Box 59, Item 1873: Draft of Nuclear power - ethical, social and political dimensions


Box 59, Item 1873: Draft of Nuclear power - ethical, social and political dimensions


Typescript (photocopy) of draft, 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.


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


The University of Queensland's Richard Sylvan Papers UQFL291, Box 59, Item 1873




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.


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One ha rdly needs initia t i on i nt o the dark my s te ri e s of
nucl ear ph ys i cs to contribu te use f ully t o t he debat e no w
wid e l y r anging ov e r nuc lear powe r . While ma ny i mpo r tan t
empi rica l que stions ar e s t i ll unr e s olved, t hese do not r e a lly
l i e a t th e ce nt r e of t he con t r ove rsy. In st e ad, it is a
de ba t e about val ue s . ..
ma ny of the que s tions ~hi ch a ri s e are s oc i al an d et hica l one s . 1
Socio logical inves tigation s have conf i rme d that th e n ucl ea r deba t e is primaril
one ove r what is wor th having or pursuing and over what we a re ent i t l ed to do
to o th e rs .

They ha ve also confirme d tha t t he debate i s polaris ed a lon g t he
li nes o f compe ting paradigm s. 2 Accordin g to the entre nc he d parad i gm dis ce rn e
that conste llation of value s , attitude s and be liefs o fte n ca ll e d t he Domi nan t
So ci a l Pa radigm (hereaft er the Old Paradigm ),
economic criteria be come the be nchmark by whi ch a wi de ran ge of
individu al and social action is judged and e va luat e d . And be li e f
in the market and marke t mechan isms is quit e ce ntral . Clust e rin g
around this core belief is the convicti on th a t e nt e r p r i s e flou r is hes
bes t i n a system of r isks and rewards, that di ffe r e nti als a r e
neces sary ..• , and in the nece ssity for some fo r m o f di vis i on of
labour, and a hi e rarchy of skills and exper t is e . In pa rt i cul a r,
t here i s a be li e f in th e comp e t e nce o f e xperts i n gener a l and of
sci entis t s in pa r ticular .
the re is an empha s i s on q uantif i ca t ion . 3
The ri v a l world view , sometime s c all e d t he Alte rnative Environm e ntal Par ad igm
(the New Paradi gm) dif f ers on almos t e ve ry pcint , and, acco rdin g t o so ciologi
sts ,
in ways summari sed i n th e fo llowing t a bl e 4 Domi nant Socia l Para digm

Ma te r i a l (e conomic growth , progress an d dev elopmen t )
Na tu ra l env ironment va lu e d as resourc e
Dom i nat i on over na t ur e

Al t e rn a tive Env ir onme nt al
Pa rad igm
Non-ma terial (se l f -r eali sa t io n)
Na t ural e nvir onm e nt i ntrin s i cally
valu ed
Ha r mo ny with na tu r e


Ma rket forces
Ri s k a nd rewa r d
Rewa r ds for ach i evemen t
Diff e rent i a l s
Individ ua l se lf-help

Public i nte r es t
Sa fety
Incomes r elat ed t o nee d
Egali t a r ian
Co ll ective/soc i al provi s i on


Authori t at iv e s t ru c t ures (e xp e r t s in flue ntia l)
Hi e r a r ch1.c a l
Law and order
Ac t io n through o ffi c ia l i nst it ut io ns

Pa rtic ip a tive s t ruc t ur e s ( ci ti zen/
wo r ke r invo lveme n t )
No n- hi era r chical
Di r ec t a c ti o n


Ce ntr a lised
La r ge-s ca le
As socia tional
Or der ed

Dece ntr a l ised
Small - s ca l e
Communa l
Flexib l e


Ampl e rese r ves
Nature host il e/ ne u t r a l
Envi r onmen t cont roll a ble

Earth ' s r esou r c e s lim i ted
Nature be nign
Na t ure de l i ca t el y ba l a nc ed


