The NRC and the Value of Life

, Director of Nuclear Power Safety, Climate & Energy | February 28, 2011, 9:34 am EDT
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In a letter to the New York Times last week, I noted that in doing cost-benefit analyses, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) uses a dollar figure for the value of a human life that is roughly a half to a third of the value used by other federal agencies ($3 million vs. $5-9 million). Using this low value has a significant effect on nuclear plant license renewals and new reactor approvals since nuclear plants are not required to add safety systems that the NRC deems too expensive for the value of the lives they could save.

This figure for the NRC’s human life value comes from two sources.

First, on page 31, the NRC’s current regulatory analysis guidelines states that the dollar-conversion factor of radiation exposure is $2000 per person-rem, and that this value comes from the document NUREG-1530, which is dated December 1995.

Pages 11-12 of NUREG-1530 give the discussion that selects $3 million as the value of a statistical life (section 6.6) and relates the $3 million value to a conversion factor of $2100 per person-rem, which it then rounds down to $2000 per person-rem (section 8).

The second source is the prior revision of NRC’s regulatory analysis guidelines, published in the Federal Register in December 1995. The $3 million figure is cited, as well as the same $2000 per person-rem figure that is still in use today.

The value the NRC uses need to be brought in line with those of other agencies.

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