Box 59, Item 1875: Draft of Nuclear power - ethical, social and political dimensions


Box 59, Item 1875: Draft of Nuclear power - ethical, social and political dimensions


Typescript draft, with handwritten emendations and annotations, and handwritten notes, undated. Paper published, Routley R and Routley V (1982) 'Nuclear power—some ethical and social dimensions', in Regan T and VanDeVeer D (eds) And justice for all: new introductory essays in ethics and public policy, Rowman and Littlefield.


Title in collection finding aid: RS: Big mss on nuclear.


The University of Queensland's Richard Sylvan Papers UQFL291, Box 59, Item 1875




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.


[71] leaves. 58.48 MB.




n/a - location not listed in manuscript finding aid



/IN/J , AJuncl)L




---.. Compet ing paradig fus and · the nuclea r debate .


J C/l/'I

One hardly 1ieeds ini t.. i ation into the dark myster ies of nuclea r physic
to contrib ute useful ly to the debate now widely raging over nuclea r
power. While many import ant empiri cal questio ns are still
unreso lved, these do not really lie at the centre of the controv ersy.
Instead , it is a debate about values ...
many of the questio ~which arise are social and ethica l ones. 1

•.:tSociol ogica) investi gation s have confirm ed fJ £ a t~
I pa,i I 11g , I a1:a1Hiliit e:f! the
debate l=!S:&!!!!t'!~ primar ily over what is w.9rth having
or pursuin g and over what we are
'tli.a,., /i.,we 4ho cc,-.+·,r,.,../),l fl..,,/ it,, J;,'/.wh :1 ;•,l~:,~-11
.entitle d to do to others .~,] ii pelaFi oatienA
along the lines of compet ing
paradig ms. 2 Accord ing to the entrenc hed paradig vtldisc erned, that constel
lation. a'
of values , attitud es and beliefs often called the nomina nt Social
Paradig m
(herea fter
I ena ipsoiac to u hl:ttan f!nD




riteria become the benchm ark by which a v.;id..e/ range of
individ ual and social action is J IA"{'J4.l
and evalua ted.
belief in the market and market mechan isms is
quite centra l.
around this col'"e belief is the
convic tion that enterp rise flouris hes best in a system of
risks and r ew~ rds, that differe ntials are necess ary ..• , and in
the necess ity for some form of divisio n of labour , and a itfl1rar chy
of skills and expert ise. In particu lar, there is a belief in
the compet ence of ~xpert s in genera l and of scient ists in
particu lar , m More thau this, scient: ifie knowle dge aftd t:he scient ific


method enjoy a
-ef knowiftg , • , , A:Re


S = ~ : . . _ 4"--

quanti f ica.tion .

.status as

super, '(P'

::::j there 1s an emphas is on


The rival world view, sometim es called the Altern ative Environ mental
Paradig m
( the ~ Paradig m) differs on almost every point, and, accord ing to
sociol ogists ,
in ways su~mar i~ din the followi ng table 4":Nature hostile/ne utral
Environm ent controllable

---·. ,csourccs limited
Nature benign
Nature clclicatdy balanced





Confidence in science
and technology
~ation:ility of means~}

Limits to science
~ationality of ends

S.t-~te socialism, as practiced in most of the "EasteI11 bloc", differs from the
01/ PaLl.digm really only as to economic organisation, the market in particular

l\ ffl~'

being replaced by central planning (a market system by a command system).




since there is virtually no debate over a nuclear future within the confines of
· 1·ism, 5 tat
variant on the Old Paradigm need not be delineated here.
s t a t e socia

,,.... 1,t
.WailiaA the competing paradigm picture is a trifle s i m p l e ~ instead

a New Paradigm there are rather counterparadi gms, a cluster of not very well
out rositions that diverge from the cluster marked out as the




Old Paradigm~ i t is empirically investigable, and.I\ it enables the nuclear debate
be focussed.

Large-scale nuclear development, of the sort now occurring in much of

the world ,

counter to leading tenets (such as societal features) of

the New Paradigm.

Indeed to introduce ethical and social dimensions into the

assessment of nuclear power, instead of


merely economic
1in addition to

u(_, \-"-..

factors such as cost and efficiency, isAto move somewhat
received paradigm.; .. i le


For under the Old Paradig~, strictly construed, the nuclear

debate is confined to the terms of the narrow ut1litarianism upon which contemporary
economic practice is premissed, the issues to questions of economic means (to
assumed economistic ends) along with technological, social engineering and other
instrumental details

whatever falls outside these terms is (dismissed as)

irratfonal. I

/;,(4.(11,-,'1"4-J J~clear development receives its support from adherents of the Old

Virtually all the arguments in favour of it are set within the

assumption framework of the Old Paradigm, and without these assumptions the


fails. But in
· and ultimately fails
fact the argument for a nuclear future from the Old Paradigm is itself broken-backedj)

case for the nuclear future the world is presently committed
unless the free enterprise economic assumptions are replaced

by the ethically

unacceptable assumptions of advanced (corporate) capitalism. r->~~~tt--en--e--a:nm~m-t~


The two paradigm picture also enables our case against a nuclear future
(a case written from outside the Old Paradigm ) to be structur ed. There are two
main part~JJ :It is argued, firstly, from
the Old Paradigm , that nuclear


developm ent is

ethicall y

unjusti fiable;


but that, secondly , even from within
e·th,t" I~ ,;,{,.l,fo "1
the framewo rk of the,\Old Paradigm , such developm ent is unaccep table, since signific
features of nuclear developm ent conflic t with indispe nsible features of the Paradigm
(e.g. costs of project developm ent and state :s ... lPs ,l ,J"--f:,,;, •., with market
independ ence and criteria for project selectio n). It has _?~E_~ d accepta ble

within the claminan t paradigm only because )rfo,,Js
do not square with practice , only
because the assumpt ions of the Old Paradigm are but very ~A~~ty
applied in
contemp orary politica l practice the place of i ru.<<I!.(~., "'1( td)


capitali sm having been usurped by corpora te capitali sm. It is because the nuclear
debate <:< bL.
carried on within the framewo rk
of the Old Paradigm that the
debate - although it is a debate about values, because of the conflict ingvalu
of the
paradigm s - is not just a debate about values; it is also a
debate within a paradigm as to means to already assumed (ec:.on0" 1istid
ends, and


of rationa l choice as to energy option.5 within


~ 0 1""Q;i1f

2'n this corner ~

0<,f/e,,..Jj4 ft!1ho',. "JllD I
most !i F I Im. decision

a predeter mined framewo rk of values.

theory argumen ts,often conside red
as encompa ssing
all the nuclear debate is ethicall y about, I\best util.i t~rian
means to predeter mined ends..,) be l : ~ For another leading charact eristic of the
nuclear debate is the attempt , under the dominan t par_adigyn, to r~c'1~ it from
t/•IIW 1f
the ethical and
social sphere) and to turR ; t into spec,iali st issues ef'
whether over minutia? .and conting encies A present technolo gy or overme&lw,,/
~legal or
mathem atical ,,' upeciaJ J y de, rs r 011 tbentetf c: and Stat Is Lica:1:, or amdie&t details.,8




The double approach can be applied as regards each of the main problems nuclear
developm ent poses.
There are 7any
A inter~e lated problems and -fl. t.- OAJ'""'"cd
· , is further
structur ed in terms of these.
For in the advancem ent and promotio n of nuclear ~
we encount er a remarka ble combina tion of factors, never before assemble d
establis hment,
on a massive scale, of an industry which involves at each stage of its process
serious risks and at some stages of product ion possible catastro phe, which delivers
as a by-prod uct radioac tive wastes which require up to a million years' storage
but for which no sound and economi c storage methods are known, which gr~w up as
part of the war industry and which is easily $""h v,e..,rld to deliver nuclear weapons
which require s for its

operatio nconsid erable secrecy , limitati ons on the flow of
informa tion and restrict ions on civil libertie s, which depends for its economi
and in
to generate expected private profits, on Sl.\bs-i.4.,,/..,~/
subsidi zation, support , and interven tion. It is, in short, a very high technol

developm ent,


with problem s.

first importa nt problem .which serves also
to exempli fy ethical issues and princip les involved in other nuclear power questio
is the unresolv ed matter of disposa l of nuclear wastes.

.------------- ------------ ------------ -------~--- ---.



annual wastes containing 1000 times the radioactivity of the Hiroshima bomb.
of this waste is extremely toxic.



For example, a millionth of a gramme of plutonium
part of the waste material

of even a

is enough to induce a lung

Wastes will include the reactors themselves,


which will have to be abandoned after their expected life times of perhaps 40 years,
and which, some have estimated, may require l½ million years to reach safe levels
of radioactivity.

A~astes must be kept suitably isolated from the environment for their entire
For fission products the required storage period averages a

active lifetime.

thousand years or so, and for transuranic elements, which include plutonium, there
is a half million to a million year storage problem. Serious problems have arisen
with both short-term and proposed long-term methods of storage, even with the
comparatively small quantities of waste produced over the last twenty years. ~ Shortterm methods of storage require continued human intervention, while proposed longer
term methods are subject to both human interference and risk of leakage through
non-human factors.
No one with even a slight knowledge of the geological and climatic history


of the earth over the last million years, a period whose fluctuations in climate
we are only just beginning to guage and which has seen four Ice Ages, could be
confident that a rigorous guarantee of safe storage could be provided for
the vast period of time involved.

Nor does the history of human affairs over the

last 3000 years give ground for confidence in safe storage by methods requiring
human intervention over perhaps a million years.

Proposed long-term storage methods

such as storage in granite formation s or in salt mines, are largely speculative and
relatively untested1 and have already proved to involve difficulties with attempts
made to put them into practice. Even as regards expensive recent proposals for
the result in
first embedding concentrated wastes in glass and enca/ulating
multilayered metal containers before rock
radioactive material may not remain

deposit 1 si~ulation models reveal that

, 'II isolated from human environments.



In short, the best present ~iapeoel proposals carry very real possibilities of
.J... /Id

lZ..t-u ~~~ •
irradiating future people- (V',i,,l.
Given the



costs which could be involved for the future, and given

the known ~~mits of technology, it is £i?la:h:tw methodol@gi unsound amt to bet,• as





have,• on the discovery of safe procedures for 1tis.pr19i,j of wastes.


new procedures (required before 2000) will probably be but variations on present
proposals, and subjecJto the same inadequacies.
methods for safe


For instance, none of the proposed

X "'t.H

has been properly tested, and they mayAprove to involve

ell :sorts o:fi unforseen difficulties and risks when an attempt is made to put them into
practice on a commercial scale.

Only a method that could provide a rigorous guarantee




when set in this context.

are not so ruf'I

What is worth remarking is that similar excuses

when the consigner, again~ "responsible" businessman, puts


his workers' health or other peoples' welfare at risk.




A long distance country train has just pulled out.

carries both passengers and freight.


The train which is

At an early stop in the

someone consigns as freight , to a far distant destination, a package

which contains a highly toxic and explosive gas.
container which> as the consigner

ii ava..r4- 1
Jii' l 'J I ems

This is packaged in a very thin

may~ not contain the gas for the

~ full distance for which it is consigned, and certainly will not do so if the train

should strike any real trouble, for example if there is a breakdown and the interior
of the train becomes very hot, if the train should be derailed or involved in a collision,
or if some passenger should interfere
try; to steal some
1e t 11 r 5ffi'1jhQ~




the freight~




have happened on some previous journeys.






ft,1-h ~

fCJ Laps

Conf• ;;bi.c, ;_,,,

of these tie:! cg ,..

If the container should


break the resulting disaster would probably kill at least some of the people on the
train in adjacent carriages, while others could be maimed or incur serious diseases .


Most of us would Aoundly condemn such an action.
of the parcel say to try to justify it?

What might the consigner

He might say that it is not certain that

the gas will escape and that it is mere speculation to suppose it will, that the world
needs his product and it is his duty to supply it, and that in any case he is not
responsible for the train or the people on it.

These sorts of excuses however


would normally be s een as ludicrous~

(~~up~~he says that it is hisgownA pressing needs which justify his action.

The ~ h e



which produces the material as a by-product, is in bad financial


straits, and could•


,. afford to produce a better container even if it knew how to

r~..../'441' ~ ,1/r

make one.

If t h e ~


ersl~~, he and his family will suffer, his employees

will lose their jobs and have to look for others, and the who}eA


loss of spending and the cancellation of the Multiplier Effect, will be worse off.
()It,/ rl.A~"/t ~ "
The ppor of t'he ¥.j)Jag_P,whom he would otherwise have been able to help, will

suffer especially. ::,


G ew people would accept~ story1 even if correct, as justification. Even
where there are serious risks and costs to oneseLf or some group for whom one is

concerned one is usually


ii,b. w;gil1'UA not


to be entitled to simply transfer the,4 burden

of those risks and costs onto other uninvolved parties, especially where they arise






from one's own.< chosefi the t~nsfer af cos.ts creates a risk of
,ae-r ious harm t:e G - t ~ r


The matter of nuclear waste disposal has many moral features which resem\1le

the train (i4.tqatiaeu

There is no known proven safe way to package the highly toxic

wastes generated by the nuclear plant~ that will be spread around the world as large/9

scale nuclear development goes ahead. ' The waste problem will be much more serious
than thut generated by the 50 or so reactors in use at present, withx'each one of the
2000 or so r actors envisaged by



l#i7 l,Q. ~~'4~ ,i·

dfi) flp,J4v{-


jj{'. ,


cue end of the century producing, on average,

. /"'-A






/ L_:~-..':~. . :~=====================




6. {

of safety over th e s torage period, that placed safety beyond reasonable doubt , would be

It is difficult to see how such rigorous guarantees could be given

concerning either the geological or future human factors.

