Nuclear power: the tort system angle

Discussed by economists Tyler Cowen and John Cochrane. Cowen:

…in general American society has become far more litigious, and it is much harder to build things, and risk-aversion and infrastructure-aversion have risen dramatically. ,,,

So the odds are that without a Price-Anderson Act America’s nuclear industry would have shut down some time ago, with no real chance of a return.

Cochrane in response:

A society that allows its lawyers to nearly bankrupt Toyota and Audi over non-existent auto defects, and now is shutting down Bayer over completely unscientific claims that Roundup causes cancer, is obviously going to quickly destroy any nuclear company over harms real and imagined. If we’re going to have nuclear, we need some limitation on this kind of adventurism, along with the legal and regulatory knots that make it almost impossible to build any infrastructure in the US today.

I file this in the “lack of state capacity” department. A good (adjective) Libertarian wants clear property rights, and a sensible tort system that pays some vague attention to scientific evidence. That is part of state infrastructure. When we say “infrastructure” people envision roads, but good courts, laws, regulations, property rights, and so forth are perhaps the most essential state-provided infrastructure.

One Comment

  • I’d also point out (as a former Navy nuclear engineer) that there is significant technology available or proposed for recycling nuclear “waste” but the same people that oppose nuclear power won’t allow for nuclear waste reprocessing. I am not still in the loop as it’s been over 25 years but it seems to me that the research into re-use has been pretty much abandoned since no one was ever allowed to actually start the process.

    I used to have an article (cut out of a paper, old school) that talked about using one of the byproducts to build a black box that could generate low levels of 110V electricity. It may have been a pipe dream but again, if you can’t process the waste, then it isn’t economically feasible to try to build such things anyway.