Impacts of the Price-Anderson Act on Nuclear Research and Development

Gao ID: 116385 September 15, 1981

GAO reviewed the extent to which Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear operations are covered by the Price-Anderson Act and the necessity for continuing such protection. In addition to covering prime contractors responsible for operating facilities for DOE or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Act covers subcontractors, vendors, architect-engineers and transporters who perform work in connection with a contractor's nuclear activity. The Act also covers past work that could cause an accident at some future date. The public would be compensated regardless of who causes an accident at a nuclear facility or during the transportation of nuclear material to or from that facility. The liability protection provided by the Act still appears to be necessary because catastrophic nuclear accidents could still occur, sufficient private insurance to cover the consequences of such an accident is still unavailable, and it appears that private industry is still unwilling to assume the risks of such accidents without the kind of financial protection which the Act now provides. Furthermore, the public is provided greater financial protection as a result of the Act than without it. Without the Act, victims of nuclear accidents would have to sue for damages. Without any protection, a catastrophic nuclear accident could bankrupt a contractor. Even if DOE nuclear contractors were covered by the more conventional Federal self-insurance policies, the public would receive less financial protection than that currently provided. GAO does find it difficult to justify the difference in money available for public financial protection under the Act depending on whether an accident occurs at a commercial-licensed activity or at a Government-contractor operation. GAO also feels that the limit on liability should be increased to match general inflationary trends. Finally, GAO was unable to determine whether the Act's protection would cover the costs of an evacuation prompted by a radiation release that appeared imminent but did not occur. In the opinion of GAO, the language of the Act should be clarified to permit public compensation for precautionary evacuations.

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