But even if an

economically viable, rigorously safe long term storage method


be devised,

there is the problem of guaranteeing that it would be universally and invariably


. as
The assumption that it would be{ especially if,




likely, such a method

proved expensive economically and politically) seems to presuppose a level of efficiency,
perfection and concern for the f uture which has not previously been e~counter~in
human affairs, and has certainly not been conspicuous in the nuclear industry.




unless we assume continuous and faultless guarding of long term storage sites
through perhaps a million years of possible future human ac t ivity, weapons-grade
radioactive material will be accessible, over much of the million year storage period,
to any pa rt y who is in a position to retrieve it.

nonetheless be found 1 before 2000,
(no longer a mere disposal pfioblem)
s accordingly not t"~t,cnA '(
which gets around the waste storage problem
. like ma~v assumptions ?~ifH~s, It is an assumption supplied by the
based, but is ratne ~ ~an artitle or
The assumption that a way will


Old Paradigm,

Cit M limitations assumption , that there are really no (development)



problems that cannot be solved technologically (if not in a fashion

always immediately ·· economically feasible).
part in development plans and practice..
technological optimism (not to say
what humans can accomplish,

The assumption

that is

has played an important

It has not only encouraged an unwarranted

t3 -h(A.J,,.,·::, -____


that there are no limits to

i<. through science ; it has led

to the em~rcation on

projects before crucial problems have been satisfactorily solved


a solution is

tNll.~ i n sight, and it has led to the idea that technology can always be suitably


It has also led , not surprisingly, to disasters.

There are severe limits

on what technology can achieve (some of which are becoming known in the form of


limitation theorems,~ and in addition there are human limitations which modern
technological developments often fail to take due account of (risk analysis of the
, llliu:,,olll( lido-wliklihood of reac t or accidents is a relevant exampll). The original nuclear
technology dream 1>S1.l»-'I

was that nuclear

'clean unlimited supply of power').
apparently remains a net
will be but a quite


That dream soon shattered .

cons &-1>t1~


would provide unlimited energy (a
The nuclear industry

of power, and nuclear

..flt~, ;o,,..

s upplier of power/>

The risks :l.mposed on the future by proceeding with nuclear development

then , significant.


Nuclear fission creates wastes which may remain toxic for a

million years, but even with the (suspect) breeder reactor it could be an energy
source for only perhaps 150 years.

It will do nothing for the energy problems of the

people of the distant future whose lj_ves could be seriously affected by the wastes.



It is for such reasons that the train aua]og; cannot be turned around
.p, .. ~,.,,,/(._
. s.
to work in favour of nuclear power, w1.·th .:e::g:.-"1 t, h e nuc 1 ear train b



relief as well as wastes to a remote town powered (only) by nuclear power.


~~----Thus perhaps 40,000 generations of future people could be forced to bear
significant risks resulting from the provision of the (extravagant) energy use
I.I f»l~)'r•jloiT,,j.,.



of onlyAlO generations.

l''°/'k o.f

Nor is the risk of direct harm from the escape or misuse of radioactive materials the only burden the nuclear solution imposes on the future.


the ene~gy provided by nuclear fission is merely a stop gap, it seems probable that
in due course the same problem, that of making a transition to renewable sources of
energy, will have to be faced again by a future population which will probably,
again as a result of our actions, be very much worse placed to cope with it ~


they may well have to face the change to renewable resources in an over-populated world
not only burdened with the legacy of our nuclear wastes, but also in a world in which,
if the nuclear proponents' dream~of global industrial:lsation are realised, more
and more of the global population will have become dependent on high energy
consumption and associated technology and heavy resource use and will have lost or
reduced its ability to survive without it.

It will, moreover, probably be a world

which is largely depleted of non-renewable resources, and in which such renewable
resources as forests and soils as remain, resources which will have to form

a very important part of the basis of life, are in a run·-down condition.


pointf~~ll against the idea that future people must be, if not direct beneficiaries
of nuclear fission energy, at least indirect beneficiaries.
The "solution" then is to buy time for contemporary industrial society
at a price which not only creates serious problems for future people but which
reduces their ability to cope with those problems. Like the consigner in the train
parable, contemporary
indu st rial society proposes, in order to get itself out of _a
mess arising from its


life style - the creation of economies dependent on an

abundance of non-renewable energy, which is limited in supply - to pass on costs
and risks of serious harm to others who will obtain no corresponding benefits.


The ''solution" may enable the avoidance of some uncomfortable changes~n the lifetime
of those now living and their immediate descendants, just as the consigner's action
avoids uncomfortable changes for him and his immediate surroundings, but at the
expense of passing heavy burdens to other uninvolved parties, whose opportunity

/eJ J.Q.c~nt /,vu


may be seriously jeopardised.

Industrial society has - under e~ch paradigm, so it will be argued clear alternatives
cf i patterns


to this action, which is taken essentially to avoid changing
c~mpet,Nil,iJo.l'J ~

of consumption and protect the interest of those,\who benefit

from them.

I r~ pcrca.,t1cd,
If we apply to the nuclear situation the standards of behaviour and moral


principles generally acknowledged (in principle if perhaps often not in fact) in the
contemporary world, it is not easy to avoid the conclusion that nuclear development

inv61ves injustice

/:T4- •

with respect to the future 1,0



g s111l s n 1J e> . appear to be

only two plausible moves that might enable the avoidance


such a conclusion.


!Pa {csfuP~
c C--?\ Ce/>'\
( .__:..


1 </{_:_, rh~,

t ✓~



d04r7 A ~








c ......






a-r ,,:ZZ-: :.,.,/



,,.,;,{,,;,,, j
~ ~








£e..-r<- ~ ~7~





Y/1 ) .




First, it might be argued that the moral principles and obligations which we
acknowledge for the contemporary world and the immediate future do not apply

because the recipients of...- nuclear parcel are in the non-immediate future.
Secondly, an attempt might be made to appeal to overriding circumstances; for to
!eject the consigner's action in the circumstances outlined is not of course to

that there are

circumstances in which such an action might ~,.;s i];Jj'


be justifiable 1 or at least where the
the nuclear case.


is less clearcut.

It is the same with

Just as in the case of the consigner of the package there

is a need to consider what these justifying circumstances might be, and whether

We ~urfl now to the first oA these possible escape

they apply in the present case.

h,1',.,. ,¼ ,,;I,11.

,~ 1V,r,q

routes for the proponent of nuclear developmen~, A~


~ ~ a i e::u,

question of

our obligations to the future.@

The especially problematic area


is that of the distant (i.e.


,-inun({..!',l j ate) future,


the future with

which people alive today will have no direct contact; by comparison, the immediate

In fact the question of

future gives fe~ problems for most ethical theories.

obligations to future people presents tests which a number of ethical theories
( tl~eu,lf;"i,



1-t,u,· fe,!, 0 "! 1-ope:ram,o_rLJ

fail to pass, and also



.-u-r ~ t/JM_

the adequacy of accepted;/ institutions which leave
future pe pl.c.

in political philosophy cen:e!r .. in:g



of account~ the interests of


;>?Moral philosophers have, predictably, differed on the issue.

A good

many of the philosophers who have explicitly considered the question have come down
in favour of the same consideration being given to the rights and interests of future
people as to those of contemporary or immediately future people.

Other philosophers

have tended to fall into three categories - those who acknowledge obligations to the
future but who do not take them seriously or who assign them a lesser weight, those
who deny or who are committed by their

general moral position to denying that there

are moral obligations beyond the immediate future, and those who come down, with
admirable philosophical caution, on both sides of the issue, but with the weight
of the argument favouring the view underlying prevailing economic and political

institutions,that there are no moral obligations to the future beyond ~those
f@raap,s to the next generation.

According to the most extreme of these positions against moral obligations to
the future, our behaviour with respect to the future is morally unconstrained, there
are no moral restrictions on acting or failing to act deriving from the effect
of our actions on future people.

Of those philosophers who say, or whose views

imply that we do not have obligations to the (non-immediate) future, who have
opted for the unconstrained position, many have based this view on accouna
of moral obligation which are builh. on relations which presuppose some ckiguhl uf


temporal or spatial contiguit y.

Thus moral obligatio n is seen as grounded on
or as presuppos ing various relations which could not hold between people widely
separated in time (or sometimes in space).

For example, obligatio n is seen

as grounded in relations which are proximate or of short duration and also nontransitiv e. Among such suggested bases or grounds of moral obligatio n, or
requireme nts on moral obligatio n, which would rule out obligatio ns to the non.immediate future are these:-

Firstly there are those accounts which require that
someone to whom a moral obligatio n is held be able to claim his rights or
entitleme nt.

People in the distant future will not be able t'b-claim rights and
entitleme nts as aga:inst us, and of course they can do nothingAt o enforce any
claims they might have for their rights against us. Secondly, there are those
accounts which base moral obligatio ns on social or legal conventio n, for example
a conventio n which would require punishmen t of offenders or at least some kind
of social enforceme nt. But plainly these and other conventio ns will not hold
invariant over change in society and amendment of legal conventio ns and so will
not be invariant over time.

Also future people have no way of enforcing their
interests or punishing offenders , and there could be no guarantee that any

contempo rary institutio n would do it for them.

~ Both the view that moral obligatio n requ{es the context of a moral
community and the view that it is contractu ally based appear to rule out the
distant future as a field of moral obligatio n as they not only require a
commonal ity or some sort of common basis which cannot be guarantee d in the case of
the distant future, but also a possibili ty of interchan ge or reciproci ty of action
which cannot apply to the future.
Where the basis of moral obligatio n is seen
as mutual exchange the interests of future people must be set aside because they
cannot change the past and cannot be parties to any mutual contract. The
exclusion of moral obligatio ns to the distant future also follows from those
views which attempt to ground moral obligatio ns in non-tran sitive relations of
short duration such as sympathy and love. As well there are difficult ies about
love and sympathy for (non-exis tent) people in the far distant future about whose
personal qualities and characte ristics one must know very little and who may well
Ji/fa,,,,be committed to a life-styl e for which one has no sympathy. On the current
showing in the case of nuclear energy it would be easy to conclude that
contempo rary society lacks both love and sympathy for future people; and it would
appear to follow fr om this that contempor ary people had no obligatio ns concernin g
future people and could damage them as it suited them.




What all these views have in common is a picture of obligation as
something acquired, either individually or institutionally, something which
is conditional on doing something or failing to do something (e.g. participating
in the moral community, contracting), or having some characteristic one can
\b 5

fail to have (e.g. love, sympathy, empffathy).
{ t:#11/

Because obligation therefore

fOt1'0i7'1 )


become\conditional, features usually"' thought to characterise ia;~such as
universality of application and necessitation (i.e. the binding

features) ate

lost, where there is a choice whether or not to do the thing required
to acquire the obligation, and so as to whether to acquire it.

The criteria

for acquisition suggested are such as to exclude people in the distant future.
The view that there are no moral constraints with respect to
future people, that one is free to act however one likes with respect to them,

is Ahowever




aH:llLalt one te ~t113ta1A J


Consider, elm example , a

a scientific

group which, for no particular reason other than to test a particular piece of
technology, places in orbit a cobalt bomb set off by a triggering device
designed to go off several hundred years from the time of its despatch.


presently living person and none of their immediate descendants would be affecte.d,
but the population ofY the earth in the distant future would be wiped out as a
The unconstrained position clearly

direct and predictabl~ result of the action.

implie s that this is an acceptable moral enterpris e, that whatever else we might
legitimately criticize in the scientists' experiment, perhaps its being overexpensive or badly designed, we cannot lodge a moral protest about the damage it
The unconstrained position also endorses as morally
acceptable the following sorts of linEOfflf':les:- A firm discovers it can make a

will do to future people.

handsome profit from mining, processing and manufacturing a new type of material
which, although it causes no problem for present people or their immediate
descendents, will over a period of hundreds of years decay into a substance which
will cause an enormous epidemic of cancer among the inhabitants of the earth at
that time.

According to the unconstrained view the firm is free to act in its

own interests, without any consideration for the harm i .t does



Such counterexamples to the unconstrained view, which are easily varied
and multiplied, might seem childishly obvious.

Yet the unconstrained position

concerning the future from which they follow is far from being a straw man; not

only have several philosophers endorsed this position, but it i s ~ clear
impli cation of many currently popular views of the basis of moral obligation, as well
as of prevailing economic theory.

It seems that those who opt for the unconstrained

position have not considered such examples,
-, /J/(l.

by their position.

despite their being clearly implied

w ..ld cuh..117 ~o/1'1 Md;{ -

We suspect thatAwhen it is brought out that the unconstrained

position admits such counterexamples, that being free to act implies among other
things being free to inflict pointless harm for example, most of those who opted for


the unconstrained position would want to assert that it was not what they


What many of those who have put forward the unconstrained position

seem to have had in mind in denying moral obligation is rather that future
people can look after themselves, that we are not reponsible for their lives.
The popular view that the future can take care of itself also seems to assume a
future causally independent of the present.

But it is not.

It is not as if,


in the counter/
example cases or in the nuclear case, the future is simply being
left alone

to take care of itself.

Present people are influencing it, and

in doing so thereby acquire many of the same sorts of moral responsibilities as
they do in causally affecting the present and immediate future, namely the
obligation to take account in what they do of people affected and their interests,
to be careful in their actions, to take account of the genuine probability of their
actions causing harm, and to see that they do not act so as to rob future people of
the chance of a good life.
Furthermore, to say that we are not responsible for the lives of future
people does not amount to the same thing as saying that we are free to do as we
like with respect to them, that there are no moral constraints on our action
involving them.

In just the same way, the fact that one does not have or has not

acqu.ired an obligation to some stranger with whom one has never been involved, that
one has no responsibility for his life, does not imply that one .is free to do
what one likes with respect to him, for example to rob him or to pursue some course
of act.ion of advantage to oneself which could seriously harm him.
These difficulties for the unconstrained position arise in part from the
(sometimes deliberate) failure to make an important distinction between acquired or
assumed obligations toward somebody, for which some act of acquisition or assumption
is required as a qualifying condition, and moral constraints, which require, for
example, that one should not act so as to damage or harm someone, and for which
no act of acquisition is required.
and kind of responsibility involved.

There is a considerable difference in the level
In the first case one must do something or be

something which one can fail to do or be, e.g. have loves, sympathy, be contracted.
In the second case responsibility arises as a result of being a causal agent
who is aware of the consequences or probable consequences of his action, and thus
does not have to be especially acquired or assumed.

Thus there is no problem about

how the latter class, moral constraints, can apply to the distant future in cases
where it may be difficult or impossible for acquisition or assumption conditions to
be satisfied.

They apply as a result of the ability to produce causal effects on the

distant future of a reasonably predictable nature.

