Box 106, Item 3: Early drafts, notes and cuttings on big nuclear


Box 106, Item 3: Early drafts, notes and cuttings on big nuclear


Various typescript and handwritten early drafts and notes on big nuclear, undated. Includes cuttings on nuclear power and photocopy of Embargoed Advance material for release at 0200 GMT January 15 1981 of Jimmy Cater, 39th President of the United States: 1977 ? 1981, Farewell Address to the Nation.


Verso of scrap papers not digitised. Cutting redacted from access file (PDF) due to copyright restrictions.

Papers housed in unnumbered folder marked Australia's Defence. Item number assigned by library staff. One of four papers digitised from item 2.



The University of Queensland's Richard Sylvan Papers UQFL291, Box 106, Item 3


This item was identified for digitisation at the request of The University of Queensland's 2020 Fryer Library Fellow, Dr. N.A.J. Taylor.


For all enquiries about this work, please contact the Fryer Library, The University of Queensland Library.


[26] leaves. 10.28 MB.




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Nuclear energy and obligations to the future.

.. .discussion of values and goods may seem
fuzzy and unscientific, but it is the beginning
and end of any energy policy ... . (Lovins, 75, xxii).

Important ethical issues concerning obligations to the

future and evaluative issues as to what sort of world we want
to see are raised by proposed nuclear development, but have been
largely neglected in current technologically oriented discussion

of the development.

The first part of the paper considers the

arguments of a number of philosophers

philosophical positions


obligations to the future

we do have practical,

(e.g. Passmore)


social contract theories)

and rejects them.


It concludes that

and not merely theoretical, moral obligations

to the non-immediate future, and that these are not made void
by temporal remoteness or some degree of uncertainty about the
effects of our nations.

The second part of the paper considers

a number of examples of crimes against the future and sets the

more comp ex nuclear energy case against this background.


philosophical corollary which emerges is the falsity of the still
common view that philosophical analysis of moral concepts,


is neutral with respect to practical moral issues.

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A more fundamental challenge to the poverty argument appears

in I.

Illich, Energy and Equity, Calder and Boyers, London,


where it is argued that the sort of development nuclear energy

represents is exactly the opposite of what the poor need.


main thesis seems to be that a society heavily dependent for basic
needs on capital demanding, commercially or centrally controllable

energy forms

(especially for transport), will inevitably create

energy hierachies and en/l ance poverty and inequalities in contrast
to a society employing low capital energy sources which people

control themselves,
fairly convincing,

such as bicycles or feet.

The main thesis is

given that there is unequal access to capital

and centralised power,

even if the argument for it leaves something

to be desired and the emphasis on speed as the critical factor

seems mistaken

(would the invention of a cheap 60 m.p.h.


thereby convert the bicycle to an instrument of hierarchy?)


the thesis is correct the common economic assumption that the

solution to poverty lies in more and more massive inputs of costly

energy is mistaken in a quite fundamental way.

Elaboration of

'Nuclear energy and obligations to the future, :

A note on expertise and methodology.
Some people may ask why philosophers, who know nothing about

nuclear physics,

should be dealing with this area, which surely

should be left to the province of the real experts in the area,

nuclear physicists and those with direct experience and authority
in the area of nuclear power.

One of the most irritating things in this area for a
philosopher is the sight of such people constantly presented, by
themselves and others,

as experts and authorities whose pronounce­

ments on the issue should be accepted without question by laymen
(see e.g. articles



[16]), when in fact the issues involve

quite crucially issues of and assumptions about values and morality^

matters concerning which the so-called "authorities'



commonly know less than the average first year student in philosophy.
Value issues and moral issues and issues of social and political
theory are probably more crucially concerned in the nuclear issues
than are issues of fact concerning nuclear power, and certainly

they are just as important.

Few philosophers nowadays would want to claim to be


or "authorities" on matters of value or morality in the way nuclear

experts claim to be authorities on matters of nuclear power, who
can tell people what to do in way which is authoritative or

which must be uncritically accepted by the non-experts/non­

philosophers .

Rejection of the argument from authority is basic

in proper philosophical method, going back to Plato and beyond,
and forming a basic position without which the subject,

as critical

inquiry into basic assumptions, could not operate as it does and

traditionally has.

Indeed rejection of the argument from

authority is one feature which distinguishes philosophy proper
from closely related areas such as theology,



areas of legal thought and various types of apology.

But a form

of the argument from authority-the claim to entitlement to have

one’s word or views accepted, not on the basis of what one says

and how sound it is,

but of who one is - appears however to be

an important element in the modern cult of the "scientific expert"

which has played such a large part in the contempory Australian

discussion of the nuclear issue.

While most philosophers would

reject the view that they were "experts"
or moral issues,

in this sense on values

philosophers can fairly lay claim to a number of

special skills which enable them to bring out explicit assumptions
about values or morality,

and expose defects in arguments.

philosophers also have moral views,


that is, they believe some

things to be morally acceptable and others morally unacceptable,
although some might prefer to express similar attitudes without

use of explicit moral terminology.
In writing this paper then we don't hope to be accepted as

'authorities' or


on moral questions, but only to have

skills which may throw light on some areas.
bring out value and moral assumptions,

We have tried to

expose logical defects and

inconsistencies in the structure of some of the arguments and in
certain sorts of argument concerning the future,

and to argue that

if one accepts a certain moral judgment

(which we accept and which

we believe would be widely agreed on*),

one should,

going to be consistent,

non-arbitrary ,

accept a certain other one.

if one is

and follow through one's
This seems to us a proper

area for philosophical work.

