Winners, Losers, and the Nuclear-Waste Dilemma
This paper explores how property-right assignment affects social efficiency when a public program has both “public good” and “public bad” components. We show that when willingness to accept a public bad exceeds the willingness to pay, the net benefit is unambiguously lower when the property right supports the status quo institutional structure. Thus, Kaldor–Hicks efficiency tests tend to favor public programs and mitigation over the status quo even when mitigation negatively affects another group. To illustrate the result, we develop social-cost estimates for moving nuclear waste from current temporary-storage facilities to a permanent central repository at Yucca Mountain, NV, USA. For a representative city with a population of 226,195, the present value of the external cost of shipping waste is $1.42 billion when those living near temporary nuclear-waste storage facilities are assigned the property right to “health and safety.” That number swells to $5.95 billion when those living near the transport route are assigned the property right. Thus, property-right assignment affects the efficient level of nuclear-waste, and thus nuclear energy, produced.