FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Who Pays for America’s Chernobyl Roulette?

by HARVEY WASSERMAN

As the US attempts to dig out from economic collapse, a little-known nuclear industry liability could seriously derail Obama’s attempt to revive our finances.

It is the federal disaster insurance on 104 rickety atomic reactors. Because the industry cannot get its own insurance, we taxpayers are on the hook.

There is no “rainy day” fund to finance the clean-up after a reactor disaster. No one in government or industry can reasonably explain how we would pay for such a catastrophe.

Chernobyl’s lethal cloud began pouring into the atmosphere 23 years ago this week. Dr. Alexey Yablokov, former environmental advisor to the late President Boris Yeltsin, and president of the Center for Russian Environmental Policy, estimates the death toll at 300,000.

It also gutted the regional economy, and accelerated the Soviet collapse. By conservative accounts Chernobyl’s explosion has so far cost a half-trillion dollars, with its financial toll continuing to accrue.

A disaster at a US reactor could dwarf that number.

Chernobyl exploded in a remote rural region in an impoverished country. Eighty kilometers away, Kiev was heavily dusted with radiation.

Most American reactors are in what were once considered remote regions. But Indian Point is about half as far from Manhattan as is Chernobyl from Kiev. Likewise San Onofre from Los Angeles, Turkey Point from Miami, Byron from Chicago, Grand Gulf from Baton Rouge, Seabrook and Pilgrim from Boston, Limerick and Peach Bottom from Philadelphia, Calvert Cliffs from Baltimore, Perry from Cleveland, Prairie Island and Monticello from Minneapolis.

All these reactors were designed and built decades ago. Not one has private insurance beyond a tiny percentage of the potential damage.

When the nuke power industry first got going, utility executives refused to invest, citing the insupportable costs of a potential disaster.

Back then, the Sandia Laboratory’s WASH-740 Report warned that a melt-down at an American reactor could permanently irradiate a land mass the size of Pennsylvania. The fiscal costs, like the potential death toll, were essentially inestimable.

So reactor backers got Congress to pass the 1957 Price-Anderson Act, which protected utilities from all but a tiny portion of the potential damage. The industry assured the public that “within a few years” atomic technology would have advanced so far that private insurers would clamor for the business.

That was 52 years ago. No private insurer has stepped up to cover that first generation of reactors (check your home-owners policy for the standard exclusion clause). Neither will they do so for future reactors. The entire “new generation” of atomic plants now being so mightily hyped is also to be insured by the federal government, ie you and me.

The potential financial impact is beyond comprehension. The cost of abandoning several thousand square miles of the Hudson Valley down to Manhattan, or the Atlantic shore north of and into Boston, or the coastal regions along and into Los Angeles and the California central Valley, simply cannot be calculated. Mere trillions—2? 5? 20?—become meaningless. The collapse of the currency, the utter chaos of the economic system, the burial of health care, the devastating impact on millions of lives…all defy description.

All will be the responsibility of the federal government. By limiting responsibility of the reactor owners it has forced us to assume liability for the claims of those who survive long enough to sue.

There is no contingency plan for this in the federal budget. No secret reserve. No magic monetary bullet. Should one of these plants melt or explode, American economic life as we have known it could be essentially over.

Thus the re-licensing of rickety old reactors like New Jersey’s Oyster Creek, Vermont Yankee and dozens more now exceeding their 40-year design span is a horrifying game of Chernobyl Roulette. Likewise the building of new ones, which also can’t get private insurance.

The owners assure us the odds on an accident are “acceptable.” But they are not the ones liable. They are betting our everything against their pittance.

Against which the hundreds of billions in Obama’s stimulus plan seem a pitiful penny. Our current fiscal mess pales in comparison to what could come from the irresponsible gamble on these perilous machines.

There are 104 of these radioactive roulette wheels in the US alone. Within weeks Congress may vote to spend OUR money to build still more (see www.nirs.org, www.beyondnuclear.org, www.nukefree.org).

Our money and our lives are being wagered in a game where the house—OUR house—simply cannot win.

HARVEY WASSERMAN has been writing about atomic energy and the green alternatives since 1973.  His 1982 assertion to Bryant Gumbel on NBC’s TODAY Show that people were killed at TMI sparked a national mailing from the reactor industry demanding a retraction. NBC was later bought by Westinghouse, still a major force pushing atomic power. He is the author of SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth, A.D. 2030, is at www.solartopia.org. He can be reached at: Windhw@aol.com

Harvey Wasserman wrote SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth. His Green Power & Wellness Show is at www.prn.fm

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Patrick Cockburn
From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Sheldon Richman
You Can’t Blame Trump’s Military Budget on NATO
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
Stanley L. Cohen
The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups
Farhang Jahanpour
America’s Woes, Europe’s Responsibilities
Joseph Natoli
March Madness Outside the Basketball Court
Bill Willers
Volunteerism; Charisma; the Ivy League Stranglehold: a Very Brief Trilogy
Bruce Mastron
Slaughtered Arabs Don’t Count
Ayesha Khan
The Headscarf is Not an Islamic Compulsion
Pauline Murphy
Unburied Truth: Exposing the Church’s Iron Chains on Ireland
Ron Jacobs
Music is Love, Music is Politics
Christopher Brauchli
Prisoners as Captive Customers
Robert Koehler
The Mosque That Disappeared
Franklin Lamb
Update from Madaya
Dan Bacher
Federal Scientists Find Delta Tunnels Plan Will Devastate Salmon
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Gig Economy: Which Side Are You On?
Louis Proyect
What Caused the Holodomor?
Max Mastellone
Seeking Left Unity Through a Definition of Progressivism
Charles R. Larson
Review: David Bellos’s “Novel of the Century: the Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables”
David Yearsley
Ear of Darkness: the Soundtracks of Steve Bannon’s Films
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail