A SIMPLE DISAGREEABLE fact lurks beneath all that earnest talk about insurance after the Three Mile Island accident.It is that some accidents cannot be insured against-they are beyond insurance. There is no way Metropolitan Edison, or any other utility could buy enough insurance to cover the damage claims that would be filed if a nuclear reactor really ran wild. And there is no way these utilities could pay all such claims themselves.
It was for this reason that Congress originally passed the Price-Anderson Act, which sets up an insurance pool and limits the total liability in a nuclear accident. And Congress is quite right to take another look at that act in the aftermath of Three Mile Island. Price-Anderson puts a limit of $560 million on the damages than can be collected from this or any other nuclear power plant accident. That limit, set 20 years ago, may need to be changed or the composition of the fund altered. But the fact that more than $560 million in damages has already been claimed-and far more than that would be incurred in a major nuclear accident-is not alone sufficient reason to wipe out the fund.
Indeed, the pot of money available to pay claims for whatever damage this accident did is probably larger than it would have been if Metropolitan Edison had to bear the costs by itself. It is doubtful that the combination of the amount of the insurance it could buy and the funds it could accumulate-or raise by going into bankruptcy-would total $560 million.
The judgment Congress made in originally enacting Price-Anderson was that this country needed nuclear power and that this liability limitation was necessary to get it. The explicit promise in the act is that Congress will make available funds to meet whatever damage judgments are left unpaid after the $560 million is exhausted. With that promise, victims of nuclear accidents are better off with Price-Anderson in place than they would be without it.