Going without insurance is described as "going naked" in insurance industry lingo. Going without insurance for the worst hazards in the nuclear power industry is business as usual.
One need not look back very far to see the problem. In March 2011, the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster, triggered by an earthquake followed by a tsunami that overwhelmed all of Japan's safeguards, melted down three reactors, displaced 160,000 people and caused an estimated $250 billion in damages and other still-unfolding economic consequences.
Today, in the United States, we have 104 operating nuclear plants producing electricity. The owners, operators, and government regulators who oversee them say an event like Fukushima will not happen here. And even if it did, they insist, there is enough liability insurance in place to cover the damages. The actual amount of that insurance coverage: just $12.6 billion.
You don't need an advanced degree in calculus or risk analysis to see that something doesn't add up, and to start feeling a bit...naked. But when it comes to nuclear insurance, naked is the fashion designed for the American public.
A catastrophic accident in the US could cost way more than $12.6 billion. A worst-case scenario study in 1997 by the Brookhaven National Laboratory estimated that a major accident could cost $566 billion in damages and cause 143,000 possible deaths. Another such study, by Sandia National Laboratories in 1982, calculated the possible costs at $314 billion. Adjusted for inflation, that would put both estimates close to the trillion dollar range today. So $12.6 billion wouldn't cover much.
After Fukushima, which was only the second worst such accident behind the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown in the former Soviet Union, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and its staff scrambled to reappraise the adequacy of their own safety regimens for nuclear power plants. And they re-examined the sufficiency of the limited insurance available to indemnify the American people against property damage, loss of life and other economic consequences of nuclear accidents. Then the NRC hastened to publish the "lessons learned" from the Japanese catastrophe to show they were on top of things. Though the previously existing US system had been described as virtually fail-safe, federal regulators found that improvements were possible after all and ordered that they be made.
But one not so small thing remained unchanged, post-Fukushima: the tightly capped insurance system. Of course, raising the amount of insurance required to operate nuclear plants would be expensive. The nuclear industry, which provides 20 percent of all of the country's electrical power, is not eager to incur additional expenses like higher insurance premiums for more coverage. Oh, but the nuclear power industry doesn't actually pay premiums on most of the insurance coverage that supposedly is available (more about that later.)
First, a little history. After solving the scientific and technological issues of splitting the atom, the biggest problem the nuclear industry faced in its infancy was obtaining accident insurance coverage. Without insurance, investors were unwilling to provide start-up capital. But the insurance industry was nervous. After all, this was back in the 1950s, and who knew then how safe -- or dangerous -- this new power source might turn out to be? So insurers were refusing to assume unlimited levels of liability.
But President Dwight D. Eisenhower was determined to develop "Atoms for Peace," and he worked with a cooperative Congress to remove all roadblocks. Their solution to the insurance obstacle was a new federal law, the Price-Anderson Act of 1957, which simply imposed federally-decreed limits on liability from accidents at non-military nuclear facilities. The law, amended several times since then, allowed the creation of insurance pools to cover accidents. Today the plan has two tiers. The first tier is a $375 million insurance policy for which each nuclear plant must pay premiums ranging between $500,000 and $2 million a year, depending on plant size and other factors. If a plant has an accident and $375 million is not sufficient to cover resulting damages the second tier kicks in and all the other plant operators around the country must chip in up to $111 million each to indemnify victims until the $12.6 billion cap is reached.
By the way, if you live near a nuclear plant, or even many miles away, you cannot buy your own private insurance policy to protect your home against nuclear accidents, thanks to the Price-Anderson law.
The nuclear industry and the insurance industry both understood the hard realities of the risk. In testimony to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on May 24, 2001, John L. Quattrocchi, then senior vice president for underwriting at the American Nuclear Insurers pool, put it bluntly: "The simple fact is there is always a limit on liability -- that limit equal to the assets of the company at fault."
Meanwhile, corporations that own nuclear plants have devised spin-off schemes, erecting legal firewalls to protect the parent company if their limited-liability subsidiary actually operating the plant goes under as the result of an accident.
Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island nuclear power plant suffered a partial meltdown in March, 1979. Victor Gilinsky was the senior sitting member on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission when that accident happened. According to Gilinsky, now retired, "There is no insurance for an extreme event."
Now, as scientists warn of climate change, rising sea levels, stronger hurricanes and a host of other environmental threats related to global warming it might not be unreasonable to re-examine protections afforded the public. Small-scale accidents at nuclear plants continue to happen. A big one, like Fukushima or worse, may have a low probability level. But it isn't impossible.
True, nuclear plants contribute little or no greenhouse gas emissions to the overburdened atmosphere compared to the coal-fired plants that add so much to global warming. But there is another factor to consider when weighing the nuclear option. Originally licensed for 40 years of operational life, most US nuclear plants are approaching or have already exceeded that period. So far, 73 such plants have been given 20-year extensions, and with retrofitting and extensive upgrades, some are expected to function to an age of 80 years. Lets all keep our fingers crossed.
