Public money to cover the costs of “untenable” nuclear risks

The question of how to manage liabilities is an issue which dogs the nuclear power and weapons industries.  In the event of an accident, financial liabilities can be huge, as was graphically demonstrated at Fukushima where the costs of dealing with the emergency ran into many tens of billions.  Requiring private companies and their insurers to meet these potentially astronomic costs, is, however, "untenable", according to government ministers.  The Ministry of Defence is therefore planning to indemnify Babcock, the giant engineering contractor which runs the Faslane and Coulport nuclear bases on the Clyde, from liability in the event of fire, death, injury, radioactive leaks or worse.  Under the proposed arrangements liabilities with an unquantifiable limit arising from an accident for which the private company is responsible would fall on the public purse – another example of public money bailing out private profit. Britain's Trident nuclear weapons submarines are based at Faslane whilst up to 200 nuclear weapons can be stored at Coulport, and both sites have chequered safety records.

The proposal has shocked politicians with Labour MP Paul Flynn, who has lodged a motion in the House of Commons opposing the move, pointing out that "Commerce reaps the profits and the public purse is looted to pay immeasurable costs." However, Defence Minister Andrew Murrison has insisted that the Treasury must relieve contractors of the liability for accidents, otherwise the Ministry of Defence's nuclear contracts would become "untenable".

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