Thus also moral constraints can

apply to what does not (yet) exist, just as actions can cause results that do not
(yet) exist. While it may~be the case that there would need to be an acquired or
assumed obligation in order for it to be claimed that contemporary people must
make sacrifices for future people of an heroic kind, or even to help them

especially, only moral constraints are needed in order for us to be constrained
Thus, to return to the train parable, the consigner cannot

from harming them.

argue in justification of hi.s action that he has never assumed or acquired
responsfbility for the passengers, that he does not know them and therefore has no
love or sympathy for them and that they are not part of his moral community, in
short that he has no special obligations to help them.

All that one needs to

argue concerning the train, and the nuclear case, is that there are moral
constraints against harming, not that there are specially acquired obligations to
take responsibility for the lives of people involved.
There has been an attempt to represent all obligations to the distant
future in terms of heroic self- sacrifice, something which cannot of course be
morally required.

But in view of the distinctions between constraints and

acquired obligation and between obligation and supererogation this is just
to misrepresent the position of these obligations.

For example, one is no more

engaging in heroic self- sacrifice by not forcing future people into an unviable
life position or by refraining from causing them direct harm than the consigner
is resorting to heroic self- sacrifice in refraining from placing his dangerous
package 6n the train.
- 1~ ,-;.,,.

The conf~ of moral constraints with acquired obligation, and the
attempt therewith to view all constraints as acquired and to write off nonacquired
constraints, is facilitated through the use of the term 'moral obligation' both to
signify any type of deontic constraints and also to indicate rather something which

t?t-. con.Pl~"'

has to be assumed or acquired. a .~is encouraged by reductionist positions which,
in attempting to account for obligation in genera~mistakenly endeavour to collapse
all obligations into acquired obligations.

Hence the equation, and some main roots


of the unconstrained position, of theAbelief that there are no moral constraints
concerning the distant future.
The unconstrained view tends to give way, under the weight of counterexamples, to more qualified, and sometimes ambivalent, positions, for example
the position that
our obligations are to immediate

posterity, we ought to try to improve

the world so that we shall be able to hand it over to our immediate
successors in a better condtion, and that is all; il,/7
there are irferactice

no obligations to the distant future.

A main argument

in favour of the latter theme is that such obligations would in practice be

Everything that needs to be accounted for can be encompassed through the

chain picture of obligation as linking successive generations, under which each
generation has obligations, based on loves or sympathy, only to the succeeding



'U'L P..t (t A.,t
~ . A three objections to this chain account.

First, it is

inadequate to treat constraints concerning the future as if they applied only
between generations, as if there were no question of constraints on individuals
opposed to whole generations, since individuals can create causal effects, e.g.
harm, on the future in a way which may create individual

responsibility, and

which often cannot be sheeted home to an entire generation.

Secondly, such chains,

since non-transitive, cannot yield direct obligations to the distant future.
But for this very reason the chain picture cannot be adequate, as examples again

For the picture is unable to explain several of the cases that have to be

dealt with, e.g. the examples already discussed which show that we can have a
direct effect on the distant future without affecting the next generation, who
may not even be able to influence matters.

VThirdly, improvements for immediate

successors may be achieved at the expense oflcfi\advantages to people of the more
distant future.

Improving the world for immediate successors is quite compatible with ,

and may even in some circumstances be most easily achieved by, ruining it for less
immediate successors.

Such cases can hardly be written off as "never-never land"

since many cases of environmental exploitation might be seen as of

just this type, e.g. not just the nuclear case but also the exhaustion of nonrenewable resources and the long-term depletion of renewable resources such as soils

and forests through over crttl

If then such obvious injustices to future


people arising from the favouring or exclusive concern with immediate successors
are to be avoided, obligations to the future will have to be seen as in some way
fairly distributed over time, and not merely as accruing to particular generations in
the way the chain picture suggests.





there are grave

difficulties for the unconstrained position, qualification leads to a more defensible

. , ~ ,;.


According to thej qualified position

we are not entirely unconstrained

with respect to the distant future, there are obligations, but these are not so
important as those to the present, and the interests of distant future people
cannot weigh very much in the scale against those of the present and immediate
future .

The interests of future people then, except in unusual cases, count for

very much less than the interests of present people.

Hence such things as nuclear

development and various exploitative activities which benefit present people should
proceed, even if people of the distant future are (somewhat) disadvantaged by them.
The qualified position appears to be widely held and is implicit in
prevailing economic theories, where the position of a decrease in weight of future

( 'tJ




e-.Al'I r~e/ ,,_0 /1//4,r.4'---/o/_/,._

costs and benefits (and so of future inter~s) is obtained by application over
time of a ! ~ discount rateJ l The attempt to apply eco~omics as
a moral theory, something that is becoming increasingly common, can lead then to
the qualified position.


What is objectionable in such an approach is that

economics~ operate within the bounds of moral (deontic) constraints, just

as in practice it operates within legal constraints, not determine what those
There are moreover alternative economic theories and simply

constraints are.

to adopt, without further ado, one which discounts the future is to beg


t=t.m questions at issue.
Among the arguments that economists offer for generally discounting
the future 1 the most threadbare is based ~n the assumption that future generations

than present ones > and so better placed to handle the waste



Since there is mounting evidence that future generations may well UQ_l=


be better off than present ones, especially in things that matter, no argujJnent
can carry Much

discounting the interests of future generations on this basis

For it depends qf

Nor is that all that is wrong with the argujtnent.



1 ~.<f_.: ~

assumption that poorer contemporaries would be making
(ullRJ_td/., h-n.a-hc '"/ J
richer successors in foregoing such,i de.f5elopments as nuclear power. Tl,q•f ;1 1,,,.1U

H:O::f t f ~ a ~ I


th. f:>.I~,. .Ly rcdr.lul

-Be:t,\ the sacrifice


lias , 1r cad, li @an




sacrifices to

f or

8'1. Qto @h es.

"r: toJ/IJ-f,444
the future

'i1:m:1 for the waste disposal problem to be

argument . Iii\ ""1


generations, it would have to be shown, what recent

economic progress hardly justifies, that future generations will be, not just better
U 11.,t

J1' 011!.. C u.;,,;/,/e_.

off, but so much better offAthat they can duly absorb the nuclear waste burden.
A more plausible argument for discounting is d.i rectly in terms of

opportunity costs.

It is argued_, from the fact that a dollar gained now is worth

much more than a dollar received in the non-immediate future (because the first
dollar could meanwhile be invested at compound interest), that discounting is
required to obtain equivalent monetary values, and so f~r efficient allocation of

Similarly it is argued, by virtue again of


of monetary

value, that compensation - which is what the waste problem is taken to cawii:a. to
a few pennies set
now than later. ~
costs much less_



aside (e.g. in a trust fund)Ain the future, if need bev, will suffice to
compensate eventually for any

v,c. t,w>.f

of remote radioactive waste leakage.

There are, presently at least, in surmountable pract1cal _


difficulties about

applying such discounting, e.g. how to determine appropriate future discount rates.
A more serious objection is that

15 .
applied generally, the argument presupposes , what is false, that compensatio n,
like value, can always be converted into monetary equivalents , that people ~ncluding


those outside market frameworks) can be monetarily compensated for a variety of
damages, including cancer and loss of life. There is no compensatin g a dead man,
or for a lost species.

In fact the argument presupposes

neither part of which can succeed
be represented


at all adequately

it is not just


a double reduction
that value cannot in general

, -fa'


monetarily, but (as against utilitariani sm)


constraints and obligations can not be somehow reduced to matters of value. It
i s also presupposed that all decision methods, suitable for requisite nuclear
choic e s,'!_--- - -~
are bound ~o apply discounting . This is far from so :


Goodi~ argues that, on the

do not allow discounting , and discounting only works in practice with expected
utility rules (such as underlie cost-benef it and benefit-ris k analyses), which
are, he contends strictly inapplicabl e for nuclear choices (since aJncrt
1 pnl'>Si],1 f3
{,/,11.{f al f<j''1. a,t /'.,~,,/,/;#b J
outcomes can
be duly determirte1, in the way that application of the rules

requir es).


contrary, more appropriate decision £~1¢s


As the f~e.ceid;nJ . arguments reveal, the discounting move often has the same
result as the unconstrain ed position. If, for instance, we consider the cancer


example and reduce costs to payable compensatio n, it is evident that over a
sufficientl y long period of time discounting at current prices would lead to the
conclus ion that there are no recoverable damages and so, in economic terms, no
constraints . I n short, even certain damage to future people could be written off.
One way to achieve the bi a s against future people is by the application of discount
rates which are set in accord with the current e conomic horizons of no more than about
15 years~2/ and appli.cation of such rates would
simply beg the question against
the interests a nd rights of fu t ure people.

Where there is certain future damage

of a mo rally f o rbidden t ype, f or example, the whole method of discounting is simply
inappl.icabl e, and its use would violate moral constraint s.~
Another argument for the qualified position, which avoids the objections
from ca ses of c ert a in d a mage, comes from probability considerati ons. The distant
future, it is a rgued, is much more uncertain than

the present and immediate future,

so that probabiliti es are consequentl y lower, perhaps even approaching or coinciding
with zero for any hypothesis concerning the distant future.•
But then if we take
account of probabiliti es in the obvious way, by simply multiplying them against
costs and benefits, it is evident that the interests of future people; except in
cases where there is an unusually high degree of certainty,
much) less than those of present and

must count for (very

neighbourin g people where (much) higher

probabj_lities are attached.

So in the case of conflict between the present and the
future where it is a question of weighing certain benefits to the people of the

present and the immediate f(Jture against a much lower probability of indetermina te

costs to an indeterminate number of distant future people, the issue would normally
be decided in favour of the present, assuming anything like similar costs and benefits
were involved.

But of course it cannot be assumed that anything like similarly

weighted costs and benefits are involved in the nuclear case, especially if it is a
question of risking poisoning some of the earth for half a million or so years, with
consequent risk of serious harm to thousands of generations of future people,
in order to obtain am:±E doubtful fU" t, i :b4. benefits for some present people, in
f11(,i11i.1,~ c,HJcn.A,;;,. l';-of,Y~;l,7 or le
the shape of the opportunity to). continue unnecessarily high energy use. And even
if the costs and benefits were comparable or evenly weighted ,)<such an argument would
be defective, since an analogous argument would show that the consigner's action
is acceptable provided the benefit, e.g. the profit he stood to gain from imposing
significant risks on other people, was sufficiently large.
or l"isl.~JwiolilSuch a cost-benefitAapproach to moral and decision problems, with or without
the probability frills, is quite inadequate where different parties are concerned
or to deal with cases of conflict of interest or moral problems where deontic
constraints are involved, and commonly yields counterintuitive results.
it would follow on such principles that it is permissible

For example,

for a firm to injure,

or very likely injure, some innocent party provided the firm stands to make a
sufficiently large gain from it.

But the costs and benefits involved are not

transferable in any s1mple or general way from one party to another.

Transfers of

this kind, of costs and benefits involving different parties, commonly raise moral
issues - e.g. is

x entitled to benefit himself by imposing costs on

y - are not susceptible to, a simple cost-benefit approach of the sort adopted


•F enenza, of nuclear energy, ltho attefl@J':=::f::fl=di-smiss the costs to future







people~with the soothing remark that any development involves costs as well as

The limitations

of transfei:_ point is enough to invalidate the

comparison, heavily relied on in building a case for the acceptability of the nuclear


risk, between nuclear risks and those from such activities as airplane travel or
cigarette smoking.

In the latter case those who supposedly benefit from the activity
are also, to an overwhelming extent, those who bear the serious health costs and
risks involved.

In contrast the users and supposed beneficiaries of nuclear

energy will be risking not only, or even primarily, their own lives and health, but
also that of others who may be non-beneficiaries and who may be spatially or removed, and these risks will not be in any direct way related to a
person's extent of use.
The transfer objection is essentially the same as that to the utilitarian's
{happiness) sums as a way ~f solvini moral. conflict between diff_e_r ent parties, and the










'Hf/t• """~ aP/2~.i.-1-;-

1ntroduct1on of probabi.lity cons1derations.-l does not change the principles involved
but merely complicates the analysis.

One might further object to the probability

argument that piobabilities involving distant future situations are not always less
than those concerning the immediate future in the way the argument supposes, and


that the outcomes of some moral problems do not depend on a high level of


probability anyway.

In some sorts of cases it is enough, as the train parable


reveals, that a significant risk is created; such cases do not depend critically on
high probability assignments.
Uncertainty arguments in various forms are the most common and important
ones used by philosophers, economists and others to argue for the position that we
cannot be expected to take serious account of the effects of our actions on the
distant future.

There are two strands to the uncertainty argument, capable of sep-

aration, but frequently tangled up.

Both arguments are mistaken, the first on a

grounds, the second on a posteriori grounds.

The first argument is a

generalised uncertainty argument which runs as follows:-

In contrast to the

exact information we can obtain about the present, the information we can obtain

about the effects of our actions on the distant future is,wootl; and highly
speculative. But we cannot base assessments of how we should act on information of
this kind, especially when accurate information is obtainable about the present
which would indicate different action. Therefore we must regretfully ignore the


uncertain effects of our actions on the distant future.

More formally and

One only has obligations to the future if these obligations are based on

reliable information.
distant future.

There is no information at present as regards the

Therefore one has no obligations to the distant future.


first argument is essentially a variant on a sceptical argument in epistemology
concerning our knowledge of the future (formally, replace 'obligations' by 'knowledge'
in the crude statement of the argument above).

The main ploy is to considerably

overestimate and overstate the degree of certainty available with respect to the
present and immediate future, and the degree of certainty which is required as the
basis for moral consideration both with respect to the present and with respect
to the future. Associated with this is the attempt to suggest a sharp division as
regards certainty between

the present and immediate future on the one hand and the

distant future on the other.

We shall not find, we suggest, that there is any

such sharp or simple division between the distant future and the adjacent future
and the present, at least with respect to those things in the present which are
normally subject to moral constraints. We can and constantly do act on the basis
of such "unreliable" information, as the sceptic as regards the future conveniently
labels "uncertainty"; for sceptic-proof certainty is rarely, or never, available
with respect to much of the present and immediate future. In moral situations in
the present, action often takes account of risk and probability, even quite low

Consider again the train example.

We do not need to know for

certain that the container will break and the lethal gas escape.

In fact it does not

even have to be probable, in the relevant sense of more probable than not, in order
for us to condemn the consigner's action.