Miles Benson is a correspondent for Link TV's Earth Focus. He has a distinguished career as a daily print journalist. From 1969 till his retirement in 2005, was a correspondent for the Newhouse Newspaper group, which included 30 daily newspapers. He covered the US Congress for 15 years and then the White House for 16 years, wrote a weekly political column and covered national politics and public policy.
After careful consideration, we have decided that it is time to make changes in the format of Mosaic: World News from the Middle East. To accommodate this change, we are now extending the current hiatus indefinitely while we retool and do the necessary fund raising to grow and expand the program concept, and to cover our production costs. New reports will no longer be available online or on Link TV. The Mosaic archive of all past shows will remain at LinkTV.org/Mosaic.
Change is never easy. We have heard your thoughts and concerns during this time of transition -- and we share a passion for the legacy of this program and the vision that helped to create it. Mosaic has always been a concrete demonstration of Link TV's core mission, reaching beyond borders and presenting non-mainstream perspectives in the hopes of connecting people and cultures.
In this time of global conflicts, misconceptions, and lack of trustworthy information, we believe a program like Mosaic remains an essential value. We now ask for your support and patience, as we create a new format that will include voices from the region, thoughtful analysis and insight, and a careful examination of social media within the different cultures of the Middle East and North Africa. Our intention is to bring you a program in concert with the news from the region and the new information technologies available to help make sense of a rapidly changing world.
Thank you for all of your support, your honest feedback, and your understanding. We will continue to keep you informed as new plans emerge.
Located about 50 kilometers from Barcelona, Manresa is a small, laid back Catalonian city. It has its picturesque Old Section as well as an impressive, well-appointed cathedral, and the famous monastery of Montserrat is perched on a nearby rocky mountaintop. But the Fira Mediterránia de Manresa, a four day celebration and Trade Fair going into its 16th year, stirs the place up and brings the population into the concert halls and out onto the streets to enjoy a meticulously programmed whirlwind of music, cinema, dance, theater and more. The joint gets jumpin'. If you’ve got a trip to Spain planned in November, make sure you include this festival in your itinerary.
Because the event takes place all over town, it was necessary to pick and choose my coverage and up front I'll tell you that what I have captured in my video is only a small slice of it. In particular, I did not cover the imported acts, because I was curious about the local Catalan culture specifically, and fine as these other artists were, I felt they would divert me from my focus. I'll always regret not catching Hermanos Cuberos, who according to the festival book combine music from the Alcarra region of Spain with bluegrass!
And I also have to say a word about the food. It was everywhere, and if you knew where to go, (and could deal with the siesta closings) it was excellent. I brought back 2 bags of little dried local mushrooms which I am using slowly, when the dish calls for their distinctive taste and texture. They are tiny treasures.
I was fortunate to be staying at the same hotel as Dave Ellwand who has researched and written about Catalan food, music and mores. Our conversations over breakfast were informative and tantalizing, so I simply had to include him at some point in the video; credit where credit is due. He has provided some links to further information and events below.
And because this video is just a quick survey, here are links to full songs.
To see the full song by Evo, go to: inter-muse.com/blog/2013/04/16/evo-performs-at-fira-mediterrania-de-manresa/
To see a (different) full song by Els Berros de la Cort go to: inter-muse.com/blog/2013/01/11/medieval-songs-of-sex-from-catalonia-els-berros-de-la-cort/
For full performance of "Waka Waka" by Els Laietans go to: inter-muse.com/blog/2013/03/16/els-laietans-at-the-fira-mediterrania-de-manresa/
For more information about the festival visit: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fira_Mediterrania_in_Manresa
For an archived radio programme about the previous year's festival: prx.org/pieces/85507-mediterrania-taste-of-the-music-of-people-of-ca
Links to Catalan Music resources:
Government culture ministry sites: Catalan!Arts: traditional music cd (free) catalanarts.cat/web/?q=en/node/412
And a free E Magazine: issuu.com/catalanarts/docs/catalan__music_emagazine_eng_4
An earlier edition about Roots music from the region: issuu.com/catalanarts/docs/catalan__music_emagazine_eng_2/1
CAT centre has an annual festival of Catalan/Valencian/Balearic/Basque performances from January to April as well as year round music teaching and summer schools.* Information about all festivals is easiest to get on catalanarts.cat/web/?q=en
For more of Michal's world music videos visit inter-muse.com.
Japan's NHK World NEWSLINE program reported on the two disasters to hit Asia this past week. The first report aired April 24, and covered the latest garment factory collapse in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka. The second report LinkAsia covered this week aired April 23, and focused on the response to the earthquake in China's Sichuan province.