Co nf idence in sc i ence and t ec hnology
Ra t i onal i t y of mea ns (only)

Li mit s t o sc i e nce
Rati ona lit y of en ds

*Stat e

socia l ism , as pr a ctised i n mo s t of t he " Eastern b l oc" , di ffers
as to eco nomi c o r ganisation , t he ma r ket i n pa r ticula r be i ng rep l ac ed
sys tem hy ~ comma nd sy st e m) . Bu t sin c e t he r e i s v irt ual l y no debate
r·o ni i nes 'l l s r a t <! ., ociali sm , 5 that mJnnr va riant on th e Old Para digm

from t he Ol d Pa rad i gm r eall y on ly
by cen t ral planning (a ma r ke t
over o nu c lea r futu r e within t he
ne ed no t be de lineat ed he r e .


No doubt the competing paradigm picture is a trifle simple (and
subs equently it is important to disentangle a Modified Old Paradigm, which
softens the old econ omic assumptions with social welfa r e requirements :


instead of a New Paradigm there are rather count erpa radigms, a

cluster of not very well worked out positions that diverge from the cluster
marked out as the Old Paradigm) .

Nonetheless it is empi rically investigable,

and, most important, it enables the nuclear debate to be focuss ed .

Large -

scale nuclear development, of the sort now occurring in much of the world ,
runs counter to leading tenets (such as societal features) of the New Pa radigm.
Indeed to introduce ethical and social dimensions into the assessment of nucl ear
power, instead of or in addition to merely economic factors such as cost and
efficiency, is already to move somewhat beyond the recei ved paradigm.


under the Old Paradigm, strictly construed, th e nuclear debate is confined to
the tenns of the narrow utilitarianism up on which contemporary economic
practice is p r emisse d, 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)


Furthermore, nuclear development rece ive s its support from adherents
of the Old Paradigm.

Virtually all the arguments in favour of it are set

within the assumption of the Old Paradigm, and without these
assumptions the case for the nuclear future the world is presently committed
to fails .

But in fact the argument for a nuclear future from the Old Paradigm

is itself broken-backed and ultimat ely fails, unless the free enterprise
economic assumptions are replaced by th e ethically unacceptable assumptions of
advanced (corporate) capitalism .
The two paradigm picture also enables our case against a nuclear future
(a case written from outside the Old Paradigm) to be structured.


main parts : -

There are two

It is argue d, firstl y , from without the Old Paradigm, that

nuclear development is ethically unjustifiable; but that, secondly, even from
within the framework of the ethically dubious Old Paradigm, such development
is unacceptable, since significant features of nuclear development conflict
with indispensible features of the Paradigm (e . g . co sts of project development
and state subsidization with market independence and crite ria for project
selection) .
It has appeared acceptable from within the dominant paradigm only
because ideals do not square with practice, only because the assumptions of th e
Old Paradigm are but very rarely applied in contemporary political practice,


th e place of pure (or mixed) capitalism having been usurped by corporate

It is because the nuclear debate can be carried on within th e

framework of the Old Paradigm that the debate - although it is a debate about
values, because of the conflicting values of the competing paradigms - is not
just a debate about values; it is also a debate within a paradigm as to means
to already assumed (economistic) ends, and of rational choice as to energy
options within a predetermined framework of values. (In this corner belong,
as explained in section VIII, most decision theory argume nts, arguments often
considered as encompassing all the nuclear debate is ethically about, best
utilitarian me ans to predetermined ends . )

For another leading characteristic

of the nuclear deb a te is the attempt, under the dominant paradigm to remove it
from the ethical and social sphere, and to divert it into specialist issues whe th e r over minutiae and contingenci es of present techno l ogy o r ove r medical
or legal or mathematical details. 8
The double approach can be applied as regards each of t he main problems
nuclear development poses.

There are many i nte rr ela t ed problems, and the

argument is further structured in terms of these.