It is enough that there is a significant

18 .

in this sort of case.

risk of harnt


It does not matter if the decreased

well-being of the consigner is certain and that the prospects of the passengers
quite uncertain, the resolution of the problem is nevertheless clearly in favour
But if we do not require

of the so-called "speculative " and "unreliable".

certainty of action to apply moral constraints in contemporary affairs, why should
we require a much higher standard of certainty in the future?

Why should we

require for the future, episte.m ic standards which the more familiar sphere of
moral action concerning the present and adjacent future does not need to meet?
The insistence on certainty as a necessary condition before moral consideration can
be given to the distant future, then, amounts to an epistemic double standard.
But such a~ epistemic double standard, proposed in explaining the difference between
the present and the future and to justify ignoring future peoples' interests, in
fact cannot itself provide an explanation of the differences, since it already
presupposes different standards of certainty appropriate to each class, which
difference is in turn in need of justification.
The second uncertainty argument is a practical uncertainty argument,
that whatever our

obligations to the future, we cannot in practice


take the interests of future people into account because uncertainty about
the distant future is so gross that we cannot determine what the likely
consequences of actions on it will be and therefore, however good our intentions
to the people of the distant future are, in practice we have no choice but to
ignore their interests.

Uncertainty is


where certain incompatible

hypotheses are as good as one another and there is no rational ground for
choosing between them. The second uncertainty argument can be put alternatively
this way:-

If moral principles are, like other principles, implicational in form,

that is of such forms as "if
every (action) x" ,


has character




is wrong, for

then what the argument claims is that we cannot ever

obtain the information about future actions which would enable us to detach
the antecedent of the implication.

So even if moral principles theoretically

apply to future people, in practice they cannot be applied to obt.ain clear
conclusions or directions concerning contemporary action of the "It is wrong
to do x" type.
Many of the assumptions of the second argument

be conceded.


the distant future really is so grossly uncertain that in every case it is impossible
to determine in any way that is better than chance what the effects of present action
will be, and whether any given action will help or hinder future people, then


principles, although they may apply theoretically to the future, will in practice not
be applicable to obtain any clear conclusions about how to act. Hence the distant
future will impose no practical moral constraints on action.

However the argument

is factually incorrect in assuming that the future always is so grossly uncertain
or indeterminate. Admittedly there is often a high degree of uncertainty concerning
the distant future, but as a matter of (contingent) fact it is not always so gross or
sweeping as the



argument has to assume.

There are some areas where uncertainty is not so great as


to exclude constraints on action, especially when account is taken of the point,
which was noticed in connection with the first argument, that complete certainty
is commonly not required for moral constraints and that all that may be needed in
some cases is the creation of a significant risk.

Again there is considerable

uncertainty about many factors which are not highly, or at all, morally relevant,
but this does not extend to many factors which are of much greater importance
to moral issues.

For example, we may not have any idea what the fashions will be

-f/,u.'fN-r I
in a hundred years i n ~ names o r ~ footwear, or what praod1
of ice


cream people will be eating if any, but we do have excellent reason to believe,
especially if we consider 3000 years of history, that what people there are in a
hundred years are likely to have material and psychic needs not entirely unlike our own,
that they will need a healthy biosphere for a good life; that like us they will not be
immune to radiation; that their welfare will not be enhanced by a high incidence of
cancer or genetic defects, by the destruction of resources, or the elimination
from t h e ~ earth of that wonderful variety of non-human life which at present
makes it such a rich and interesting place.

uncertainty argument should be rejected.

For this sort of reason, the second
The case of nuclear waste storage,

and of uncertainty of the effects of it on future people, is one area where
uncertainty in morally relevant respects is not so great as to preclude moral
constraints on action, where we can ascertain if not absolute certainties at least
probabilities of the same sort of order as are considered sufficient for the
application of moral principles in parallel contemporary cases, especially where
spatially remote people are involved.

In particular there is not gross

indeterminacy or uncertainty; it is simply not true that incompatible hypotheses
about what may happen are as good as each other.

It is plain that nuclear waste

storage does impose significant risks of harm on future people, and, as~• eac. ~
~ ··from the train example, the significant risk of harm is enough in cases of this

type to make moral constraints applicable.
In terms of the def ects of the preceding uncertainty arguments, we can
see the defects in a number of widely employed uncertainty arguments used to

write off probable~ harm to future people as outside the scope of proper consideration.
Most of these popular moves emv
,< .loy both of the uncertainty arguments as suits the case,
switching from one to the other in a way that is again reminiscent of sceptical moves.
For example, we may be told that we cannot really take account of future people
because we cannot be sure that they will

exist or that their tastes and wants

will not be completely different from our own, to the point where they will not
suffer from our exhaustion of resources or from the~hings that would c,.ffect us.
But this is to insist upon complete certainty of a sort beyond what is required for
the present and immediate future, where there is also commonly no guarantee that
some disaster will not overtake those we are mora.lly committed to. Again we may

be told that there is no guarantee that future people will be worthy of any efforts
on our part, because they may be morons of forever plugged into enjoyment of other

Even if one is prepared to accept the elitist approach presupposed -

according to which only those who meet certain properly civilized or intellectual
standards are eligible for moral consideration - what we are being handed in such
arguments as a serious defeating consideration is again a mere outside possibility like the sceptic who says that solid-looking desk in front of us is perhaps only a
facade, not

because he has any particular reason for doing so, but because he

hasn't looked around the back, drilled holes in it, etc. etc.

Neither the

contemporary nor the historical situation gives any positive reason for supposing
that a lapse into universal moronity or universal-pleasure-machine escapism is
a serious possibility, as oppo s ed to a logical possibility.

We can contrast with

these mere logical possibilities the very real historically supportable risks
of escape of nuclear waste or decline of a civilisation through destruction of its
resource base.
The possibilities just considered in these uncertainty arguments of
sceptical character are not real possibilities.

Another argument which may consider

a real possibility, but still does not succeed in showing that it is acceptable
to proceed with an action which would appear to be harmful to future people, is
often introduced in the nuclear waste case.

This is the argument that future

people may discover a rigorously safe and permanent storage method for
nuclear wastes before they are damaged by escaped waste material.

Let us grant

for the sake of the argument that this is a real possibility (though physical
arguments may show that it is not).

This still does not ~ffect the fact that there

is a significant risk of serious damage and that the creation of a significant risk
is enough to rule out an action of this type as morally impermissible.

In just

the same way, future people may discover a cure for cancer: that this app ears to be a

live possibility, and not merely a logical possibility, does not make

the action of the firm



tbeaa-:&-xam~ aiscussed


of producing a

substance likely to cause cancer in future people, morally admissible.

The fact

that there was a real possibility of future people avoiding the harm would show
that actions of these sorts were admissible only if what was required for
inadmissibility was certainty of harm or a very high probability of it.

In such

cases before such actions could be considered admissible what would ?e required is
far more than a possibility, real or not
- it is at least the availability of an
applicable, safe, and rigorously tested, not merely speculative, technique for
achieving it, something that future people could reasonably be
to protect themselves.

~tpected to apply

~/l,.. a..,,.L- a«'if

The strategy of /tnost af rbes9 uncertainty arguments is fairly clear then,


and may be brought out by looking yet again at the train example where the consigner
says that he cannot be expected to take account of the effect of his actions on
the passengers because they may find an effective way to deal with his parcel or some
lucky or unlucky accident may occur, e.g. the train may break down and they may all
change to a different transport leaving the parcel behind, or the train may crash
killing all the passengers before the container gets a chance to leak. These
are all possibilities of course, but there is no positive reason to believe that

they are any more than that, that is they are n o t ~ possibilities.



strategy is to stress such bH~sid& possibilities in order to create the false
impression that there is gross uncertainty about the future, that the real
possibility that the contai.ner will break should be treated in the same way as these
mere logical possibilities, that uncertainty about the future is so great as to
preclude the consigners' takin~ account of the passengers' welfare and the real
possibility of harm from his parcel and thereby to excuse his action. A related
strategy is to stress a real vossibility, such as finding a cure for cancer, and
thereby imply that this removes the case for applying moral constraints. This
move implicitly makes the assumptions of the first argument, that certainty of
harm, or at least a very high probability of harm is required before an action
can be judged morally inadmissible, and the point of stressing the real possibility
of avoidance of damage is to show that this allegedly required high degree of
certainty or probability cannot be attained.

That is, the strategy draws attention

to some real uncertainty implying that this is sufficient to defeat the application
of moral constraints. But, as we have seen, this is often not so.
Closely related to uncertainty arguments are arguments premissed on the
indeterminacy of the future. In particular it is argued that the indeterminacy,
for example with respect to the number and exact character of people at future
times, would at least prevent the interest of future people being taken into
account where there is a conflict with the present.

Since their numbers are


indeterminate and their interests unknown how, it is SloM!-d, can we weigh their
competing claims against those of the present and immediate future where this
information is available in a more or less accurate form? The question is raised
particularly by pr,Pblems of sharing fixed quantities of resources among present
-fu,-- Q ~11.,,y,.La.. ..,, I,

and future people," wherf the numbers of the latter are indeterminate. Such
problems are indeed difficult, but they are not resolved by ignoring the claims



of the future, any more than the problems raised by the need to take account in
decision-making of factors difficult to quantify are resolved byVignoring such factors.
Nor are distributional problems as large and representative a cl'ass of moral
problems concerning the future as the tendency to focus on them would suggest.
can be conceded that there will be cases where the indeterminacy of aspects of


the future will make co~flicts

very difficult to resolve or indeed irresoluble -


a realistic ethical theory will not deliver a decision procedure - but there will
equally be other conflict cases where the level of indeterminacy does not hinder
resolution of the issue, e.g. the train example which is a conflict case of a type.
In particular, there will bi~ many cases which are not solved by weighing numbers,
numbers of interests, or whatever, cases for which one needs to know only the most
general probable characteristics of future people.
The crucial question which emerges is then: are there any features of
future people which would disqualify them fro~ral consideration or reduce their
claims to such below those of present people?
Prima facie,

The answer is :

in principle None.


moral principles are universalisable, and lawlike, in that they apply

independently of position in space or in time, for example.

But universalisability

of principles is an outcome of those ethical theories which are capable of
satisfactorily with the present;

in other words, a theory that did not allow

properly for the future would be found to have defects as regards the present, to
deal unjustly or unfairly with some present people, e.g. those remotely located.
those outside some select subgroup, such as (white-skinned) humans, etc.

The only

for characteristics that would fairly rule out future people are the

logical features we have been looking at, such as uncertainty and indeterminacy; ht1 1l, ,
. ~ we have argued 1 p: ai-Oia) it would be far too sweeping to see these features as

the moral claims of future people in a general way.

These special features

only affect certain sorts of cases (e.g. the determination of best probable or

course of action given only present information).

In particular/ they

do not affect cases of the sort being considered, nuclear development, where highly
determinate. or certain information about the numbers and characteristics of the class
likely to be harmed is not required, nor is certainty of damage.
To establish obligations to the future a full universalizability
principle is not required:

it is enough that the temporal position of a person

cannot af feet his entitlement to just and fair treatment, to full moral
consideration ;i Zfj

inversely, that it is without basis to discriminate morally

against a person in virtue of his temporal position.

As a result of this

universalizahility, there are the same general obligations to future people as to the

and thus there is the same ooligation to take account of them and their

interests in what we do, to be careful in our actions, to take account of the
probability (and not just the certainty) of our actions causing harm or damage,
and to see, other things being equal, that we do not act so as to rob them of
what is necessary for the chance of a good life. Uncertainty and indeterminacy
tf,1'1 Q.v. a.
do not/\:krt: u s ~ of these obligations. If in a closely comparable case concerning
the present

the creation of a significant risk is enough to rule out an action as

immoral, and there are no independent grounds for requiring greater certainty of

harm in the future case under consideration, then futurity alone will not
provide adequate grounds for proceeding with the action, thus discriminating
against future people.

Accordingly we cannot escape, through appeal to

futurity, the conclusion already tentatively reached, that proposals for nuclear
development in the present and likely future state of technology and practices
for future waste disposal are immoral.
Before we consider (in section VII) the remaining escape route from this
conclusion, through appeal to overriding circumstances, it is important to
pick up the further case (which heavily reinforces the tentative conclusion)
against nuclear development, since much of it relies on ethical principles
similar to those that underlie obligations to the future, and since it too
is commonly met by similar appeal to extenuating circumstances.


Problems of safe nuclear operation:

reactor emissions, and core meltdown.

ethical problems with nuclear power are by no means confined to future creatures.
Just as remoteness in time does not erode obligations or entitlements to just
treatment, neither does location in spa ce, or a particular gqsgraphical position.
First of all, the problem of nuclear waste disposal raises serious questions of
distributive justice not only across time, across generations, but also across

Is one state or region entitled to dump its radioactive pollution in
e,,- ,.q/Jjel'J

another state's or region's yard?

When that region receives no due compensation

(whatever that would amount to, in such a case~ and the people do not agree
(though the leaders imposed upon them might)?

The answer, and the arguments under-

pinning the answer, are both like those already given in arguing to the tentative
conc.lusion concerning the injustice of imposing radioactive wastes upon future

But the cases are not exactly the same:

USA and Japan cannot endeavour
fl'I- cf

to discount peoples of the Pacific in whose regions they propose to drop~ their

,a,ltdi;~ pollution in quite the way they can discount people of two centuries hence.


what this consideration really reveals is yet another flaw in the idea that e ntitlement to just treatment can be discounted over time.)




'· i

Eth~· c 1 i ssues of distr i bu tive j ustice, • as to equityI
~ J.._ /,
v J{
~iv9ly=~=in ~ , also arise elsewhere in the assessment of nuclear development ;
in particular, a s regards t h e treatment of those in the neighbour of reactors, and,
tud rorb
differently, as r~gards the distribution of (alleged) b~nefits Afrom nuclear power
across ~ ~5' (The la t ter ques tion is t aken up

a~ s ~~~ ,

especja] Jy , tb s Pev etty argument . ) ~

Weople livin g or working in the vicinity
special costs and risks:


~w{ffitrrf oslde, al ll rn

;i" a

nuclear reactor are subject to

firstly, radioactive pollution, due to the fact tha t

reactors discharge radioactive ma terials into the air and water near the plant ,
and secondly catastrophic accidents, such a:; {steam) explosion of a reactor. ~ ,I/;.._

~ question is whether such cos t s and risks can be imposed, with any ethical legi-

timacy, on these people, who frequently have little or no say in their imposition,
and who have mostly not been informed of any choices regarding the "risk/benefit


tradeoffs" of nuclea r _technology. -:::)__

( That they are so imposed, without local participation, indeed often without
local input or awareness as with local opposition, reveals one part of the
antidemocratic face of nuclear development, a part that nuclear development
shares however with other large-scale polluting industry, where local
participation and questions, fundamental to a genuine democracy/ of regional
determination and popular sovereignty, are commonly ignored or avoided.


