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Insurance key to nuclear growth.

It is among the thorniest, most unquantifiable of all risks. But with energy prices soaring to record highs, the case for nuclear power is receiving renewed public attention and sparking significant political debate for the first time in decades.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain recently called for the construction of 45 new reactors over the next 20 years, a nearly 50% increase, with a plan to speed up permitting and encourage domestic manufacture of key parts.

His Democratic opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, has been critical of the plan, saying McCain hasn't explained how he would handle nuclear waste. But Obama hasn't dismissed the nuclear option either, calling it "reasonable and realistic for nuclear power to remain on the table for consideration."

Though nuclear generating stations are often viewed as virtually uninsurable, those who regularly write and place nuclear risks paint a very different picture: that of a remarkably stable market with few claims and steady profits. Moreover, they say, a significant expansion like that called for by McCain would actually serve to grow, not shrink, available capacity.

Much of that is due to the structure of the 51-year-old Price-Anderson Act, the federal law governing liability for the U.S. nuclear industry. Last extended by 2005's Energy Policy Act, and not set to expire again until 2025, the law caps private industry liability at $10 billion, while requiring the nation's 102 nuclear facilities each to maintain at least $300 million in coverage.

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Title Annotation:Briefing
Author:Lehmann, R.J.
Publication:Best's Review
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2008
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