Washington Law Review


Chris Addicott


Thousands of people who lived downwind of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation have brought suit against the contractors who operated the facility, claiming that radiation releases caused property damage, illness, and death. For the defendants, there is little at stake. Because they fall under the Price-Anderson Act, the U.S. Government will indemnify them for their legal expenses and any judgments against them. Nevertheless, the defendants have invoked the "government contractor defense," claiming that they should be immune from suit because anything they may have done wrong was done at the direction of the government. This Comment argues that the government contractor defense, which is a creation of federal common law, should not be available to Price-Anderson contractors. Operators of nuclear facilities are already protected by the indemnity provisions of Price-Anderson. Price-Anderson carefully balances the need to ensure that victims of nuclear accidents receive swift and adequate compensation with the goal of facilitating the participation of the private sector in the nuclear industry. To preserve this balance and avoid denying recovery to plaintiffs with legitimate claims, Price-Anderson must preempt the government contractor defense.

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