The "normal" ei 1ssion , during plant operation1 of low level rad~ ation
carcinogenic and mutagenic costs. While there are undoubtedly costs, there r mains

substantial disagreement over theAnumber of cancers and precise extent of genetic
damage induced by exposure to such radiation, over the local health costs involved.
Under the Old Paradigm, which (illegltimotely ) permits free transfer of costs
and risks from one person to another, the ethical issue directly raised is said to
be: what extent of c~5cer and genetic damage, if any, is permissibly traded for
the advantages of nuclear power, and under what conditions?


Under the Old Parad

the issue is then translated into decision-theor etic questions, such as to 'ho · to
e mploy risk/benefit analysis as a prelude to government regulation' and 'how t o


determine what is an acceptable level of risk/safety for the pub lic'




The Old Paradigm a t titude, ref~ted in the public policy o f s ome count r ie s
that have such policies, i s t ha t the economic benefits conferred by allowing
radiation emissions outweigh the costs of an increase in cancer and genetic

An example will reveal that such evaluations , which rely~ what appeal

they have on a dubious utilitarianism, will not pass muster.

It is a pity about

Aunt Ethyl getting cancer, but it's nice to have this air conditioner working in

Such frequently trivial and rather inessential benefits, which may be

obtained alternatively, e.g. by modification of houses, in no way compensate for
the (a;~nf Y, of cance~

The point is that the costs to one party

are not justifie~


especially when such benefits to other parties can be alternatively obtained

without such ~

awful costs.:.

People, minorities, whose




within 50 miles of a nuclear plant.



position isA compromised are thos\/ who live
(Ehildren, for example, are in aAparticularly

vulnerable position, since they are several times more likely to contract cancer
through exposure than normal adults.)

In USA, such people bear a risk of cancer

and genetic damage of as much as 50 times that borne by the population at l arge.

A notinegl 11ble percentage (in excess of 3% of those exposed for 30 years) o f ~

R@r~ t a? s&&-eh:e people 1 in the area will di~j for the sake of the majority who are


aailat.'@ffl benefitted byApower producti~n . ~e~~a


Whatever charm t he

argument from overriding benefits had, even under the Old Paradigm, vanishes once
it is seen that there are alternative, and in several respects less expensive ~
ways/ of delivering the real benefits involved.
There are several other tricks used in showing that the imposition of radiation
t:Jt/~ or
on minorities, most of whom havei\ no genuine voice in the location of reactors in
their environment and cannot move away without serious losses, is quite (morally)


One cheaper trick, deployed by the US Atomic Energy Corrnnission,

is to

suppose that it is permissible to double, through nuclear technology, the level of
(natural) rqdiation that a population have received with apparently negligible consequences, the argument being that the additional amount (being
"natural" level) is also likely to have negligible consequences.

equivalent to the
The increased

amounts of radiation - with their large man-made component - are then accounted


f<-,f- i, l(e,,... c-ltt<..,cd.

of course,,\ what is normal is morally acceptable.

in this argument is sound.

None of the steps

Drinking one bottle of wine a day may have no ill-effects,

whereas drinking two a day certainly may affect a person's well-being;

and while

the smaller intake may have become normal for the person, the larger one will,
under such conditions, not be.

Finally, what is or has become normal, e.g . two

murders or twenty cancers a day in a given city, may be far from acceptable.
In fact, even the USA, which has strict standards by comparison with most
other countries with planned nuclear reactors, permits radiat i on emissions very
substantially in excess of the standards laid down;

so the emission situation is

worse than mere consideration of the standards wou'ld disclose.

Furthermore , the

~------- -------- ----~-- -------- -------- -------- ---monitoring of the standards "imposed" is entrusted to the nuclear operators
themselves, scarcely di.sinterested parties. Public policy is determined not so as
to guarantee public health, but rather to serve as a 'public pacifier' while
private nuclear operations proceed relatively unhampered~
While radioactive emissions are an ordinary feature of reactor operation,
breakdown is, hopefully, not: an accident of magnitude is accounted, by official
definition, an 'extraordinary nuclear occurrence'. But such accidents can happen,
and almost have on several occasions (the most notorious being Three Mile Island) Y-Q
If the cooling and emergency core cooling systems fail in American (light water)
1flore acto rs, then the core melts and 'containment failure' is likely, with ~he result
that an area of 40,000 square miles could be radioactively contaminated. In the
event of the worst type of accident in a very small reactor, a steam explosion in
the reactor vessel, about 45,000 people would be killed instantly and at least
100,000 would die as a result of the accident, property damages would exceed $17
billion and an area H,e size of Pennsylvania would be destroyed. Modern nuclear
reactors are abo ut five times the size of the reactor for which these conservative
US government figures are giveti' : the consequences of a similar accident with a
modern reactor would accordingly b~Y~~eater still.
The consigner in ri sking the lifes, well-being and property of the passengers
on the train has acted i_nadmissibly. Does a government or govern~t-spon sored
private utility act in tay that is anything other than much less responsible in
siting a nuclear reactor in a community, in planting such a dangerous package on
the community train. The answer will be No, if the analogy holds good and the
consigners' action is, as we would ordinarily suppose, inadmissible and irresponsible. The proponents of nuclear power have in effect argued to the contrary,
while at the same time endeavouring to shift the dispute out of the ethical ar€/1
and into a technological dispute as to means (in accordance with the Old Paradigm).
It has been contended , firstly, what contrasts with the train example, that
there is no real possibility of a catastrophic nuclear accident. Indeed in the

influential Rassmussen report - which was extensively used to support public
confidence in US nuclear fission technology - an even stronger, an incredibly
strong, improbability claim was stated:

namely, the likelihood of a catastrophic

nuclear accident is so remote as to be (almost) impossible. The main argument for
this claim derives from the assumptions and estimates of the report itself. These
assumptions li ke the claim are undercut by nuclear incidents that came very cil:ose
to accidents, incidents which reflect what happens in a reactor rather better than
mathematical models.
As with the storage of nuclear wastes, so with the operation of nuclear reactors,
it is important to look at what happens in the actual world of technological
limitations and human error, of waste leak.age and reactor incidents and quite
possibly accidents, not in an ideal world far removed .from the actual, a technological



dream world where there is no real possibility of a nuclear catastrophe.
In such an ideal n ucle a r wo r ld , where waste disposal were fool-proof and reac tors
were accident-proof , things wo uld no doubt be morally different. But we do no t
live in such a world.

According to the Ra\ussen
report its calculation of extremely low accident
probabilities is based upon reasonable mathematical and technological assumptions
and is methodological ly sound.

This is very far from being the case.

The under-

lying mathematical methods, variously called "fault tree analysis" and "reliability
estimating techniques", are unsound, because they exclude .-1 "not credible"
,>Difl~;l,,9'?~ ~
possibilities or as branches t;o:1:t!il fl Ellffl "not significant" that are real
.m:d" may well

b'1. rt:i./f,04,(

~1cq1pen1 in the real world.


It i.s the eliminations that are otherworldly. Infact

the methodology and data of the report has been soundly and decisively criticized .Ji
And it has been shown that there is a real possibili.ty, a notjpegligibJ.e probability,
of a serious accident.
It is contended, secondly, that even if there is a non-negligible probability
of a reactor accident, still ibis acceptable, being of no greater order than
risks of accidents that are already socially accepted.

Here we encounter again

that insidious engineering approach to morality built into models of an economic
cast, e.g. benefit-cost balance sheets, risk assessment models, etc. Risk
assessment, a sophistication of transaction or trade-off models, purports to
provide a comparison between the relative risks attached to different options,
e.g. energy options,which settles their ethical status. The following lines of
argument are encountered in risk assessment a.s applied to energy options:
(i) if option a imposes costs on fewe.r people thq.n option b then option a is
preferable to optic+;

option a involves a total net cost in terms of cost to people (e.g. deaths,
injuries, etc.) which is less than that of option b, which is already accepted;
therefore option a is acceptable. 3


For example, the number likely to be killed by nuclear power stations is less than
1,r 1'-i l'Jp.,( ,-c.c.,',
the likely number killed by cigarette smoking, which jjB accepted: so nuclear pqwer
stations are acceptable. A little refle c tion reveals that this sort of risk
assessment argument involves the same kind of fallacy as ll!l!it transaction modek.
It is far too simple--minded, and it ignores distributional and other relevant
aspects of the context.

In order to obtain an ethical assessment we should need
a much fuller picture and we should need to know at least these things:- do the
costs and benefits go to the same parties;



person who undertakes the

risks also the person who receives the benefits or primarily, as in driving or
cigarette smoking, or are the costs imposed on ot e parties who do not benefit?
It is only if the parties a r e the same in the case of the options compared, and
there are no such distributional problems, that a comparison on such a basis would
be valid.i '})This is rarely the case, and it is not so in the case of risk assessments

Secondly, does the person incur the risk as a result of an

of energy options.


activ.Lty which be knowingly unclcttakes in a situationw-iere he has a reasonable
choice, knowing it entails the risk, etc., and is the level of risk in proportion
to the level6f the relevant activity, e.g. as in smoking? Thirdly, for what
reason is the risk imposed: is it for a serious or a relatively trivial reason?
risk that is ethically acceptable for a serious reason may not be ethically
acceptable for a tr:Lvial reason. Both the arguments (i) and (ii) are often


employed in trying to justify nuclear power.

The second argument (ii) involves

the fallacies of the first (i) and an additional set, namely that of forgetting
that the health risks in the nuclear sense are cumulative, and ) 'n bhw ey ;i s g f:"
P'J;ct'.) pce i,1 e~ already


not A oo high.16
high if ~

The maxim "If you want the benefits you have to accept the costs" is one thing
and the maxim "If I want the benefits then you have to accept the costs (or some
of them at least)" is another and very different thing. It is a widely accepted
d/' l).,c-~ ~ flJ,;<d ,;k~4 .~ vr4..a)
I fl/rotl,7 ~~ kr 1/1
/ moc.tal plfinci'ple,\ that one' is not, in general, entitled to simply transfer costs


of a significant kind arising from an activity which benefits oneself onto other
parties who are not involved in the activity and are not beneficiaries~
transfer principle is especially clear in cases where the significant costs
iq;lude an effect on life or ~ealth or a ,risk thereof, a~d where the benefit to
j<2,c-(kUt , «J,•1

,r ·~ ,k

,-,1,-.r.:.. ,riz.._~,

t.4,/,:K/~7',-,t ~ ~ q:.:rLc-1- .

the benefit ting party is of a noncrucial or dispensible nature,.,\ { Thus ,tone is not
usually entitled to harm, or risk harming, another in the process of benefitting

Suppose, forA example, we consider a village which produces, as a
result of an i.ndustrial process by which it lives, a nox~us waste material which
is expensive and difficult to dispose of and yet creates a risk to life and health

oneself. f

if undisposed of.

Instead of giving up their industrial process and turning to

some other way of making a living such as farming the surrounding countryside,
they persist with this way of life but ship their problem on a one-way delivery
,Oil ·/J..0- ~ )
service Ato the next village. The inhabitants of this village are then forced
to face the problem either of undertaking the expensive and difficult disposal
or ol,e_ i'1M,).; 1(4. e1/Tl~L. ~ ~ Cdt'-/.:/4r,h .
process or of sustaining risks to their own lives and healthA Most of us would
see this kind of transfer of costs as.

morally unacceptable.

From this arises a necessary condition for energy options: that to be
morally acceptable they should not involve the transfer of significant costs or
risks of harm onto parties who are not involved, do not use the energy source or
do not benefit correspondingly from its use. Included in the scope of this
/trl" gA'-,

condition are future people /§.~~~~ B ~eeiji~ a ~~~~m~aE~:iic=;m ;;~~i;E~~
The distribution of
-hut rd~ future generations (those of the next villages~;
costs and damage in such a fashion, i.e. o~to non-benef

is one of its most

of certain widespread and serious fonns of
objectionable moraL£eatures- ;-- - -

/4' ..;~<fi'nt ~ ,u/4.v



r«-,,.4/ .......,,_,,

f"u<H;f I



iaries is a characteristic


7''7, ~ ,;_ ~


7:.(,/,_.., ~
v /
- •_

·~-~---- ------- ------- ------- ------- ------- ------- ---~

It is a corollary of the condition that we should not hand the world on to
our successors in substantial ly worse shape than we received it - the transmissio n
principle. For if we did then that would be a significant transfer of costs.
(The corollary can be independen tly argued for on the basis of certain ethical

eJpoc,"ct lly ru,clc>u- //)CL-;

