Vermont Yankee and Vermont Sovereignty Pre-empted again by Uncle Sam: Price-Anderson and the NRC Trump Vermont by Gary Flomenhoft Ever try to start a business without adequate insurance? It's tough unless you're a nuclear power plant. When I opened my auto modification shop, the owner of the building required me to have a liability policy before they would rent me space. They probably figured if an employee was injured on the job, or a customer had an accident using my product, they wanted me covered so they wouldn't get sued. Reasonable I suppose. I shopped around for product liability insurance and found it for $40,000. That was a non-starter. Then someone suggested I could use a common garage policy which “only” set me back $1400. Expensive, but I could live with it. When I wanted to teach sailing on my little 17' boat, the town that owns the dock required me to have a $1 million liability policy. If someone tripped on the dock, fell overboard, or got hit in the head with the boom, the town figures in our litigious society everyone would get sued, and they would have the deep pockets. That policy cost me $1600 in 2004. I took in $2000 that year. What a deal. Insurance: the Price-Anderson Cap Want to start a commercial nuclear power plant? Don't worry about insurance. Uncle Sam's got most of it covered, and what they don't cover, the taxpayer will. Nuclear power plants couldn't possibly afford to pay for private insurance, so Congress passed a law in 1957 called the “Price-Anderson Act.” to boost the industry by first covering the insurance costs. So much for the “free” market. Price-Anderson, which was just renewed for 20 years by Congress in 2004, limits the liability of the nuclear industry in case of a nuclear accident in the United States. Each utility is required to purchase the maximum coverage available from the private insurance industry, which is only $300 million per reactor as of 2005. If claims following an accident exceed that amount, all nuclear operators must pay up to $95.8 million for each reactor they operate. As of August 2005, Price-Anderson capped insurance coverage for any nuclear accident at $10 billion. “An NRC commissioned study estimated that damages from a severe nuclear accident could cost as much as $560 billion in 2000 dollars. The current liability limit of $10 billion represents less than 2% of the $560 billion in potential costs. Furthermore, since current legislation provides no guarantee that victims would be properly compensated after an accident, it is likely that taxpayers would be left to pay for the human health costs in addition to the financial costs of the cleanup.” (Green Scissors report: http://www.greenscissors.org/energy/price-anderson.htm). In a plain language, if Vermont Yankee were to suffer a severe accident, Vermonters and their neighbors in a 150 mile circle would be reimbursed 2 cents on the dollar and taxpayers would foot the bill with dealing with the mess for years to come. Think (Katrina)2. Liability: the Price-Anderson Exemption In his book The Corporation, The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, Joel Bakan explains that a psychopath is a person who has no remorse, and takes no responsibility for their actions. By creating corporations, people who work for them have no personal liability for the actions of the company. This is recipe for creating irresponsible people, perhaps even psychopaths. But the corporation itself, a fictitious person created by the state, is still liable for its actions. But getting a settlement against a multi-billion dollar corporation like Entergy, Vermont Yankee's owners, would be another story. But Price-Anderson even removes the litigation option. “Liability laws in the United States provide for actual damages as well as punitive damages to punish irresponsible behavior; as a consequence, businesses are motivated to act responsibly or face devastating losses in court.” But we learn that learn that Price-Anderson “suspends U.S. liability laws for nuclear power plants.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Price-Anderson_Nuclear_Industries_Indemnity_Act) . More precisely: “The law provides no fault liability for reactor operators, and injured victims are precluded from directly suing vendors or manufacturers responsible for the accident. Its critics argue that it poses legal hurdles to victims seeking compensation by removing state jurisdiction and restricts plaintiffs ability to utilize any state laws which go above and beyond federal protections.” Price-Anderson takes corporate limited liability one-step further into the twilight zone of unaccountability. Not only are the people who work for the company shielded by the corporate veil, but the company itself is off the hook in case of an accident. Congress has them covered. Try getting that deal for your auto shop from Uncle Sam! Safety: the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Guaranteed Seal of Approval Another point about nuclear power plants: States have no jurisdiction over safety issues. Safely concerns fall entirely under the jurisdiction of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). That's the agency that replaced the Atomic Energy Agency (AEC) in 1974. The AEC was given the job to “promote AND regulate” nuclear power in the US. Talk about a conflict of interest. Put a bunch of industry nuclear engineers into an agency to oversee nuclear power, and surprise! New