Duke Power Co. v. Carolina Envtl. Study Group

438 U.S. 59



The general rationality of the Price-Anderson Act liability limitations, particularly with reference to the important congressional purpose of encouraging private participation in the exploitation of nuclear energy, is ample justification for the difference in treatment between those injured in nuclear accidents and those whose injuries are derived from other causes.


In an action brought by appellees, environmental organizations and residents of the area near a planned nuclear power facility, the district court determined that the Price-Anderson Act (Act), 42 U.S.C.S. § 2210 et seq., which was intended to protect the public and encourage the development of the private atomic energy industry by limiting the aggregate liability of the industry, was unconstitutional on the ground that it violated the Due Process Clause of U.S. Const. amend. V. Appellant power company sought review of the judgment from the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, which determined that the the Price-Anderson Act, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2210 et seq., was unconstitutional and that appellees, environmental organizations and individuals who resided within close proximity to a planned nuclear power facility, had standing to bring a claim for declaratory relief.


May Congress impose a limitation on liability for nuclear accidents resulting from the operation of private nuclear power plants licensed by the federal government?




The Court reversed the district court’s finding that the Price-Anderson Act was unconstitutional . The Act was presumed constitutional, and the burden was on appellees to show that the legislature had acted in an arbitrary and irrational way. The record supported the need to statutorily limit liability and was found to bear a rational relationship to Congress's concern for stimulating the involvement of private enterprise. The argument as to the arbitrariness of the $560 million statutory ceiling on liability was rejected in view of the extremely remote possibility of an accident where liability would exceed the limitation of 42 U.S.C.S. § 2210 (e), whereby Congress committed to take necessary actions to protect the public in case of such a disaster.

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