Other social and environmen tal risks and costs of nuclear development ;~ The
problems already discussed by no means exhaust the environmen tal, health and safety


risks and costs in or arising from the nuclear fuel cycle. The full fuel cycle
includes many stages both before and after reactor operation, apart from waste
disposal, namely mining, milling, conversion, enrichment and preparation , reprocessing spent fuel, and transportat ion of materials. Several of these stages
involve hazards. Unlike the special risks in the nuclear cycle - of sabotage of
plants, of theft of fissionable material, and of the further proliferati on of
nuclear armaments - these hazards have p~rallels, if not exact equivalents , in
other very polluting methods of generating power, e.g. 'workers in the uranium
mining industry sustain 'the same risk' of fatal and nonfatal injury as workers
in the coal industry 1 1'f Furthennore , the various (often serious) hazards encountered in working in some sector of uranium fabrication should be differently
viewed from those resulting from location, for instance from already living where
a reactor is built or wastes are dumped. For an occupation is, in principle at
any rate, chosen (as is occupationa l relocation) , and many types of hazards incurred
fr/working with radioactive material are now known in advance of choice of such an
with where one already lives things are very different. The uranium
miner's choice of occupation can be compared with the airline pilot's choice,
whereas the Pacific Islander's 11 fact" of location cannot be. The social issue

of arrangement s that contract occupationa l choices and opportuniti es and often
at least· ease people into hazardous occupations such as uranium or tin or coal
mining (where the risks, in contrast to airline piloting, are mostly not duly
compensated ), while very important, :i.s not an issue newly produced by nuclear
associated occupations .
Other social and environmen tal problems - though endemic where large-scale
industry operates in societies that are highly inegalitari an and include sectors
that are far from affluent - are more intimately linked with the nuclear power
cycle. Though pollution is a common and generally undesirable component of largescale industrial operation, radioactive pollution, such as uranium mining for
instance produces, is especially a legacy of nuclear developmen t, and a specially
C-,t.o ,,._.......,

eef, :i.i.lef

undesirable one, as~ rectificatio n eosb~ for dead radioactive lands and waterways
reveal. Though sabotage is a threat to many large industries, so that modern
factory complexes are often guarded like concentrati on camps (but from us on the

dire conse quen ces, of a diffe rent
outs ide), sabot age o a nuc ear react or can have
(cons ider again the effec ts of
orde r of magn itude from most indu stria l sabot age
more dubio us enter prise s such as
core meltd own) . Though theft of mate rial from
at large and can assis t terro rism ,
muni tions works can pose threa ts to popu latio ns
probl ems of the same orde r as
no theft s for alleg edly peac eful enter prise s pose
produ ces mate rials which so
theft of fissi onab le mate rial. No othe r indu stry
explo sives . No othe r indu stry is,
read ily perm it of fabri catio n into such mass ive
to sum it up, so vulne rable on so many front s.
, in part becau se of its long and
In part to ~ ; ; , . ; ; : ; ~ ~ ~ ~ r a b i l i t y
, the nucle ar indu stry is subje ct
conti nu ing asso ciati on with milit ary activ ities
ainly given their scale ) run
to, and enco urage s, seve ral prac tices which (cert
tiesy Th ese ~e secre cy,
coun ter to basic featu res of free and open socie
ial polic e and guard force s,
restr ictio n of infor mati on, form ation of spec
espio nage , curta ilme nt of civil liber ties.



given extra ordin ary
Alrea dy ope rator s of nucle ar insta llati ons are
backg round and
powe rs, in vetti ng empl oyees , to inve
fami lies and
activ ities not only of emplo yees but also
them selve s
some times even of their frien ds. The insta
sens ibili ties.
become armed camp~ which espe ciall y offen ds Briti
creat e d a
The U.K. Atom ic Energ y (Spe cial Cons table s) Act
ons and
spec ial armed force to guard nucle ar insta llati
ority 1'
answ erabl e ... to the U.K. Atom ic Energ y Auth
If\ th,_ µ.• ;-fud K~~~fh
worse in West Germ any, presa ge along with nucle
These devel opme nts, and
anti- demo crati c soci eties . That
devel opme nt .i ncrea singl y auth orita rian and litiui/
:conse quen ces tells heav ily again st it.
nucl ear devel opme nt appe ars to force such'
A conne ct1.on of
Nucl ear devel opme nL
t ethic al ques ti?ns conc ernin g
nucle ar powe r with nucle ar war. It is ~&te -',tha
4 Of'}'4ff';
. unde r any
nucle ar war - for exam ple, whet her
are disti ngui shab le from those
circu msta nces , and if so what circu msta nces er, the sprea d of nucle ar powe r is
conc ernin g nucle ar powe r. Undo ubted ly, howev
[tl~Jfc -,C,ltt
nucle ar war and so, to that exten t,
~inc re~i ng the techn ical means for engag ing in
,~ c.Aq,,,_ ceJ ef 1
Since nucle ar wars are ,fleJ de"') f'41' neve r
the oppo rtuni ty for 1 nuc1 ear engag emen t. e-;(4vry
J , / ~ a.r~«'../~ ~"'1 '~/e ..
,,t,uclo f¥ c.riu-1" CU'-11.
the"' lesse r of'm ajor evils ~Jhe eprea d
acco untab
ty for / ~dc/a .-.,e,, -,
of nucle ar powe r acco rding ly expan ds the oppo rtuni

~ /Z/


;Z_ cbhJ,1


u.--, ,..<. .M/~ ;

1~ a~(/
-- -- -- -- ! - - -- -- -,77,._, ~ ~

t,-m k~/e

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C-L- r•l~~ «./c; ,_


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~/., _




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C.,-1,,, __-


;, ,

many. They are firstly technical, that it is a relatively straightforw ard
and inexpensive matter to make nuclear explosives given access to a nuclear


power plant, secondly political, that nuclear engagements on<~ inJf,ntf~u
likely to esculate and that those who control (or differently are likely to
force access to) nuclear power plants do not s.hrin k from nuclear confrontati on
and are certainly prepared to toy with nuclear engagement (up to " S'fr-c1.feeiic
nuclear strikes; ), and thirdly ethical, that wats invariably have immoral
consequence s, such as massive damage to involved parties, however high sounding
their justificatio n is. Nuclear wars are certain to be considerabl y worse as
regards damage inflicted t har1 any previous wars (they are likely to be much worse
than all previous wars put together), because of the enormous destructive power
of nuclear weapons, and the extent of spread of their radioactive effects,
and because of the expected rapidity and irreversib ility of any such confrontati ons.
The supporting considerati ons are, fourthly, drawn from decision theory, and

-----------are designed to show that the chances of such undesirable outcomes is itsclf
unde si i- able. The c or e arguement is in brief this (the W"J"~.wt will be
in section :m:I) :- Energy choice between alternative options is
a case of decision making under uncertainty , because in particular of the JN.If
Utt.UrffJt~fi'es involved in nuclear developmen t. In cases of this type the
appropriate procedure is to compare worst consequence s of each alternative ,

e. /c.J,orP>lt>A

to r e_Je-cL . those alternative s with tht


--the bs~t (the roaxiro m rule) ,



of these worst consequence e-nd select


The nuclear alternative has, in particular

because of the) p,.o ssibility of a nuclear war, the WotJC
and is according 1a particularl y unde$itable alternative .




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already observed, the consigner's action cannot be justified by purely economisti c
arguments , such as that his profits would rise, the firm or the village woul
be more prosperous, or by appealing to the fact that some possibly uncomfortable
changes would otherwise be needed. The transfer Iffiinciple on which this assessment
was based, that one was not usually entitled to create a

serious risk to others

for these sorts of reasons, applied more generally and, in particular, applied to



For this r eason t he economistic argumen t s whi ch are t hos e mo s t
commonly advance d under the Old Paradigm to promote nuclear develo pment - e . g .
ch apness, efficiency, profitabili ty for electricity unilities, and the need
the nuclear case .

otherwise for un comfortable chan ges such as restructurin g of employment, i nves t ment
and consumption - do not even begin to show that the nuclear alternative is an
Even if these economistic assumptions about benefits to present
people were correct - j_t will be contended that most of them are not - the arguments
) h as to
.- ;-,'d~er1.ves
· h it,\
~h ic
f rom w
(like t h e ut1· 1 1tar1an1sm
wou ld f a1· 1 b ecause economics
acceptable one .

operate within the framework of moral constraints , and not vice versa.
What do have to be considered are however moral conflict arguments, that is

arguments to the effect that, unless the prim.a facie unacceptabr e~ alternative is
taken, some even more unacceptabl e alternatice is the only possible outcome; and
will ensue. For example, in the train parable, the consigner may argue that his

action is justified because unless it is taken~ village will starve. It is by
no means clear that even such a justificati on as this wou~ be sufficient,
especially where the risk to the passengers is high, as the case seems to become
one of transfer of costs and risks onto others; but such a moral situation would
no longer be so clearcut, and one would perhaps hesitate to condemn any action
taken in such circumstanc es.
Some of the arguments advanced to show moral conflict are based on competing
~ present people, and others on competing obligations to future people,

both of which are taken to override the obligations not to impose on the future
significant risk of serious harm. The structure of such moral conflict arglllll.ents
crucially on the presentatio n of a genuine and exhaustive set of
alternative s (or at least practical alternative s) and upon showing that the only

:is based

alternative s to admittedly morally undesirable actions are even more undesirable
ones. If some pratical alternative which is not morally worse than the action to
be justified is overlooked, suppressed, or neglected in the argument - for
"j 11~~
case it turns out that the -1ril1:agers have another option
e xample, if in the


~ to starving or to the sending off of the parcel, namely earning a living is some
othe r way - then the argwnent is defective and cannot readily be patched. Just .
such a suppression of practicable alternative s has occurred in the argument designed
to show that the alternative s to the nuclear option are even worse than the option
itself, and that there are other factual defects in these arguments as well. In
short, the arguments depend essentially on the presentatio n of false dichotomies .
A first argument, the poverty argument, is that there is an overriding
obligation to the poor, both the poor of the third world and the poor of indusFailure to develop nuclear energy, it is often claimed,
would amount to denying them the opportunity to reach the standard of affluence
we currently enjoy and would create unemploymen t and poverty in the industriali sed
trialised countries.

nations .


32. J
The unemployment and poverty argument does not stand up to examination either
for the poor of the industrial countries or for those of the third world.


is good evidence that large-scale nuclear energy will help to increase unemployment
and poverty in the industrial world, through the diversion of very much available
capital into an industry which is not only an exceptionally poor provider of direct
employment, but also helps to reduce available jobs through encouraging substitution
of energy use for labour use.~ "'°The argument that nuclear energy i1needed for the
third world is even less convincing.

Nuclear energy~ both politically and econom-

ically inappropriate for the third world, since it requires massive amounts of
capital, requires numbers of imported scientists and engineers, but creates
negligible local employment, and depends .for its feasibility upon, what is largely
lacking, established electricity transmission systems and back-up facilities and
sufficient electrical appliances to plug into the system.

Politically it increases

forei¾ dependence, adds to centralised entrenched power and reduces the chance for


change in the oppressive political structures which are a large part of the problem.
The fact that nuclear energy is not in the interests of the people of the third
world does not of course mean that it is not in the interests of, and wanted by, ·
their rulers, the westernised and often military elites in whose interests the
economies of these countries are usually organised, and wanted often for military

It is not paternalistic to examine critically the demands these ruling

elites may make in the name of the poor.
The ooverty argument is then a fraud.
the poor.

Nuclear energy will not be used to help

Both for the third world and for the industrialised countries there

are well-known energy-conserving alternatives and t he practical option of developing
other energy sources~


some of which offer far better prospects for

helping the poor.
It can no longer be pretended that there is no alternative to nuclear development:

indeed nuclear development is itself but a bridging, or stop-gap, procedure

on route


to solar or1 £usion developme nt.

And there are various alternatives:

coal and other fossil fuels, geothermal, and a range of solar options (including

) eti~L._01,i:/j,:,,-;._

as well as narrowly solar, wind, water ami tidal power)1




Despite the availabiity ~~


of alternatives, it may still be pretended that nuclear development is necessary
for affluence ~( what will emerge is that it is advantageous for the power and
affluence of certain select groups )-: ~

.)uch an assumption really underlies part

of the poverty argument, which thus amounts to an'~-l,;;,,.,,

trickle-down argument (much favoured within the Old Paradigm setting).
argument runs:affluence.

Affluence inevitably trickles down to the poor.

For the


Therefore nuclear

First, the argument does not on its own show

anything specific about nuclear power2:

of the

Nuclear development is necessary for / continuing and increasing)

development benefits the poor.

for 'nuclear'.

. ~2

,,,,7t ~~4

for j_t works equally well if 'energy'

It has also to be shown, what the JI • rsnd M,<J(t

major argument will try to claim, that nuclear development is unique among energy


alternati ves in increasin g affluence .

The second assumptio n, that affluence


inevitabl y trickles down, has now been roundly refuted, both by recent historica l
data, which show increasin g affluence (e.g. in terms of GNP averaged per capita)
coupled with increasin g poverty in several countries , both developin g and
developed , and through economic models_, which reveal how "affluenc e" can increase


without redistrib ution occurring -_J Another major argument advanced to show moral
conflict appeals to a set of supposedl y overridin g and competing obligatio ns to future
people . We have, it is said, a duty to pass on the immensely valuable things
and institutio ns which our culture has developed . Unless our high-tech nology, high
energy industria l society is continued and fostered, our valuable institutio ns
and tradition s will fall into decay or be swept away. The argument is essential ly
that without nuclear power, without the continued level of material wealth it
alone is assumed to make possible, the lights of our civilizat ion will go out.4J
Future people will be the losers.
The lights-go ing-out argument does raise questions as to what is valuable
in our society, and of what characte ristics are necessary for a good
society. But for the most part these large questions , which deserve much fuller
The reason is that the argument adopts an extremely
uncritica l position with respect to present high-tech nology societies , apparentl y
assuming that they are uniformly and uniquely valuable. It assumes that technolog ical

examinati on, can be avoided.

society is unmodifia ble, that it cannot be changed in the direction of energy
conservat ion or alternati ve (perhaps high technolog y) energy sources without
It has to be accepted and assessed as a whole, and virtually unlimited
supplies of energy -· such as nuclear and only nuclear power is alleged to { ..._v-.,, •sf.t -


are essential to maintain this whole.
These assumptio ns are hard to accept.

The assumptio n that technolog ical

society's energy patterns are unmodifia ble is especiall y so - after all it has .
survived events such as world wars which have required major social and technolog ical
restructu ring and consumpti on modifica tion. If western society's demands for energy
are totally unmodifia ble without collapse, not only would it be committed to a
pro gram of i.ncreasin g destructi on, but one might ask what use its culture could be to
future people who would very likely, as a consequen ce of this destructi on, lack
the resource base which the argument assumes to be essential in the case of
contempo rary society.
There is also difficult y with the assumptio n of uniform valuablen ess;
but if this is rejected the question becomes not: what is necessary to maintain
existing high-tech nological society and its political institutio ns , but rather:
what is necessary to maintain what is valuable in that society and the political
institutio ns which are needed to maintain those valuable things. While it may be
easy to argue that high energy consumpti on centrally controlle d is necessary to maintain the political and economic status quo, it is not so easy to arguethat it


---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- --~- ----34-.
is essential to maintain what is valuable, and it is what is valuable, presumably
that we have a duty to pass on to the future.
The evidence, for instance from history, is that no very high level of
material affluence or energy consumption is needed to maintain what is valuable .
There is good x·eason i~ fact to believe that a society with much lower energy and
resource consumption would better foster what is valuable than our own. But even
if a radical chan1e in these directions is independen tly desirable , as we should
argue, it is not necessary to presuppose such a change, in the short term at leas;,
in order to see that the assumptions of the lights-goin g-out argument are wrong. No
enormous reduction of well-being is required to consume less evergy than a \ present,
and certainly far less than the large increase over present levels of asstili1ption
which is assumed in the usual economic case for nuclear energy.~ What the nuc~ear
strategy is really designed to do then is not to prevent the lights going out in
western civilisatio n, but to enable the lights to go on burning all the time - to
maintain and even increase the wattage output of the Energy Extravaganz a.
In fact there is good reason to think that, fa r from the high energy
society fostering what is valuable, it will, especially if energy
is obtained by nuclear fission means, be positively inimical to it. A society which
has become heavily dependent upon an extremely high centralised , controlled and

cons 1.At'1f10"'

garrisoned, capital- and expertise-i ntensive ener gy source, must be one which is
highly susceptible to entrenchmen t of power, and one in which the forces which
control this energy source , whether capitalist or bureaucrati c, can exert
enenormous powe r over the political system and over people's lives, even more
Such a society would, almost inevitably tend to become
authoritari an and increasingl y anti-democ ratic, as an outcome, among other things,
of its response to the threat posed by dissident groups in the nuclear situation. ~
than they do at present.