name, same agency. Lot's more promotin' than regulatin' goin' on. Lest we forget, Three Mile Island still happened in 1979. For three days, the plant's operators, with virtually no backup from a clueless NRC, barely avoided a complete meltdown. A real disaster that narrowly missed being the “big one.” Trust us now,” the NRC intones! Just like we should have trusted the SEC to regulate Enron and other corporate scammers. So when the current operators of Vermont Yankee (Entergy of Louisiana) recently discovered faulty welds, wrestled with a transformer fire, photographed cracks in the reactor steam-drier and lost several spent fuel rods in their storage pool, no one in Vermont was allowed to decide if the plant was safe or not. Only the NRC can decide. At this very moment Entergy is pushing for a 20% increase in power and behaving as if this “uprate” is already a done-deal. Here's a plant built in 1971 that is nearing the end of its 40-year design life and the owners want to experiment with running it hotter — higher temperatures, greater steam flow and radioactivity. Would you take a 1972 muscle car with high mileage and hop-up the horsepower by 20%? You'd be asking to blow a head gasket, turn a crank bearing, or throw a rod. It might work, but you'd probably have to rebuild the block first with new pistons, rings, and bearings. If it breaks, you might blow a little smoke after emptying your bank account, but no harm done. Entergy's not even rebuilding the plant's “lower end.” They're going to “turbo-charge” Vermont Yankee and put the pedal-to-the-metal. If Vermont Yankee fails, there's gonna' be more than a little smoke in the neighborhood. But not to worry, the NRC is on the job! States have no right to regulate the most dangerous industry in their neighborhood. If it fails, Vermont will be like the freshman “Flounder” in Animal House after his fraternity brothers wrecked his car. Belushi tells this chump, “Hey, you f***ed up. You trusted us.” Chernobyl-level Disasters: Price-Anderson in Action Let's see how the combination of limited insurance, lack of accountability and self-regulation stacks up with a severe nuclear accident. The 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident has cost Ukraine, Belarus and southern Russia an estimated $350 billion. Getting an accurate death toll from Chernobyl is difficult, but the World Health Organization seems the least biased source, and they claim approximately 4000 people will eventually die from effects of the accident. (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2005/pr38/en/) The WHO report also states that “five million people currently live in areas of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine that are contaminated with radionuclides due to the accident; about 100 000 of them live in areas classified in the past by government authorities as areas of “strict control”. Relocation proved a “deeply traumatic experience” for some 350,000 people moved out of the affected areas. Persistent myths and misperceptions about the threat of radiation have resulted in “paralyzing fatalism” among residents of affected areas.” If I want to start a business, and one single person might be harmed, I need a million dollar policy because injury or death to one person is going to cost someone a million bucks in damages. I've been operating autos and boats for 35 years and have never caused injury to anyone. No one subsidizes my insurance. The global nuclear industry has already killed thousands of people, yet they get a free ride. If 5 million Americans were affected by a Chernobyl-level nuclear accident and sued for $1million bucks each, the total would be 5 Trillion dollars. Compare that to their coverage of $10 Billion. Would this fly in the Republic of Vermont? Why do we put up with Vermont Yankee? Because they sell us power for 4 cents a kilowatt-hour. But this is a Faustian bargain, a false economy where the true costs and risks are hidden by insurance limits and federal assurances. Chernobyl Could Never Happen Here: The NRC and Homeland Security Chernobyl couldn't happen here? If one of the 9-11 hijackers really wanted to damage the United States, he would have flown an aircraft into any number of commercial nuclear plants. Vermont Yankee would be an especially attractive target due to its elevated and exposed spent fuel storage pool. One airplane, a fire in the spent fuel pool, a plume of radioactivity and a 75-mile radius of Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York would be uninhabitable for hundreds of years. But Vermont has no authority to decide if Yankee could survive such a hit, or any other form of terrorism or sabotage. Federal jurisdiction. Let the NRC and Homeland Security watch our backs. Here's a secessionist idea for you. The federal government doesn't recognize medical marijuana legislation passed in Vermont and many other states. Fine, you boozing, pill-popping hypocrites. Vermont doesn't recognize Price-Anderson passed in Washington, DC. Entergy go buy insurance. Try to survive in the “free” market. Or how about this one. Washington doesn't want to recognize civil unions formed in Vermont. Fine, you sole inhabitants of the higher moral ground. Vermont retains the right to grant charters of incorporation based on the corporation's responsibility to meet the public good. The Republic of Vermont hereby revokes Entergy's charter to conduct business in Vermont.