Nuclear Accident Liability

  • Date: Jan 01 1981
  • Policy Number: 8124

Key Words: Nuclear Weapons

The American Public Health Association,

Having previously recognized the relationship between national energy policy and public health (resolutions No. 7845 and No. 7909); and

Noting that the Price-Anderson Act of 1957, as amended in 1966 and 1975,1 limits the liability of the nuclear industry and the compensation available to the public in the event of a nuclear accident to $560 million; and

Recognizing that the Act was enacted as temporary legislation necessary to boost the fledgling nuclear industry during its early development and was designed to expire in ten years; and

Noting that, more than 23 years later, the arbitrary limitation of $560 million has not changed, in spite of a nearly 300 per cent increase in the Consumer Price Index2 as well as an overall increase in the size of nuclear power plants and their proximity to dense population centers; and

Noting that the Atomic Energy Commission determined, as early as 1964, that a nuclear accident could cause 27,000 fatalities, 73,000 injuries, and $17-280 billion in property damage, and that the arbitrary sum of $560 million bears absolutely no relationship to the actual estimated damages of a nuclear accident;3 and
Recognizing that compensation for damages exceeding $560 million is possible only through an act of Congress, a method of victim recovery that has rarely been effective; and

Considering that the federal government's willingness to bail out those who may be responsible for creating a nuclear disaster—as well as to guarantee loans for nuclear accident payments and serve as a direct indemnitor for a portion of the $560 million—constitutes an unquantifiable economic and human risk subsidy of the nuclear industry; and

Considering that the Price-Anderson Act "holds harmless" anyone responsible for a nuclear accident, effectively excusing mistakes and careless operations throughout the industry, and creating a disincentive for safety in an already hazardous industry; and

Noting that no other industry is afforded such carte blanche protection against financial risks of operating, nor should such a subsidy be considered for other industries; and

Considering that the Price-Anderson Act forces the American public, and particularly those people who live or work near nuclear facilities, to assume the financial responsibility for a risk that the very companies profiting from nuclear technology refuse to accept or insure; and

Believing that requiring the nuclear industry to insure itself through traditional private sector sources will significantly add to the public accountability of the industry, and will act as a strong incentive for stringent safety precautions; therefore

  1. Will actively seek the repeal of the Price-Anderson Act;
  2. Strongly opposes any other limitation on the liability of the nuclear industry; and
  3. Will support measures that will cause compensation for nuclear damages to be collected by the public from private insurance sources, industry insurance pools, and directly from the party (or parties) responsible for the accident.


  1. Section 170 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 as amended, enacted in September 1957, Public Law 85-256.
  2. Keiki Kehoe: Unavailable At Any Price: Nuclear Insurance, Environmental Policy Center, Washington, DC, 1980.
  3. WASH-740, "Theoretical Possibilities and Consequences of Major Accidents in the Large Nuclear Power Plants," Update, Atomic Energy Commission, Washington, DC, 1964.

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