Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Nationtwit is on your . . .

I was contemplating whether to buy my insurance from a lizard, a duck, a beagle, or one of the world's two most annoying humans -- a harsh and barren choice, to be sure -- when word came that the duck had been fired for making tasteless jokes about the unfortunate Japanese people. So naturally I was moved to deep sympathy for the most unfortunate Japanese insurance industry.

Not to worry, as it turns out. In the first place Japan, like the U.S., has a distinctive form of anti-socialism or whatever you want to call it for the nuclear power industry. "Under the Japanese Nuclear Act of 1961, operators of nuclear plants are not liable for any damage resulting from a "grave natural disaster of an exceptional nature." So if you or your loved ones get irradiated, or your property is rendered uninhabitable for a thousand years, tough shit. In the U.S., liability for nuclear power plant catastrophes is limited to $12.6 billion, beyond which the federal government is responsible.

Most Japanese have government-sponsored earthquake insurance as well, and total liability -- for both public and private insurers -- is capped. Beyond $60 billion in total claims, people get only partial compensation. Obviously, that doesn't come close to the total cost of this disaster.

In the U.S., floods are more common and more costly than earthquakes, so guess what? In places where you can't get flood insurance on the private market, the government will sell it to you, cheap. The result is a whole lot of development in places where there shouldn't be any, and we all pay for it.

Still, private insurance executives worldwide, even though they aren't complaining out loud about the Koch brothers and Senator Inhofe, know damn well that climate change is happening and that it's increasing their risks. One more reason you know Republicans and teabaggers don't actually care about the deficit is because they deny anthropogenic climate change, which is going to cost the National Flood Insurance Program oodles of dough -- actually it has already -- among other large costs to the federal budget.

As I have said recently, the public health consequences of nuclear power, even given what is happening right now, are actually pretty minor compared with the cost of fossil fuel burning. I expect I'll have more to say about that. Nevertheless, nuclear power is not economically viable without major distortions in the market created by government fiat. Building in flood prone areas is also encouraged by policy in the U.S. and Japan, for no defensible reason that I can see. There's a political dynamic here that cries out for examination.

1 comment:

C. Corax said...

Seems to me that it's as simple as someone's found a way to make a lot of money...nuclear power is a case of privatize the profits, socialize the losses. Building in flood plains is just the good ol' American Way of spec building taken to an extreme. They just need to sell the houses before the flood.

We've been have a good fist fight on a listserv I'm on over nuclear power. Folks who had never posted before are suddenly posting frantically to convince us al that nuclear is the only thing that will save us.

Here's a link to a report (a good sized pdf) on subsidies for nuclear power. The numbers are astounding.