UPDATE: November 30
If, God forbid, a nuclear power plant goes kaboom and you have to flee your home, then on top of all of the other problems you'll have, here are two more:
1. Your homeowner's insurance will not reimburse you. This is because of the Price Anderson Act, which limits the liability of nuclear power plant operators to a tiny fraction of the potential costs of an accident–terrorist-sponsored or otherwise. The act prevents insurance companies from suing the nuclear power industry to recover damages–which is why they can't afford to include nuclear accidents in homeowner's coverage.
2. You will, however, as a taxpayer be indirectly picking up the tab for the accident. Somebody has to–and the Price Anderson Act says it won't be the industry.
Price-Anderson, the nuclear power industry's 1950s-era insurance subsidy, is up for renewal, something that happens every fifteen years or so. And on a bleary, post-Thanksgiving Tuesday, November 27, the House Republicans sneaked it through. They did so under a format usually reserved for noncontroversial matters, like renaming post offices or court houses–"suspension of the rules"–which meant debates were limited to twenty minutes on each side, with no ammendments and no record of the votes. Keith Ashdown, a spokesman for Taxpayers for Common Sense, called it "an abuse of the legislative process."
Considering that George W. Bush became President via the Supreme Court's equivalent of "suspension of the rules," it's unsurprising that the Administration was pleased. A White House statement praised the House vote, noting, "To assure the future of nuclear energy, liability coverage must continue for nuclear activities."
So the White House–which launched the atomic "renaissance" now under way by talking up the virtues of nuclear power–makes the interesting admission that the nuclear industry could never survive in a free-market system.
For Price-Anderson to sail to the rescue of this poor widdle uncompetitive puddy-tat of an industry, the Democratic-controlled Senate also must agree. Majority leader Tom Daschle said on November 27 the topic might come up in January.
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Congress is pondering ways to shore up security and safety at the nation's nuclear power plants, from stockpiling medicines for radiation poisioning to expanding emergency evacuation plans. But the dark horse coming up fast is something else: an industry-favored piece of legislation that, in the unfortunate event of a nuclear catastrophe, makes damn sure that someone else foots the cost.
When it comes to improving security, the industry's critics are active. Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey has introduced a bill in the House to create potassium iodide stockpiles near nuclear power plants. Potassium iodide was administered in 1986 to Soviet children who were near the Chernobyl disaster, and is credited with preventing thousands of thyroid cancers among them. "Potassium iodide is to radiation exposure what Cipro is to anthrax," Markey said in a statement.