Price-Anderson Act renewal hidden from public


ADVANCE Nuclear Act of 2023 (HR6544) with Price-Anderson renewal for 40 years passes US House floor vote 

Bipartisan support to extend  severe accident liability protection to “inherently safe” new reactors?

The “Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act”, also known as the “Price-Anderson Act” (PAA), is moving for renewal by Congress. The federal law to shield the nuclear industry from full liability of a nuclear accident is presently scheduled to sunset on December 31, 2025.

However, there remains little to no transparency into the Act’s extension and expansion process for public scrutiny of its incongruities.

Since 1957, Congress has periodically extended an adjusted upper limit for the nuclear industry’s financial liability protection from the otherwise unpredictably high projected cost in damages from the next severe radiological accident at a commercial nuclear power plant.

Originally, the industry’s limited liability for damages caused by a single nuclear accident was artificially set at $500 million per incident including personal injuries caused by radioactive fallout, population and economic dislocation by prolonged evacuations without re-entry, potentially permanent loss of property (residential, commercial and industrial), agricultural production and the contamination of natural resources with widespread and long-lived radioactivity.

According to the latest figures provided by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report published January 25, 2024, the industry’s financial liability ceiling for a single, severe nuclear accident is now capped at $16.6 billion by federal law. Beyond that ceiling, damages would supposedly be covered by US taxpayers. But the still unrealized total damage costs of a severe nuclear accident as evidenced by ongoing nuclear catastrophes at Fukushima (13 year ago) and Chernobyl (38 years ago) are already running into the hundreds of billions of dollars. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe’s estimated  damage cost is recently updated to surpass ¥15.4 trillion ($102.7 billion). According to the same Japan Times news report, “Separately, decommissioning work for the damaged reactors is expected to cost ¥8 trillion, boosting the total expenses to deal with the aftermath of the nuclear accident to ¥23.4 trillion.” ($155.5 billion)

The PAA renewal is part of the controversial “Accelerating Deployment of Versatile, Advanced Nuclear for Clean Energy (ADVANCE) Act of 2023” that is now approved by both the Senate and the House with  significant differences including the PAA liability protection extension period.

The US Senate version (S. 1111) extends the PAA by 20 years to December 31, 2045, was passed on July 31, 2023 as a “must pass” inclusion in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2023 without a single public hearing.  With Senate passage, the National Defense Authorization Act went to the US House of Representatives for approval where the ADVANCE Act of 2023 along with the PAA renewal on its coat tails was instead culled from the military spending bill.

The ADVANCE Nuclear Act with its the Price-Anderson renewal rider were introduced to the House as  stand alone legislation (HR 6544) with the House version extending the industry’s limited accident liability protection to 40 years (December 31, 2065).  According to E&ENews,  “The House will vote on bipartisan nuclear energy legislation this week (02.26.2024) in hopes of reaching an agreement with the Senate in the coming weeks”—still without a single public hearing. The House floor vote to pass the HR 6544 with broad bipartisan support was confirmed by E&ENews February 29, 2024. The ADVANCE Act with the Price-Anderson extension for 40 years now goes back to the Senate to consider reconciliation.

Both the Senate and House versions intend to expand the government’s limited accident liability coverage beyond the aging, economically distressed and grandfathered commercial nuclear power fleet to now include new and supposedly “inherently safe” Small Modular Reactors and Advanced Non-Light Water reactor designs that incongruently could be licensed without any offsite radiological emergency planning zones.

All of this, thus far, has been accomplished without the transparency of a single congressional hearing in either the US Senate or House to explain the extension and expansion of Price-Anderson Act liability protection to increasingly economically distressed old reactors and new reactors where safety claims have yet to be technically certified.

[Photo: Three Mile Island, Wikimedia Commons Images]


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