The non-philosophical or background factual assumptions which

are essential for discussing the issue are not large, and are in

substance only those of the Fox Report


in particular).

* We are sure that philosophers can be found who will disagree with
virtually every statement we make.

Nuclear Power

Ethical and Social Dimensions

The issue of nuclear power raises many basic issues in ethics.
By means of an example, we argue for the illegitimacy of certain
sorts of transfers of costs,

transfers from one party who obtains

benefits from a given course of action,

onto other parties who do

The inadequate methods currently available for storing nuclear


wastes mean that nuclear power could permit such an illegitimate

transfer of serious costs and risks onto future people.

Many of

the arguments for the acceptability of imposing such risks on the
future ignore these crucial ethical transfer issues.

We argue that

the mot'Q 1 constraints on action such transfer principles give rise
to are not removed by the fact that those affected are future and

not present people.

The nuclear issue and associated arguments also raise in a
highly topical wSy

many basic issues in social theory.

Do people

’need' all the consumer items nuclear power is supposed to

allow for,

and is it authoritarian or wrong to frustrate such needs,

or are such needs in part imposed by a particular, alterable social

Are existing democratic mechanisms for control over

the social framework adequate, or do they give inadequate control

and permit excessive concentrations of power?

If the answer to the

last question is affirmative, what kinds of social changes would
prevent such>concentrations of power and allow for more adequate

control by people over the social framework and over their own

The approach to all these questions depends crucially on

how the underlying elements of social interaction are conceived are these basic elements pure individuals, are they social wholes,

or do we need to assume both, distinct and irreducible, as we shall

argue ?

R. and V,. Rout ley









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I£ nuclear energy is unacceptable on moral grounds, what of

Australia s role in cooperating in its development overseas?

Is its development

inevitable, as some say, so that others would sell if we didn’t and Australia

would simply profit from the folly and immorality of others?
assumption is false.

This inevitability

Most countries considering nuclear energy are not yet

irreversibly committed to it, and have other options.

Australia has a good

percentage of the world’s high-grade reserves of uranium and is regarded by western
powers as a stable and reliable energy source.

In so far as there is an economic

case for nuclear energy development, the relative cheapness of its fuel and

reliability of its source is a major part of it.

It seems likely that by with'

holding its uranium Australia could shake this assumption and thus be influential
in directing attention to alternatives.

Nuclear energy development is not

inevitable, but even if it were, inevitability does not cancel moral responsibility.
Few would accept the argument of the hired assassin that if he did not do the job

someone else would be found who would perhaps make a messier job of it.


does not evade moral responsibility by arguing in a similar way, that other, possibly
even less responsible, suppliers would emerge.

Other arguments are presented to excuse Australia’s collaboration in nuclear
development, that by selling its uranium Australia will help prevent nuclear

proliferation and the development of the breeder reactor.

The argument that widely

exporting the basic means of making nuclear weapons is the best means of preventing
nuclear proliferation compares, in its twisted logic, with the all too familiar

claims that war is the best means of promoting peace, that the best way to assist
the poor is to increase the power of the wealthy^and so on.

help prevent development of the breeder reactor?

Will uranium export

That seems, at least, unlikely,

since the most important potential customers, in Europe, have already announced
their determination to proceed with it, while the other most important customer,

Japan, has made no secret of its interest in it.
faulty too.

But such an argument is logically

The fact that the breeder creates even worse problems, for present

people, than conventional fission reators hardly shows that conventional fission

is acceptable or ought not also to be opposed.

These are not exhaustive options,

and the case against even conventional fission energy is a sufficiently strong one.
The strategy of the argument here is to suggest that rather than opposing or

resisting something immoral, one should collaborate in it in order to use one’s

influence to secure improvements;

this would justify, for example, assisting in

fabricating evidence against an innocent man in order to use one’s influence to

ensure minimum suffering, a speedy trial and humane execution.
These arguments to excuse Australia’s participation are sad and threadbare,
exhibiting the morality of the market.

There seems little doubt that Australia’s

collaboration will assist and encourage the development of nuclear energy as

opposed to alternatives.

Thus Australia’s uranium export policy makes it an

important accomplice in this crime against the future.

The following have been redacted from access file (PDF) due to copyright restrictions.

Cutting (photocopy), 'Letters' (24 November 1978), Science, 202: 818, 820-821. (3 leaves)
Cutting (photocopy), 'The World: Europe' (13 November 1976), The Economist, 261: 6364. (2 leaves)
Cutting (photocopy), 'Nuclear man at bay' (19 March 1977), The Economist, 292(2): 12-13.
(2 leaves)




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The following has been redacted from access file (PDF) due to copyright restrictions.
Typescript (photocopy), Embargoed Advance material for release at 0200 GMT January 15 1981
of Jimmy Cater, 39th President of the United States: 1977 ‐ 1981, Farewell Address to the
Nation. (5 leaves)


Richard Sylvan, “Box 106, Item 3: Early drafts, notes and cuttings on big nuclear,” Antipodean Antinuclearism, accessed December 10, 2023,

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