Human Life: Too Cheap to Meter?

A morsel of outrage that has recently bubbled to the top of discussions among energy watchers deserves special mention on Green Mountain Daily:

In the spirit of a brisk holiday sale season, the value of life for American ratepayers appears to have been discounted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in order to ease the path forward for the industry over which, in the public interest, they preside.


“If you wrap your new car around a tree beside the interstate, the U.S. government values your life at $9 million. If you’re at risk from a nuclear accident, you’re priced at just $3 million.”

The $3-million figure was established twenty years ago by the NRC,  and they have  chosen to maintain that figure rather than increasing it to keep apace with other federal agencies that now peg the value of a human life at three times that figure: $9-million.

And why, pray tell, would the Nuclear REGULATORY Commission do such a thing?

“Using this low value has a significant effect on nuclear plant license renewals and new reactor approvals,” said Ed Lyman, a Washington-based physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Nuclear plants are not required to add safety systems that the NRC deems too expensive for the value of the lives they could save.”

That’s right folks:  the value of human life has just been officially reduced so that nuke operators don’t have to over-think our safety.  ‘Just another example of our government working for the guys who pay the freight to Washington.

You can almost imagine Uncle Sam paraphrasing Bob Dylan:

“When you ain’t worth nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose.”

Nuclear energy providers expect the American public to forget about their filthy and dangerous fuel sourcing practices; ignore their still more dangerous waste product with its potential for terrorist exploitation; pass over the burden that taxpayers have borne so that corporate operators could construct their facilities; accept the continued need to absorb risk to keep nuke operators’ insurance costs in check; and sympathize with their complaints that clean renewables are enjoying too much support in the energy marketplace.

Not content with its current privileges, now that holding a federal golden ticket isn’t enough to make nuclear profitable, nuclear energy giant Exelon is taking its Cry Baby act to the Illiniois legislature.

Exelon must think it holds a good hand for blackmail, since it operates six reactor facilities in the state, employing thousands of sensitive voters.   It’s threatening to close three of those facilities if it doesn’t get a mandated bump in  consumer pricing.

As the market price for their product has declined, coincidentally, uranium has begun to climb.  Now Exelon wants the Illinois legislature to bail them out…or else.

But that piteous tale of corporate need has another side.  Apparently,  the cavalry has already quietly ridden to the rescue.

PJM Interconnection, the Valley Forge, Pa.-based regional power-grid operator for all or parts of 13 states including northern Illinois, on Dec. 3 approved changes to the way electricity generators are compensated for their promise to deliver during peak-demand periods. The changes, which are subject to approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, will benefit Chicago-based Exelon more than any other power company in the 13-state region, analysts say.

Put simply, for the privilege of operating five of its six reactors in Illinois, Exelon will take $560. Million in extra revenue just in 2018, when the change takes effect.

Cry me a river, Exelon!

Disclosure:  I am proud to be a non-technical member of the Fairewinds Energy Education crew.  The opinions expressed by me on Green Mountain Daily solely represent my own views on a variety of topics, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fairewinds.

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.

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