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Nuclear Registration: The Untold Story

Fortnightly Magazine - August 1995

plant after the construction permit had been issued. The rule has been selectively ignored by the [NRC] staff for nearly 15 years. There is a substantial amount of evidence suggesting that the staff's backfitting practices, which have cost consumers billions of dollars, have made nuclear plants more difficult to operate and maintain, have injected uncertainty and paralyzing delay into the administrative process, and in some instances may have reduced rather than enhanced public health and safety."17NRC regulations have also given the American public the impression that nuclear energy is inherently costly and inherently lengthy in construction. It is neither, as other nations are demonstrating.

There are several indications that the NRC is revisiting many of these issues with an increased emphasis on reasonableness.18 That is good. However, it is too late for the terminated reactors around the nation. The WPPSS was not prepared to build five plants simultaneously during a period of unreasoned regulations and unruly, powerful critics.

The regulatory problems of the U.S. nuclear industry make up only a part of the total problem. Such excesses are pervasive today in other areas of environmental regulation. Today the American public pays over $115 billion per year to comply with the current body of environmental regulations,19 excluding the hundreds of billions incurred in the construction and operation of U.S. nuclear power plants. Much of this is unjustified. And this does not include the billions in additional costs imposed by state environmental regulations. These

regulations (and the associated compliance costs) increase dramatically each year. Collectively, compliance costs will contribute little to improved health, safety, or a better environment for the American people.

It has been said that a people get the government they deserve. The American people deserve a better and more effective government, better judiciaries, and commonsense health, science, energy, and environmental regulations. t

Michael R. Fox, who earned a PhD in Physical Chemistry from the University of Washington, has 29 years of experience in the nuclear energy field (em at the Hanford plant and the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory. He is a member of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) and served as national chairman for the ANS public information committee, 1990-92. (Reprinted as a condensed version of the original article, which first appeared in Technology: Journal of the Franklin Institute, ISSN 1072-9240, Volume 332A, 1995, #1, pp. 53-60. Permssion granted by the publisher, Cognizant Communication Corp.)

Short on CreditIn 1983, the Washington Public Power Supply System defaulted on $2.5 billion in construction bonds after the courts essentially ruled that publicly owned utilities operating in the State of Washington (municipals and public utility districts, representing about two-thirds of the participants) had no authority to pledge credit to WPPSS, even though the agreements were found valid in Oregon. See, Chemical Bank v. WPPSS, 99 Wash.2d 772, 666 P.2d 329, 53 PUR4th 1 (1983).

The case drew criticism in law reviews, and may have been influenced by Washington state politics. (Justices on the Washington State supreme court are elected by the voters.) Nevertheless, the case marks the largest bond default in U.S. history.Long on ConcreteCompare