Biden approves extension of Price-Anderson Act


Congress demonstrates no confidence in new reactor design claims of “inherent safety” with PAA 40-year expansion to 2065

According to the nuclear industry and it champions, atomic power has suddenly changed its spots, at least on paper, to become “inherently safe.” We recognize it as part of a larger orchestrated illusion to rebrand a new, improved version of reactors created by the same industry that brought about the Three Mile Island nuclear accident now 45 years ago. Since then, more severe radiological accidents have created vast abandoned radioactive zones that still surround Chornobyl in Ukraine (nearly 38 years ago) and Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi triple meltdown (13 years ago).

But tellingly, out of the public view and without a single hearing, both chambers of Congress quietly passed legislation and the White House signed into law on March 23, 2024 the renewal of the Price-Anderson Act (PAA) that extends and expands the nuclear industry’s limited liability protection to the next severe accident by forty years until December 31, 2065.  The PAA effectively financially shields the nuclear industry, first raised in 1957 to kick off commercial operations, that otherwise would never have built its first reactor.  Since then, Congress pushed by the nuclear power lobby has periodically extended industry protection from the damage costs caused by the radioactive fallout released in the next severe nuclear accident.

While the cost of nuclear accidents at Chornobyl and Fukushima have exceeded hundreds of billions of dollars in the estimated cost of  widespread radiation damages, the current PAA renewal limits the US industry’s collective cost to just over $16 billion per accident—leaving federal taxpayers liable for the remaining compensation costs, if ever.  Let’s remember, the US government has yet to provide compensation to downwind US citizens (largely the disadvantaged indigenous and Latino communities in New Mexico) and generations of their progeny that are still sickened and dying of cancer caused by chronic exposure to the persistently toxic blanket of radioactive fallout from the first Trinity atomic bomb “test” on July 16, 1945—approaching 79 years ago.

More to the point, the renewal of PAA also expands the industry’s limited liability to shield it from financial consequences should  the next severe nuclear accident  occur at a new “inherently safe” Small Modular Reactor (SMRs) or so-called “advanced” designs. More egregious, the industry intends to have these new designs safety certified, licensed, constructed and operated without offsite radiological emergency planning beyond the reactor fence line. To be clear, these “walk away safe” designs are really about the industry walking away safe from its full financial liability for radioactive fallout potentially contaminating vast swaths of life, land, agriculture, natural resources, and the indefinite, costly shutdown of entire economic zones.

The PAA renewal is the most dramatic demonstration that the nuclear industry and its deluded champions have “no confidence” in their own insincere promotional rhetoric.

This same style of making of blatant false claims also applies to the industry’s rebranding of nuclear power’s recurring financial meltdowns ever since “too cheap to meter” was realized as “too expensive to matter.”  Members of Congress are merely parroting industry claims that abandon the decades old and much ballyhooed, but failed, “economies of scale” approach  to expand their industry with large reactors. They now plan to license and build smaller modular Generation IV reactors that have already revealed that “smaller” units actually means larger electricity cost per watt. We just witnessed the collapse of the US Department of Energy’s posterchild NuScale VOYGR SMR and demonstrated loss-of-control of completion costs without a shovel in the ground for the project.

[Wikimedia Photo: Cooling towers at Three Mile Island]

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