Nuclear liability fallout

Norman Rubin
National Post
June 12, 2001

The situation in Canada under our Nuclear Liability Act is very significantly worse than the situation in the United States under Price-Anderson. Specifically, Canadian nuclear accident victims can count on $75-million total compensation, while Americans can count on US$9.09-billion. For every dollar U.S. victims could get, we get much less than a penny. And U.S. coverage is enough to completely cover many (though surely not all) serious accidents. In addition, the shared liability aspect of Price-Anderson coverage, which has no Canadian counterpart, gives all U.S. nuclear operators a vested interest in improving the safety outlook – for their most incompetent colleagues obviously good news for neighbours of nuclear plants who don’t want to move.

Norman Rubin
Director of nuclear research and senior policy analyst
Energy Probe, Toronto

Other readers and their comments:

Let the Markets Decide the Nuclear Question (May 24) is a correct conclusion, but in making that decision, the available information should be not only accurate, but forward looking. Reciting past subsidies as if nuclear were the only technology at the federal trough is misleading. Each technology has been a beneficiary of subsidies, with the latest largesse being directed at so-called renewables such as solar and wind. New investment will ignore these subsidies and look at forward cost. Accordingly, the costs of waste disposal and decommissioning are important. Nuclear energy is the only baseload technology which completely internalizes all of its environmental impacts, from uranium mining to used fuel disposal. Fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas use the air we breathe as a toilet, with impunity.

If these fuels paid their full cost, nuclear energy would look all the more attractive. Contrary to the statement made by the authors, the nuclear industry fully pays for the storage and disposal of used fuel. Indeed, it has paid more to date than has been spent on the development of the likely U.S. disposal site at Yucca Mountain. Rather than remaining highly radioactive for thousands of years, as the article suggests, used fuel quickly becomes no more radioactive than the ore bodies from which the fuel was mined in the first place – ore bodies that have been intact without any environmental degradation for hundreds of millions of years.

A little knowledge about radiation and its global and cosmic omnipresence in everyday life would be useful, as well as realistic. Energy and environmental policies are too important to be developed in light of historic prejudice. So by assessing all of the facts, do as the authors suggest and let the market decide.

Jan Bloemraad

Mr. Zycher’s article on the Price-Anderson Act is dead wrong. Government nuclear regulations that limit a firm’s liability are indeed corporate welfare and a form of protectionism. By defending federally imposed limited liability and socializing the risks of nuclear power, Mr. Zycher is creating the very incentives that could lead to the kind of problems that many environmentalists erroneously believe are intrinsic to nuclear power.

He is indeed right that insurance costs are skewed because of the sorry state of the tort law, but then, we should push for major tort reform. However, if the insurance costs are too high for nuclear operations, compared with coal-fired, natural gas, or other generating processes, then nuclear systems will either have to retool economically and technologically to get the insurance costs down, or face the music that they are not market-viable. As with any energy systems, nuclear power should be afforded competitive market opportunities with no restrictions, but also with no government privileges of any kind to shift and impose costs onto others.

David J. Theroux
Founder and president
The Independent Institute, Oakland, Calif.


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