STATEMENT OF CHRISTIE BRINKLEY
BEFORE THE UNITED STATES SENATE
ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
SUBCOMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE
REAUTHORIZATION OF THE PRICE/ANDERSON ACT
JANUARY 23, 2001
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, my name is Christie Brinkley. I wish to thank you for the opportunity to appear here today. I am here today as a member of the STAR Foundation, a non-profit environmental group based in East Hampton, NY. STAR Foundation is located at 66 Newtown Lane, East Hampton, NY. Phone: 631-324-0655.
Two individuals are joining me: The first is Robert Alvarez, who spent several years dealing with nuclear issues as staff member to Senator John Glenn, and served at the Department of Energy as Senior Policy Advisor. He is the Executive Director at the STAR Foundation.
On my other side, is my favorite architect and the Chairman of the Board of Directors at the STAR Foundation Mr. Peter Cook. He is also my husband.
Peter and I joined the STAR Foundation after we learned we were raising our three children in the cross hairs of several very old and troubled nuclear reactors. And we decided we had to learn everything we could about the Oyster Creek Reactors to our south, the Indian Point Reactors to our west, and the Millstone Reactors 11 miles north from the area of Long Island that we call home. And we are not alone over 24 million people in the Greater New York City area live within this radius of the three reactor stations.
Like many Americans, after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, we became very concerned with the safety of our family and friends. We attended public meetings with local emergency response officials, where many questions were asked
No clear answers were provided
Unfortunately these questions are no longer abstractions given that highly destructive acts of terror have become a reality in the United States.
Today this Subcommittee is addressing a law—the Price Anderson Act--that deals with how Americans are going to be compensated after a major nuclear accident. Before we go any further, I just have to say what I think we all know in our hearts. No one could ever be truly compensated for the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a birthplace, a hometown, a way of life or peace of mind. This discussion today is really about an industry owning up to its responsibilities.
I am not an expert on the Price Anderson Act, but what I do know leaves me filled with questions and serious concerns. There are about 145 million people just like me who live within a fifty-mile radius of a nuclear power station, and I’ll bet they’d be interested to know that if they took out their home-owners insurance policy they would see in black-and-white that it does not protect them in the event of a nuclear accident. You can get insurance against a meteor hitting your home, but not one private insurance company in America will cover your home from a nuclear power plant accident.
Instead, we are supposed to be compensated under the Price Anderson Act, which sets a maximum limit of $9.4 billion dollars in damages in the event of a nuclear catastrophe—a number which the history reveals was simply pulled out of thin air.
The $9.4 billion dollar limit does not match up with recent damage estimates done by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). A study done for the NRC by Brookhaven National Laboratory in 1997 reported that a spent fuel pool fire could contaminate a large area. It could cause thousands of fatal cancers and cost about $59 billion dollars in property damage and economic loss. With your permission I would like to place this study into the record of this hearing.
When reauthorizing Price Anderson, it is worth asking why the liability limits set by the Price/Anderson Act are not based on the cost of a major credible accident like the one identified by Brookhaven Labs.
Unlike private insurance, reactor owners do not have to come up with over 98% of the $9.4 billion dollars that they are supposed to pay out until after major nuclear accident occurs. After an initial payment of $200 million is made, the rest of the payments are limited to only $10 million per reactor per year--and this limited amount doesn’t have to be paid if the reactor owner can demonstrate it would be too financially difficult. This is like having a homeowner’s insurance policy where most of the insurance premiums don’t have to be paid until after the house burns down!
With the advent of deregulation, limited liability corporations are taking ownership of almost half of the fleet of the nation’s nuclear power reactors. Many of these limited liability corporations are thinly capitalized. What guarantees are there the nuclear power generators will come up with the necessary funds to pay claims if such a terrible event arises? Or will taxpayers have to foot the bill?
Enron and Pacific Gas & Electric own nuclear power plants and in bankruptcy. Can these bankrupt companies meet their obligations to compensate victims in the event of a nuclear accident? Or will the taxpayer have to bail them out?
The nuclear industry should not be allowed to avoid paying its insurance premiums up front like all other American businesses and families. The money to pay for an accident should be available with no questions asked.
After September 11th our world has unfortunately become a more dangerous place, and nuclear power stations are now frequently reported as being targets for terrorists.
In light of the greater dangers from terrorism in our country, it is my understanding that the Price/Anderson Act excludes “acts of war” from coverage for nuclear accidents. Does this mean that if the nuclear power company asserts that a terrorist attack against a nuclear reactor station is an “act of war,” then the nuclear power industry does not have to pay? Were the acts of September 11 an “act of war?” Was the bombing in Oklahoma City an “act of war?”
It is abundantly clear that radiation from a nuclear accident does not follow arbitrary rules that say dangerous contamination will only travel 10 miles and then stop. The Chernobyl accident is a tragic reminder of the absurdity of this assumption. The STAR Foundation and numerous groups around the country have repeatedly asked the NRC for several years to expand its evacuation zone beyond 10 miles, but to no avail.
It is also clear from the most recent government announcements, that nuclear generating plants are potential targets of terrorism.
I extend my thanks to Senator Clinton from my home state, Senator Reid, Senator Jeffords, and Senator Lieberman for introducing the Nuclear Security Act of 2001, which strengthens safety and security at nuclear power plants, and expands emergency response planning near nuclear power stations from 10 miles to 50 miles.
These concerns may explain, in part, why Germany, Sweden and Austria are turning away from nuclear power for safer energy alternatives, and why England is now seriously reconsidering its commitment to nuclear energy?
I hope that the committee will find the answers to these questions and seek reasonable solutions. And I hope and trust that this Committee will also help insure that the risks and consequences of such terrible acts are minimized. I wish once again to thank the members of the Committee for the privilege of appearing here today.