For in the advancement and

promotion of nucle ar power we encounter a remarkable combination of factors, never
befo re assembled :

establishment, on a massive scale , of an industry which

involves at each stage of its processing serious risks and at some stages of
p roduction possible catastrophe , which delivers as a by-product rad ioactive
wastes which require up to a million years' storage but for which no sound and
e conomic storage methods are known, which grew up as part of the war industry
and which is easily subverted to deliver nuclear weapons, which r equires for
i t s operation considerable secrecy, limitations on the flow of informa tion and
r es trictions on civil liberties, which depends for its economics, and in orde r
to generate expected profits, on substantial state subsidization, supper½ and
with problems.

It is, in short, a very high techological develo pmen t, beset
A first important problem, which serves also to exemplify

e thical issues and principles involved in other nuclear power que st i on s , is
th e unreso l ved matter of disposal of nuclear wastes.
A long distance country train has just pulled out.
crowded carries both pass e ngers and fr e i gh t.

The train which is

At an early stop in the journey

someon e con signs as freight, to a far distant destination, a package which
contains a high ly toxic and exp losive gas.

This is packaged in a very thin

container which, as the consigner is aware, may not contain th e gas for the


full distance for which it is consigned, and certainly will not do so if th e 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 interefere inadvertently
o r deliberately with the freight, perhaps trying to steal some of it.
these sorts of contingencies have occurred on some previous journeys.

All of
If the

container should break the resulting disaster would probably kill at least some
of the people on the train in adjacent carriages, while othe r s could be maimed
or incur serious diseases.
Most of us would roundly condemn such an action.
consigner of the parcel say to try to justify it?

What might the

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 pr~uct and it is his duty to supply it , and
that in a ny case he is not responsible for th e train or the people on it. These
sorts of excuses however wo uld norrrally be seen as ludicrous when set in this
context . What is worth remarking is that similar excuses are not always so seen

when the consigner, again a "responsible" b usin essman , puts his workers ' health
or other peoples ' welf are at risk.
Suppose he ways that it is hi s own and otherd press ing needs which
justify his action.

The company he controls,which produces the material as a
by-product , is in bad financia l straits, and could not afford to produce a
better container even if it knew how to make one.

If the company fails , he and

his family will suffer, his employees will lose their jobs and have to look
for others, and th e whole company town, through loss of spending and the
cancellation of the Multiplier Effe ct, will be worse off.

The poor and unemployed

of the town, whom he would otherwise have been able to help, will suffer
espe cially. Few people would accept such a story, even if correct, as justification .
Even where there are serious risks and costs to ones e lf or some group for whom
one is concerned one is usually considered not t o be entitled to simply transfer
the heavy burden of those risks and costs onto
other uninvolved parties,
especially where they a ri se from one's own, or one's group 's, chosen life-style.
The matter of nuclear waste disposal has many moral features which resemble
the train case . How fitting the analogy is will become apparent as th e argument
progresses . There is no known proven safe way to package th e highly toxic
wastes generated by the nuclear plants that will be spread around th e world as
large- scale nuclear development goes ahead. 9 The waste problem will be much
more serious than that generated by the 50 or so reactors in use at present, with

each one of the 2000 or so reactors envisaged by the end of the century producing,
on average , annual wastes containing 1000 times the radioactivity of the
Hiroshima bomb .

Much of this waste is extremely t oxic .

For example, a

millionth of a gramme of plutonium is enough to induce a lung cancer .


