President Bush has signed legislation that authorizes $393 billion for an array of Dept. of Defense programs, and also extends a liability shield for contractors working on cleaning up former nuclear weapons facilities. The legislation, which Bush signed on Dec. 2, reauthorizes the 1957 Price-Anderson Act through calendar 2004, providing indemnification for DOE contractors. That protection had expired Aug. 1.

Bush signing DOD measure. (Photo courtesy of The White House)

Contractors had hoped for a much longer Price-Anderson extension. House and Senate conferees had agreed on a 10-year reauthorization of Price-Anderson in their deliberations on an omnibus energy package. But when that overall energy legislation died, lawmakers decided on the shorter Price-Anderson extension and used the DOD measure as their vehicle.

Mitch Singer, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, says the DOD indemnity provision is a positive step, "in that the DOE sites can continue to go about their business and let out their contracts." He adds, "It does provide some certainty going forward...."

Bill Birkhofer, Jacobs' vice president for North American public sector sales, notes that most of his firm's DOE contracts extend well beyond two years. He says that with the DOD bill provision there is "still a degree of uncertainty there that's not entirely comfortable for us.

But industry will be seeking the longer Price-Anderson extension from Congress in 2003. NEI's Singer says, "We're surely hoping that it'll be taken up soon next year and passed."

He notes that the expiration of Price-Anderson didn't affect existing DOE contracts--new contracts were the concern. He also says that even though the statute had run out in August, workers who operated commercial nuclear plants retained liability protection under a grandfather provision.