Congress Should Increase Financial Protection to the Public From Accidents at DOE Nuclear Operations

EMD-81-111: Published: Sep 14, 1981. Publicly Released: Sep 16, 1981.

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GAO examined the Price-Anderson Act as it governs the nuclear accident liability of Department of Energy (DOE) contractors to determine the number of DOE contractors protected by the act, and to render an opinion on the necessity for continuing such protection.

The act provides protection to both DOE contractors and the public to cover liability resulting from a nuclear accident. Although 75 DOE prime contractors are specifically protected by the act, the protection is also extended to many thousands of subcontractors working at DOE facilities. GAO believes that the protection provided by the act should be continued. This conclusion was arrived at after carefully considering the current U.S. position to develop nuclear power and the availability of other forms of insurance for nuclear activities. GAO believes that certain provisions in the act should be changed or clarified to provide better public protection from catastrophic nuclear accidents. For example, the act provides more financial protection for accidents resulting from a commercial activity than those resulting from a government operation. Further, the current limit on liability may not provide sufficient public financial protection to adequately compensate victims of catastrophic nuclear accidents. Moreover, GAO believes that the act's definition of a nuclear incident is unclear. As a result, liability arising from some nuclear accidents may not be covered.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Matter: Congress should amend the Price-Anderson Act to increase protection for DOE-contractor activities to provide public protection equal to that for licensed commercial activities. This amendment should also include provisions to assure that, as commercial coverage increases, contractor coverage also increases.

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Matter: Congress should amend the definition of nuclear incident contained in chapter 2, section 11 (q) of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, Public Law 83-703, as amended, by adding the following at the end of the definition: "and provided further, that it shall include any occurrence where the Commission, or the Department of Energy in relation to its contractors, determines a release of radiation may be imminent."

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Matter: Congress should reexamine the limit on liability to determine whether a new limit needs to be set and/or whether the limit should be tied to an index to allow for periodic readjustment.

 

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