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The Price-Anderson Act and the Role of Congress in Compensating Victims After a Catastrophic Nuclear Disaster

Ryan Morhard, Sanjana Ravi
Date posted:
December 17, 2012
Publication type:

Biosecur Bioterror 2012;10(4):340-345

Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.
Open access
See also:

Video brief with lead author Ryan Morhard
Full article on publisher's site: HTML • PDF


Lessons learned from large-scale nuclear disasters have historically inspired changes to emergency preparedness. The 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island informed the formation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), fundamentally changing the federal government's approach to preparedness and response and augmenting US nuclear emergency preparedness.1 The 1986 accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the former Soviet Union prompted an era of international cooperation in nuclear safety and radiological protection that continues to this day.2Likewise, the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan after the Great East Japan Earthquake offers many lessons for US radiological emergency preparedness.

FEMA and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), as well as the US Congress, continue to learn from the meltdown at Fukushima to improve domestic preparedness.3,4 In addition to other issues undergoing formal review in light of the events at Fukushima, such as nuclear reactor design and both onsite and offsite emergency response, the US apparatus for managing industry liability for nuclear accidents, as defined by the Price-Anderson Act,5 should also be examined. This article highlights shortcomings in the current capacity for existing insurance policies established by the Price-Anderson Act to adequately compensate victims of a catastrophic nuclear disaster, potentially leaving victims inadequately compensated or prompting ad hoc action by Congress to pay compensation costs.

First, we provide historical background on the critical role that public liability insurance plays in the economics of nuclear power and the legislative solution that helped facilitate unprecedented growth of nuclear power in the US. We then examine the victims' compensation experience at Fukushima and ramifications for the US nuclear utility liability program and offer some recommendations for future action in this area.



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