sue Prent

Artist/Writer/Activist living in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband since 1983. I was born in Chicago; moved to Montreal in 1969; lived there and in Berlin, W. Germany until we finally settled in St. Albans.

9 thoughts on “Can Bernie end nuclear’s cost shift to the public purse?

  1. When I saw, “Can Bernie end nuclear’s cost shift to the public purse?” I immediately assumed the article would be about the $300B+ the US will spend on useless nuclear weapons over the next ten years.  

    And how Bernie is one of the few Senators who is against the $40B cut to food stamps the GOp demanded and that the “Democrats” got reduced to a mere $9B.  Because not enough Americans are starving now…

  2. The Invisible Hand of the Free Market decided long, long ago that they wanted nothing to do with Nuclear Power.  If Conservatives were really Capitalists, like they claim, they’d all be against nuclear power for being a Socialist money pit.

    Yes, this article is true. If VY exploded tomorrow due to incompetence and mismanagement by Entergy, and all of New England had to be evacuated – including Boston – Entergy gets to walk away scott free and let the taxpayer pick up their tab.

    The US Government is the ONLY reason nuclear power exists.  The Fed (you and me, the taxpayers) pays for the mining and refining and shipping of nuclear fuel, the Fed pays for the construction of the tea kettles we call nuclear power plants, they pay most of the cost of taking these plants apart, and it pays the full cost of dealing with the ‘spent’ fuel.  The only period of time that there is any positive flow of money into these boondoggle black holes, the Fed hands these tea kettles to a for profit company to suck up every penny that should be going back to The People.

    Nuclear Power: The Biggest Boondoggle ever devised by America.

  3. “The cost of the single disaster at Fukushima has been estimated at $80-billion dollars.” Time will tell, but I suspect that figure will end up being ridiculously low.  Certainly nothing I’ve seen so far suggests that Japan will get off anywhere near that lightly.  Costs of a catastrophic accident at VY were estimated by MIT researchers years ago at up to $650 billion, and VY is just one plant, whereas there are 4 damaged plants at Fukushima.  (At Fukushima, a lot will depend on whether the Pacific Ocean is to be treated as a large waste repository or whether an effort will be made to do something about the damage).

    2) You and the commenter should mention that Bernie’s effort, should he decide to make it, has the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell of actually succeeding.  It would not even get close to making it out of the Energy Committee he sits on, where probably the only ally he’d have would be Chairwoman Boxer, and even she might not support him.

    I heartily applaud Bernie’s threat and even the effort, if it’s made, but readers should certainly understand that it’s purely symbolic.  Don Quixote had much better odds of success against his windmills.

  4. I don’t want to be heard as opposing Bernie’s effort.  Quite to the contrary, more power to him.

    Price-Anderson was a bad idea in the 1950s.  By now, with a mature nuclear industry, and all sorts of promising energy alternatives, it’s really nothing short of scandalous.  

    So I’m absolutely delighted Bernie is ready to oppose it, and can only hope that he’ll find at least a few other senators to join him.

    I just didn’t want your readers to get optimistic.

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