These subsidies do not necessarily establish the nonviability of the nuclear power industry, in that it is conceivable that these functions could be taken over by private industry. However, the one government-furnished privilege that the nuclear industry could find it hardest to live without is the Price-Anderson Act's limitation on a nuclear power plant's liability in case of an accident.
Of all the arguments of nuclear power advocates, the one that is most irrelevant is that nuclear power generates vital electricity and thus deserves to be supported through Price-Anderson and other means. That nuclear power generates electricity proves nothing, just as the fact that horse manure, windmills, and charcoal can generate power does not prove that they should be subsidized.
Usually the advocates of the "vital power" thesis center their arguments on a fear of running out of energy. During the 1975 renewal hearings, Rep. John Young (D-Tex.) made the following less-than-prescient remarks in supporting extension of the Price-Anderson Act: "The fact is that we have run out of oil and gas. What oil and gas is left is desperately needed in a thousand other ways (other than boilers). The quicker that we can get into this other business of supplementary energy sources, the quicker this nation will be on its way to stability of its economy..."
One of the great strengths of the market system is that it does not require reliance on people such as Rep. Young to forecast the future and to coordinate economic activity. Indeed, the information needed to coordinate a market is not, cannot, and need not be in the hands of any single individual. When an energy source such as oil becomes scarcer, the market mechanism working through prices and profits ensures that there is no disruption in energy supplies. If the price mechanism is left unfettered, no shortages can occur; at the same time the profit motive ensures that there are adequate long-term supplies. Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek describes how the market process works when a resource (tin) becomes scarcer:
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