Nuclear development may thus help in passing on to future generations
some of the worst aspects of our society - the consumerism , alienation, destruction
of nature, and latent authoritaria nism - while many valuable aspects, such as the
degre e of political freedom and those opportuniti es for personal and collective
autonomy whic h exist, would be lost or diminished: political freedom, for example,
is a high price to pay for consumerism and energy extravagenc e.
the status quo, but what is valuable in our society, presumabl


But it is not
that we have some

obligation to pass on to the future, and if possible enhance.
Again, as in the case of the poverty arguments, clear alternative s,
: l?a,#1-0.'t\..t...G--

alternative socia;Aand political choices, which do not involve such unacceptabl e
consequence s are available. The alternative to the high technology- nuclear option

Ii- c,/~e/4,,._ ~

/4 f

ettl..i,,- fl.a,. u/4jr/iP- "f- "- ~
is not a retturn to the cave, the loss of all that is valuable, but~ the development
of a'tlJ,ernative technologie s and lifestyles which offer far greater scope for the


/'IWQ.r rr '


maintenance and further development of whAt . is valuable in our society than the
The lights-goin g-out argument, as a moral
highly centralised nuclear option. ~


conflict argument, accordingly fails, because it also is based on a fa l se dichoto-y.
r fJ.J,..,
Th us the Aescape route/, the appeal to moral conflict aua
to t he appeal t o
ty, ~ closed. If then we a pply - as we have argued we s hould - t he s ame



standards of morality to the future as we ought to acknowledge for the presen t,
the conclusion that large~-~sca le nuclear development is a crime agains t the f uture
is inevitable.
1 from reactor

Closed also, in the same way, are the escape routes to other argumentst:IAtt Ji> <>'l ;'${1~
ma(/_ ~wn J
radiation emissions, Aetc:::::t
for · ~ / nuc ~


as morally unacceptabl e, for saying that it is not only a Acrime
against the distant future but also a ~
~rime against the present and immediate

In sumJ nuclear development is morally unacceptabl e on several grounds.
A corn--o llary is that only political arrangement s that are morally unacceptabl e will ·
suppor_t th.e i(1!pending nuclear _future .

of future people
not tf'.I J ;,; I discounted (in contrast to the temporally - limited utilitariani sm
n,,ia,-k-4!.t - ~~economic theory)J and that serious costs and risk~ to health and
life.cannot admiss ~ ly be simply transferred to uninvolved parties ( h ~ I

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will now be outlined whichAshow that even within the confines of the Old Paradigm,
choosing the nuclear future is not a rational choice .


Large-scale nuclear


cc,,//,,,_.,,,;,, h-4111,

development is not just something that Mppens, it requires,.\ an immense input of
capital and energy. , J,.j ,:_ .~J.-..r~ ,,.,;_,R.J
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been i nvested in nuclear





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Admittedly so much capital has already

research and development,

:i..n marked contra t


to othe~rival sources of powes

that t hert is strong political incentive top
- as distinct fromAreason s for further capital and energy inputs. ~




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The main argume£~~~an economic growth

argument, upon which variat~S

, re played., is the following version of the lights-going-o ut argument (with economic



growth duly standing in for ll'late•oal wealth, and Afor what is valuable!):Nuclear power is necessary to su.stai.n economic growth.

Economi c growth is

desirable (for all the usual reasons, e.g. to increase the size of the
t:,'IU{ c·o,,,ae,cf,,l( /ocip,/ k/!Mff,

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to-1 postpone reJistribution problems,/\ etc.).

Therefore nuclear power is desira.ble ~

The first premiss is part of US energy policj~ and the second premiss is suppli ed
by standard economics textbooks.

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But both premisses are


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since the second premiss is an assumption of the dominant paradigm, the first

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( or rather · an appropriate,{ restatement of it )

fails even on Old Paradigm

For of course nuclear power is not necessary given that there are other, perhaps




elaboration of the



out as 'most efficient',
etc .



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is s,ome

"'-'AY i.Q ,&to--t;t:<11'\ 4!<:.e>;,c:>111tc..

growth, 'economically best' being filled

'cheapest', 'having most favourable

'cost' benefiti-ratio

Unfortunately for the argument, and for nuclear development schemes, nuclear

po er is none of these things decisively , unless a good deal of economic cheating

(easi..4 to do) ~


~is done.



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ignore waste
cos ts on the quite . in'.)idmissib It.

ground that it is not known

currently what the costs involved are.

But even using actual

waste handling costs (while wastes await storage) is enough
to show that

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both private and public li.ability, i.e. which i.n effect provided th~
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0 overnment agreement to handle all radioactive wastes. /




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the nuclear

jl.(ggernau~:l?The real _reasons for the continuing development program ~
commitment .,- -·-




--.. to the program have to be sought elsewhere,, outside the

Old Paradigm,

at leas-t as preached.® There are, firstly reaso?s of previous
l e,iQAFa.-;~ , ~ PJ,/{/M.rfr,
commitJ!lent, when nuclear power \ looked a cheaper and safer• deal. corpouations
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are ;\_ keer{ -t:o
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s e l ~ reasons for commitment to the program, that

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~ i t s accrue to some, lil<e

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a ff_airs,
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profits <;1-ccrue to others, tV't/ Jc on ·..,
-·1c J ear eng1 nee.,r,:i ng, -etG-:- There
are A
ideological reasons ~ a belief in the control of both political and phys ical
~ b1Z,/,e..f1 IYJ ScC/4 I c.on-l •✓-ol -f'.-e,,,-n itho ,/2
power by technocratic-entreprenial elite,
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a faith in the unlimitedne ss at ' .

technological enterprise, and nuclear in particular, so that any real problems
that arise will be solved as development proceeds.

Such beliefs are especially

conspicuous in the British scene, among the governing and technocratic classes.

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·these :;orts of reasons for nuclear development are,.\ linked, h
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i4t /-(!_.

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tJ,tH those whose types of enterprise/





,pi tq l i e


nuclear development are commonly those who hold the. requisite beliefs.
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.Lt is
ti _ corporate capitalism, , ~ its state enterprise image,

; / "''#.


· cm

t.min i;s;;;

pc e I if\~, that fuels the nuclear juggernaut.

corporate capitalism, which is the political · e



To be sure,

largely thrust upon

us in ilr/es•-ern .11~ .sln e, is nnt ni>ce~sary fn:r a nuclear furur@; a totalitarian
state of the typ (~ such capitalism often supports in the third worl"d w.i ll suffice.
But, unlike a hypothetical state tl'tA--C. does conform to precepts of the Old
Paradigm, it is sufficient for a nuclear future - evidently, since we are well
embarke d 4111 such a future -/


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_,,,""--'.___;:._;;_..::..::::.=-=-"-=:..::..:~;:_.:_~=-=...:.:...:::.;::_-=~-=-=L.:;;-=-~a~l~t~e~r~n~a~t~i~v~e~s=-=-.- The future energy
Y>tAlf't°' 0
ootion that is ttS11 a H-,A contrasted with nuclea~, namely coa¾, wMe

, _,., ,__,. I


c/4u,,/f-r_a/'~k- t'a-- ~w.r


/J / ~

the likelihood of .;r;.edty serious (air) pollution and associated phenUIII-•
s uch as acid rain and atmospheric heating 1 not to mention the despoliation caused

by extensive strip mining 1 all of which will result from its use in meeting very ttigh
projected consumption figures. Such an option would also fail, it seems, to meet the

necessary~ condition, because it would impose widespread costs on nonbeneficiaries for


some concentrated benefits to some profit takers and to some users who do not pay the
full costs of production and replacement..iS$J



'these a

r 112'

conventiona~ options .-- a third is often added which emphasizes

r,,,u{ .:, Alt<K/l..11A. Gc-l7L-., "-yd/otJ/,: J.riufy
softel.-4 benign technologies, such as those of solar' energyA The deeper choice,

which '!Ven soflllfpaths tend to neglect, is not technological but social, and involves
r~11la/lJ4~ ~Ht-,-4,,?


bot~ the restructuring of production away from energy intensive uses:

at a more

basic level there is a choice between consumeristjc and nonconsumeristic futures.
These more fundamental choices between soci ,tl alternatives, conventicnal technologically
ol CA-V":fr ~fu~
oriented discussion At.ends to obscure. It is not just c. rr:.atter of deciding in ,;.,-hich

ytil•- Mr/

way to meerxt..:.nexam~nEd goals (as the Old Paradign ~ d

of examining the goals.





Ml )' but alEC: a rr.atter

That is, we are not merely faced with the que.stion of

comparing different technologies or substitute ways of meeting some fixed or given
demand or level of consumption, and of trying to see whether we can meet this
with soft rather than hard technologies; we are also faced, and primarily, with the



matter of examing those alleged needs and the cost o~ society that creates . them. It
is not just a question of devising less damaging wais to meet these alleged needs
conceived of us inevitable and unchangeable.

(Hence there are solar ways of

producing unn~cessary trivia no one really wants, as opposed to nuclear wayst al'
ber1.11ft o.f ~<1..
~ /J '1-tf--t'
A. ot(Ql.Se)'blie~s Hot uaat to deny that these softer optfons are superior • ethically
unacceptable features of the


et :u ~ i b f


But it is doubtful that any technology, however benign in principl~will
likely to leave a tolerable world for~ future ,., . p:l:i2: if it is expected to meet


38 .


i ~mit lcss and uncontrolled e nergy consumption and demands.

Even the more benign

technologies such as solar technology could be used in a way which creates costs
for future people and are likely to result in a deteriorated world being handed on to

Consider, fo r exa mple, t he effect on t he world's forests, whic h are

commonly counted as a solar res ource, of use for production of methl•nol or of
electricity by woodchipping ( as already planned by f ~ist authorities
and contemplated by many other ener gy organisations) J\ f'ew would object to the
use of genuine waste material for energy production, -b:ttt the unrestricted exploitation
of forests - whether it goes under the name of "solar energy" or not - to meet
ever increasing energy demands could well be the final indignity for the world's
already hard- pressed natural fores t s.
The effects of such additional demands on the maintenance of the

forests are often dicem:1Ht@d, even by soft technologicalists, by the simple
A-expedient of waving around the label 'renewable resources'. May forests are in
principle renewable, it is a true, given a certain (low) rate and kind of
exploitation, but in fact there are now very few forestry operations anywhere
in the world where the forests are treated as completely renewable in the sense
of the renewal of all their values . ~$, In many regions too the rate of
exploitation which would enable renewal has already been exceeded, so that a total
decline is widely thought to be immanent if not already well advanced. It certainly
has begun in( ~

regions, and for



which are,\ beifig 16st for the future.
that f o r ~
on top of ~


forest types (such ~s rainforest types)
amt "•i M11,f."5 /.~.t,.//4__
The addition of a major further ,\demand ee2rn:e,,,


is one which anyone with a realistic



appreciation of the conduct 6fAforestry operations, who is also concerned with
long-term conservation of the forests and remaining natural communities, must regard
with alarm. The result of massive deforestation for energy purposes ~ resembling
the deforestation of England at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, again
for energy purposes, w ould be extensive and devastating erosion in steeper lands
and tropical ar eas, desertification in more arid regions, possible climatic change,
and massive impoverishment of natural ecosystems.

Some of us do not want to pass on -

we are not entitled to pass on - a deforested world to the future, any more than
we want to pass on one poisoned by nuclear products or polluted by coal products.


short, a mere switch to a more benign technology - i.mportant though this is - without any more basic structural and -locial change is inadequate.

Nor is such a simple.4 switch likely to be achieved.


It is no t as if


political pressure could i -11st bene:,\ the US government,\ stop its nuclear

~ =

Ntn-G ( and

that of the countries it influences, much of the world), in the way pressure appeared
to succeed in 11,-1.lting the Vietnam war.
could be accomplished, it is very

While without doubt it would be good if this

unlikely given the integration of political

powerholders with those spons r ring nuclear development .'°


The deeper social options involve challenging and trying to change a social
, ,om......,,.;.,. ,A.. h~JG".t j"-.:; ~ no.odr,
s tructure which promotes consumerismAand ah economic structure which encourages
increasing use of highly energy-intensive modes of production.

This means, for

instance, trying to change a social structure in which those who are lucky enough
to make it into the work force are cogs in a production machine over which they have
very little real control and in which most people do unpleasant or boring work
from which they derive very little real satisfaction in order to obtain the reward
of consumer goods and services.


society in which social rewards are obtained

primarily from products rather than processes, from consumption, rather than from


satisfaction in work and in social re.lations and other activities, is.\ bound to be
one which generates a vast amount of unnecessary consumption. (A production system
that produces goods not to meet ge~uine needs but for created and non-genuine needs
is virtually bound to overproduce.)

