The Washington Post's April 24 editorial on the federal law that limits the liability of owners and manufacturers of nuclear reactors ["Insuring the Uninsurable"] concludes that "victims of nuclear accidents are better off with the Price-Anderson Act in place than they would be without it." In support of its position, The Post claims that Congress has made an "explicit promise" to compensate victims beyond the $560 million provided by the Price-Aderson Act, and that $560 million is more than victims could recover from the responsible companies if left to their state law remedies. The Post is wrong on both counts.
First, according to The Post, the Price-Anderson Act obligates Congress to "make available funds to meet whatever damage judgments are left unpaid after the $560 million is exhausted." This is simply incorrect. The act provides only that "the Congress will thoroughly review the particular incident and will take whatever action is deemed necessary and appropriate." In the face of an accident causing possibly $40 billion in damages, including tens of thousands of deaths, there is considerable doubt as to whether the federal government would have the capacity to compensate victims fully. In any event, the editorial wrongly states that Congress has promised to pay, when in fact it has promised only to consider the possibility of paying additional funds.
Second, The Post states that it is "doubtful" that the sum of insurance that a company such as Metropolitan Edison could buy "and the funds it could accumulate-or raise by going into bankruptcy-would total $560 million." That statement is also inaccurate. The insurance industry now has the capacity to sell $440 million to cover the risks of nuclear power, and utilities could pay several hundred million of their own funds to victims of a catastrophic accident. In addition, the editorial ignores the deepest pockets of all, the reactor manufacturers. These large national corporations, such as Westinghouse and General Electric, could be held liable to the full extent of their assets if they were not shielded by the limitation on liability. Clearly, these sources would provide victims more compensation than does the Price-Anderson Act.
Unfortunately, the editorial altogether misses the most important point. The owners and manufacturers have consistently testified in Congress that they would be unable to raise the necessary funds to build nuclear reactors without the limitation on liability that protects their assets from legal claims by accident victims. The simply fact that the liability limitation is a precondition to private investment in nuclear reactors rebuts every argument that victims are better off with the Price-Anderson Act. Without the limitations on liability, there would be no nuclear reactors, and thus no accidents requiring compensation.
Finally, the editorial never addresses the central question raised by the Price-Anderson Act, which is: Why does the nuclear industry require the limitation on liability if it believes that nuclear power is safe? The fact that nuclear companies are unique in refusing to accept the risks of their own activities is strong evidence that nuclear power is too dangerous for the rest of us.