The upper part of the commercial building suddenly collapsed during the busy morning period. The structure housed a clothing factory, bank and a shopping center. Many people are feared trapped inside. Workers at the factory were starting their shifts and some shops were already open. More than 100 people are reportedly hurt. Soldiers and citizens are helping with the rescue operation. Local media say a crack was detected in the wall of the building on Tuesday, but people were still allowed to go inside.
The response to the Sichuan earthquake is an important test for China's new president Xi Jinping. Five years ago, the former government was widely criticized for its poor response to an earthquake, which also occurred in Sichuan Province. That quake killed nearly 70,000 people. For more on the Chinese government's response to this latest earthquake, here's NHK.
The quake is the first large natural disaster since President Xi took office last month. He swears that his government will do everything possible to help survivors. Officials are also making sure the public knows about the government's efforts.
Premier Li Keqiang traveled by helicopter to the stricken areas on the day of the quake. He instructed rescuers to do all they could to save lives. His visit was reminiscent of the one by his predecessor Wen Jiabao. The former premier visited Sichuan years ago just hours after another huge quake hit the region. He tried to show the government's readiness to support survivors.
Authorities are highlighting other aspects of the government's response to the latest earthquake. Chinese media have been reporting in detail on the rescue effort. State run tv has broadcast repeated footage of the military's operations along with images of people receiving relief goods. Officials seem to want to show the public that the government's response is going well. An expert in risk management with a government affiliated think tank says China's leaders are paying more attention than ever to disaster response.
The disaster is not the only matter at home that China must address, the country's also struggling with a widening wealth gap and the recent outbreak of a new strain of bird flu. Compared to when the 2008 quake struck, people in China can now share information more quickly. Over 500 million Chinese are said to have internet access. Public discontent can spread in an instant.
A posting on China's version of Twitter is critical of the government's earthquake response. It says officials have failed to make use of lessons from the disaster 5 years ago. Wang says authorities need to quickly share information with the public. He says that's crucial for social stability.
China's leaders were harshly criticized for the slow response to the last earthquake in 2008. People were also angered by regional disparities in reconstruction efforts. Members of President Xi's government are keen to avoid making the same mistakes.
For more info about The Power of Two and to find out how you can become an organ donor, visit LinkTV.org/PowerofTwo.
I first became acquainted with Sonya Mazumdar as a voice at one end of a US-India Skype session about Link's licensing of "Laya Project" a dazzling musical journey around the areas devastated by the massive 2004 Tsunami. The newly formed Indian production company and record label EarthSync India had just released the film as its first endeavor. The haunting travelogue garnered honors over the intervening years, and when EarthSync launched its spinoff website IndiEarth Sonya contacted me again to see if I would allow their site to stream some of my relevant videoblogs. But of course I would!
Then, many months later (yet still rather suddenly) came an invitation from Sonya to attend the first IndiEarth XChange in Chennai. Rarely one to refuse an invitation to a new place, I found myself taking the long trip to Southeast India, to report on another maiden voyage from the young, pioneering Earthsync/IndiEarth. This time it was a meeting of international and local media, with film screenings and musical performances, along with panel discussions and networking to be held at the Park Chennai Hotel. It was an ambitious project (intended to be a prototype) requiring its own networking and funding, plus massive coordination. The aim was to lay the foundation for a network of dedicated professionals supporting independent music and cinema in India.
It was a hectic three days, and the large turnout participated in vigorous panels about the obstacles and opportunities for music and film in Southeast Asia and Oceania, as well as the remarkably varied musical fare. What made it exciting for me, was the un-Western media presence. Aside from Indian, there was a significant Australian media contingent. In particular, the magnificently feisty Kate Welsman an Australian Public Radio deejay was quick to point out that there was a noticeable shift in markets of all kinds from West to East, and music was a part of that market. It made sense. At the same time it was also made clear by both the musicians and film-makers, that the audience demographics for Southeast Asia needed to be cultivated, and weaned away from a straight diet of Bollywood, which still holds the business reins in a rigidly controlled grip.
For my part, I ran around taking as much video as I could, and focusing of course, on music. But I simply could not catch it all. So what you are seeing in my video is just a wee fraction of the music that was performed in the lobby, bar, main stage and other impromptu venues.
In all, I was very excited by the spirit of IndiEarth Exchange. The people who were gathered together were bright, creative, energetic and pro-active. I felt challenged and stimulated, as well as entertained. I believe something will come from this. It may not come immediately, but it will come.
For more information about EarthSync India, visit earthsync.com.
For the complete performance of song by Parvathy and Lakshman Das Baul, click here.
For complete song by Karthick Iyer, click here.
For more of Michal's world music videos visit inter-muse.com.