Consumption frequently becomes a substitute

for satisfaction in other areas .
The adjustments focussed upon are only parts of the larger set
of adjustments involved in socially j_mplementing the New Paradigm, the move away


is for example part of the more general shift from material ism

and materialist values. /




A=::O:f social change option tends to be obscured in most


discussions of energy options andAhow to meet


energy needs, in part because

question• underlying values of current social arrangements. The conventional
6.,; ,.
as unchallengeable, and the issue to be one of which technology can be most
profitably employed to meet them. This effectively presents a false choice, and
is the result of taking needs and demand as lacking a social context so that the
social structure which produces the needs is similarly taken as unchallengeable arid
The point is readily illustrated., It is commonly argued by representatives
of such industries as transportation and petroleum, as for example by McGrowth of
the XS Consumption Co., that people ~deep ~ezers, air conditioners, power
boats, ... 1t would be authoritarian to ps:t:llp them satisfying these wants. ~ tl+c

argument conveniently ignores the framework in which such needs and wants

To point to the determinati on of many such wants at t he
framework level is not however to accept a Marxist approach according to whic h
they are entirely determined at the framework level (e.g. by industrial
or are produced.

organisatio n) and there is no such thing as individual choice or determinati on at
all. It is to see the social framework as a major factor in determining certain
kinds of choices , such as those for travel , Mle iafrastrtt~t u"v and to see apparently
individual choices made in such matters as being channelled and diLected by a
social framework determined largely in the interests of corporate and private prt,fit
and advantage.
The social change option is a hard option - at least it will be difficult
to obtain politically - but it is the only wa» so it has been argued, of avoiding
passing on serious costs to the future. And there are other sorts of reasons than
it is the main, indeed the only sort of option
open to those who take a deeper ecological perspectivef .2..-a perspective integral
with the New Paradigm but not essential to radical departure from the dominant
such ethical ones for taking it:


tJa,,u#t;LJ J',;...,

The ethical , requirement defende.o<.,

social and political

d. -,







-f7 ~

?t,(""f""e.u •


The socialAchan ges that the deeper alternative requires will be strongiy
r esisted because they mean changes in current social organisatio n and power structure •'ld<°f:o the extent that the option represents some kind of threat to parts of presen t
political and economic arrangemen ts it is not surprising that official energy

option discussion proceeds by misrepresen ting and often obscuring it. But
i.,,·11 Jtz_
difficult though a change t,f t:icn~inant p: a @eigm, especially one with such ~rreaching effects on the prevailing power structure, is to obtain, it is imperative
to try;

we are all on the nuclear train.



• I





All but the last line of the quote is drawn from Good in ., p. 417;

the last line is from the Fox Report, p. 6.

While it is unnecessary to know much about the nuclear .fuel cycle
in order to consider ethical and social dimensions of nuclear power, it
helps to know a little.

& Abbotts, Gyorgy.

The basics are presented in many texts, e.g. Nader

Of course in order to assess fully reports as to such

important background and stage-setting matters as the likelihood of a
core meltdown of a (lightwater) reactor, much more information is required.
For many assessment purposes however, some knowledge of economic fal la cies
and decision theory is at least as important as knowledge of nuclear technology.



As to the first, see references cited in Gooij_in, p. 417, footnote 1.

As regards the second see Cotgrove and Duff, and some of the references
given therein.

Cotgrove and Duff, p. 339


The table is adapted from Cotgrove and Duff, p. 341; compare also

catton and Dtinlap, especially p. 34.



See, e.g., Gyorgy ~

e.nd$, pp. 357-8.


For one illustration, see the conclusions of Mr. Justice
the Windscale inquiry (The Windscale Inquiry

Parker a~

Vol. 1. Her Majesty's

Office, London, 1978), discussed in both Cotgrove and
Duff, p. 347 and in Goodin, p. 501 ff.

Much as with the argument of one theory or position against another.

One can argue

both from one's own position against the other, and in the

other's own terms against the other.

As well as screening the debate from the public such manoeuvltfls
favour the (proLnuclear establishment, since they (those of the

alliance of military, large industry, and government) control much of the

information and (subject to minor qualifications) can release what, and only



what, s



This is a conclusion of several governmental inquiries and is

conceded by some leading proponents of nuclear development; for requisite
The same conclusion has been reached in

details up to 1977 see Routley (a) .




~t/ J

i I! rl. I e





For some details see Gyorgy, p. 60 ff.


See the papers, and simulations, discuss :bal in GoodiA p. f-28.


On the pollution and waste disposal ·r"ecoff'd of the n uclear industry,

, 12.

see Nader and Abbotts, Lovins and Price1 and Gyorgy.

On the more general

problem of e..f fective pollution controls, see also, Routley (a), footnote 7.
Back of this Humanity Unlimited assumption is the idea of


replacing God.



First God had unlimited power, e.g. over- nature, then when

during the Englightenment


replaced God, Man was to have unlimited

Science and technology were the tools which were to put '1an into the

position of unlimitedness.

More recently nuclear power is seen as providing

man at least with unlimited physical power, power obtained through technology.
[ability to


manage technology represents the past]

On such limitation fhe.o~UJ?l, which go back to Finsler and Godel on one

side and to Arrow


d.n · o ther ·



see, e.g. Routley 80. ,j Other different
are presented in Routley 81.




It follows that there are many problems that have

no solution and much that is necessarily

lJ/lkA•N4'/4. .

Limitative results put a serious dent in the progress picture.


the Dominant Western Worldview,
t he history of humanity is one of progress; for every problem there

is a solution, and thUf progress need never cease (C cttto,i and


See Lovins and Price.


OS (a,:.J

Amore recent official reports, ft n r, <t:etieHlar






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For examples. and for some details of the history of philosophe~


positions 4 n obligations to the future. see Routley (a).
Passmore, p. 91.


Passmore's position is ambivalent and, to

all appearances, inconsistent.
as also is

Rciw/s ,

It is considered in detail in Routley (a),


For related criticisms of the economists' arguments for



and for citation of the often eminent economists who sponsor them, see

. ,,

Good11, , pp 429-30.

The reasons (not elaborated here) are that the properties are different

e.g. a monetary reduction of value imposes a

linear ordering on values to which

value rankings, being only partial orderings, do not conform.

Goodin/ however puts his case against those rules in a less than

satisfactory fashion.

What he claims is that we cannot list all the

possible outcomes in the way that such rules as expected utility maximization
prefi, poses, e.g. Goodin suggests that we cannot list all the things that can
go wrong with a nuclear power plant or with waste storage procedures.


outstanding alternatives can always be comprehended logically, at worst by
saying "all the rest" (e.g.


covers everything except

p) .

For example,

outcomes Goodin says cannot be listedJ aMI be comprehended along such lines


as "plant breakdown through human error".







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Discount, or bank, rates in the economists' sense are usually set to
follow the market, cf. P.A. Samuelson, Economics , 7th Edition, McGrawHill, New York, 1967, p.351.

Thus the rates have little moral relevance.

A real possibility is one which there is evidence for believing could

A real possibility requires producible evidence for its


The contrast is with me re logical possibility.

Such a principle is explicit both in classical utilitaria nism (e.g.




p.414), and in a range of contract and other theories
How the principle is

from Kant and Rousseau to Rawls (J8(A" p.293).

argued for will depend heavily, however, on the underlyin g theory;
and we do not want to make our use depend heavily on particula r ethical


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Even then relev ant envi ronm ental facto rs may have
negl ected .



Ther e are vari ation s on (i) and (ii) whic h mult
iply cost s
agai nst numb ers such as prob abil ities . In this
wav risk s,
cons trued as prob able cost s, can be taken into
' acco unt in
the asses smen t. (Alt erna tivel y, risks may be asse
ssed throu gh
such fami liar meth ods as insu ranc e).
A prin ciple vary
ing (ii), and form ulate d as follo ws:
(ii') a is ethi cally acce ptab le if (for some b)
a inclu des
no more risk s than band bis soci ally acce pted
was the basi c ethi cal prin ciple in term s of whic
Lake Boar d of Inqu iry rece ntly decid ed that nuclh the Cluf f
ear powe r
deve lopm ent in Sask atche wan
is ethi cally acce ptab le:
see Cluf f Lake Boar d of Inqu iry Fina l Repo rt, Depa
rtmen t of
Envi ronm ent, Gove rnme nt of Sask atche wan,
1978 , p.305 and
p.28 8.
In this repo rt, a is nucl ear powe r and bis eithe
acti vitie s clea rly acce pted by soci ety as alter
nativ e powe r
sour ces.
In othe r appl icati ons b has been taken as ciga rette
smok ing, moto ring, minin g and even the Vietn am
war( !)
The poin ts made in the text do not exha ust the
obje ction s to
prin ciple s (i)- (ii') . The prin ciple s are certa
ethi cally
subs tanti ve, sinc e an ethi cal cons eque nce cann
ot be dedu ced fro m
none thica l prem isses , but they have an inad miss
char acte r. For look at the orig in of b: b may ible conv entio nal
acce pted thoug h it is no long er soci ally acce ptab soci ally
its soci al acce ptib ility is no long er so clea rcut
and it woul d
not have been soci ally acce pted if as much as is
know n had
been know n when it was intro duce d. What is requ
in (ii') ,
for insta nce, for the argum ent to begi n to look
conv incin g is
then 'ethi call y acce ptab le' rath er than 'soc ially
acce pted '.
But even with the amen dmen ts the prin ciple s are
lid,f or the
reaso ns give n in the text .
It is not disc once rting that these argum ents do
not work .
woul d be sad to see yet anot her area lost to the
ethic s to actu aries .


A main part of the trou ble with the mode ls_is
narro wly utili taria n, and like utili tari~ ni~m they they are
distr ibut iona l featu res, invo lve natu ralis tic fa~l~ n~gl ect
Real ly they try to trea t as an unco nstra ined optim cie~ , etc.
isati on what
is a deon tical ly cons train ed optim isati on: see
R. and V. Rout ley
'An expe nsive repa ir kit for utili taria nsim '.

Appa rent exce ption s to the prin ciple su~h as taxa
redi strib utio n of incom e gene rally ) vani sh when tion (~nd
weal th is
cons trued (as it has to be if taxa tion is to be
justi fied ) as at leas t part ly a so~i al asse t unfa
irly mono polised by a mino rity of the popu latio n. -:)
~ Exam ples such as that of moto ring dang er~u sly
coun terex ampl es to the prin ciple ; for one is not do not cons t~tu t~
mora lly entit lcu
to so moto r.



,> /;o cfobs and
On all these points see R. Grossm an and G. Daneke r , t7w· L
E'nergy, Environ men 1:a]jsts for Fu.11 Employ ment, W;:ishington

DC, 1977,

pp.1-7 , and also the details supplie d in substa ntiatin g the interes
case of Commoner · [7].
nuclea r indust ry,

On the absorp tion of availab le capita l by the

see as well [18], p.23.

On the employm ent issues ,

see too H.E. Daly in [9], p.149.X A more fundam ental challen ge to
poverty argume nt appear s in 1. I 11 i.rli

Energy a:nd Equal·i ty, Cal den and

Boyars , London 1974, where it is atgued that the sort of develop ment
nuclea r energy represe nts is exactly the opposi te of what the poor

For much more detail on the inappr opriate ness see E.F. Schuma cher,
is Beauti ful, Blond and Briggs , London , 1973.

As to the capita l and

other require ments, see [2], p.48, and also [7] and [9].
For an illumin ating look at the sort of develop ment high-en ergy
techno logy will tend to promot e in the so-cal led underd evelope d
countr ies see the paper .of Waiko and other papers in The Melane sian

Environ ment (edited J.H. Winslo w), Austra lian Nation al Univer sity Press,
Canber ra, 1977.
.-B9-..- -'.JT;lhHi~sHf§'..ia'!1ee,jtE---:1ii·ss-:1t.i·m;a:pE>cll-1.ic·e.eici~t±l:-;:v-r-4r:ee~c,QO'l:!g,i;ineii~s~e~0Hittrrr- [P.2f]~,:7p~.~5516J.
A use


1 survey is given in A. Lovins . Energy Strateg y:

The Road Not

n, Friend s of the Earth Austra lia, 1977 (reprin ted from Foreign

Af. airs, Octobe r 1976);

see also [17], [6], [7], [14], p.233 ff, and

Schum~ cher, op. cit.



argume nt like this is sugges ted in Passmo re

-f-fi, chapte rs 4 and 7,

with respec t to the questio n of saving resour ces.

In Passmo re this

argume nt for the overrid ing importa nce of passing on contem porary
culture is underp inned by what appear s to be a future -direct ed ethica
version of the Hidden Hand argume nt of econom ics -

that, by a coincid ence

care of
which if correc t would indeed be fortun ate, the best way t o take
the future (and perhap s even the only way to do so, since do-good
iRterv ention is almost certain to go wrong) is to take proper care
the presen t and immedi ate future.

The argume nt has all the defects

of the related Chain Argume nt discuss ed above and others .

/1, IA;, u,./n er
Very persuasive argurn en t sAh ave b een

advanced by civil liberties groups and in
· a number of countries:

C.$ee especia· 11y M.
· , Nuclear Prospects.

Flood and R. Grove-White,

A Comment on the Individual., the State and Nuclear

Power, 'F riends of the Earth, Council for the Protection of Rural.
England _a~d National Council for Civil Liberties, London, 1976.


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Certainly practical transitional programs may involve tempor ary
and limited use of unacceptable long term commodities such a s
coal, but in presenting such practical details one should not
lose sight of the more basic social and structural changes, and
the problem is really one of making those.
Similarly practical transitional strategies should make use o f
such measures as environmental (or replacement) pricing of encn1y,
i.e. so that the price of some energy unit includes the full cosl






footno te le continued.
of replacing it by an equivalent unit taking ac count
of environmental cost of production . Other (sometimes
strategies towards more s a tisfactory altercooptive)
natives should also, of course, be adopted, in particul a r
the removal of institutional barriers to energy conservation and alternative technology (e.g. local g ove rnment
regulations blocking these), and the removal of state
assistance to fuel and power industries.


Symptomatic of the fact that is it not treated a s rene wa ble
is that forest economics do not generally a llow for full
renewability - if they did the losses and de ficits on
forestry operations would be much more striking than they
already are often enough .
It is doubtful, furthermore, that energy cropping of
f o rests can be a ! fully renewable operation if net energy
see, e.g. the argument in
production is to be worthwhile;
L.R.B. Mann 'Some difficulties with energy farmin g fo r
portable fuels', and add in the costs of ecosy stem mainte nance.

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Richard Routley and Val Routley, “Box 59, Item 1875: Draft of Nuclear power - ethical, social and political dimensions,” Antipodean Antinuclearism, accessed December 10, 2023,

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