Nukewatch Quarterly Spring 2015
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Your life is worth $6 million less if you die in a nuclear reactor disaster than if you die in a car crash, according to Bloomberg’s analysis of US government statistical models. When the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Transportation Department consider safety upgrades to nuclear power stations and highway systems (respectively), they analyze the cost of the improvement compared to its potential to save lives, assigning dollar values to both variables.
The difference? The Transportation Department values human lives at $9 million each, while the NRC assigns just $3 million per person theoretically saved. Even if we accept the problematic assumption that human lives can be represented in dollars, the question remains: why the discrepancy?
“Using this low value has a significant effect on nuclear license renewals and new reactor approvals,” Union of Concerned Scientists physicist Ed Lyman told Bloomberg. “Nuclear plants are not required to add safety systems that the NRC deems too expensive for the value of the lives they could save.”
Even with lives valued at just $3 million per head, the nuclear industry complains that current safety requirements are too expensive. “If the NRC more accurately estimated the cost of its regulatory requirements, it would find that many of its requirements do not pass a simple cost-benefit test,” said Nuclear Energy Institute Senior Vice President Anthony Pietrangelo at a December 3 Senate hearing. —Bloomberg, Dec. 10, 2014