will include the reactors themselves, which will have to be abandoned after
the ir expected life times of perhaps 40 years , and which, some have estimated,
may require l½ million years to reach saf e levels of radioactivity.
Nuclear wastes must be kept suitably isolated from the environ ment fo r
th e ir entire active lifetime. For fission products the required storage period
a ve rages a thousand years or so, and for transuranic elements, which include
plutonium, there is a half to a million yea r storage problem . Serious problems
have aris en with both short-term and proposed long-t erm methods of storage,
e ven with th e comparatively small quantities of waste produced ove r th e last
twenty years.
Short-term methods of storage require continued human in t e rven tion, while proposed longer term methods are subject to both human i nterference 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 flu ctua tion s
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
affa irs 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 formations or in salt mines,
are largely speculative and relatively untested, and have already pro ved to
involve difficulties with attempts made to put them into practice. Even as
regards expensive recent proposals for first embedding concentrated wastes in
glass and encapsulating the r e sult in multilayered metal containe rs before rock
deposit , simulation mo dels reveal that radioactive material may not rema in
suitably is ola ted from human environment . 11 In short, the best pres ent storage
proposals carry very real possibilities of irradiating future people and
h .
d amaging t eir environment.
Given the heavy costs which could be involve d fo r the future, and given
the known limits of technology, it is methodological ly unsound to bet, as
nuclear nations have, on the discovery of safe procedures for storage of wastes.
Any new procedures (required before 2000) will probably be but variations on
present proposals, and subject to the same inadequacies.

For instance , none of

the proposed methods for safe storage has been properly test e d, and they may

well prove to involve unforeseen difficultie s and risks when an attemp t is made
to put them into practice on a commercial scale. Only a method that could
provide a rigorous guaran t ee of safety over the storage period, that placed
safety beyond reasonable doubt, would be acceptable.

It is difficult to see

how such rigorous guarantees could be given concerning either the geological
or future µuman factors . But even if an economicall y viable, rigorously safe
long t e rm storage method could be devised , there is the problem of gua rantee ing
that it would be universally and invariably used.

The assumption that it

would be (especially if, as appears likely, such a method proved expensive
economicall y and politically ) seems to p r esuppose a level of efficiency,
pe rfection and concern for the f u ture which has not previously been e ncountere d
in human affairs, and has certainly not been conspicuous in the nucl ea r industry. 12
Again, unless we assume continuous and faultless guarding of long t e rm storage
sites through pe rhaps a million years of possible future human activity, weaponsgrade radioactive material will be accessible , over much of the million year
storage peri od, to any party who is in a position to retrieve it.
Th e assumption that a way will nonetheless be found , before 2000,
which gets around the wastestorag e problem (no longer a nere disposal problem)
is accordingly not rationally based, but is rather like many assumpti ons of way s ,
an article of faith . It is an assunption supplied by the Old Par adigm, a no
limitations ass ump tion , that there are really no (developmen t) problems that
cannot be solved technologic ally (if not in a fash i on that is always
immediately economi cally feasible).

The assumption has played

an important

part in development plans and pra ctic e.

It has not only encouraged an unwarrant e d
technolog ical optimism (not to say hubris 13 ), that there are no limits to what
humans can accomplish , es pe cially through science ; it has led t o the embarcation
on projects before crucial problems have been satisfactor ily solved or a solution
is even in sight , and it has led to th e idea that technology can always be suitably
controlled .

It has also led, not surprisingl y, to disasters .

There are severe
limits on what technology can achieve (some of which a r e becoming known in the
form of limitation theorems 14 ); and in addition there are human limitations
which modern technologic al development s often fail to take due account of (risk
a nalysis of the likelihood of reactor accidents is a relevant example, discuss e d
below) . The original nuclear technology dream was that nuclear fissi on would
provide unlimi t ed energy (a 'clean unlimited supply of power '). That dr e am soon
shattered. The nu clear industry apparently remains a net consume r of power,
and nuclear fission will be but a quite shor t-t erm supplier of power. 15



The risks imposed on the future by proceeding with nuclea r development
are , then, significant.

Nuclear fission creates wastes which may remain toxic for

a million years, but even with the (suspect) breeder r eactor 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 lives could be se riously
affected by the wastes.

Thus perhaps 40,000 generations of futur e people could

be fo rced to bear significant risks resulting from the provision of the
(extravagant) energy use of only a small proportion of the people o f 10 generations.
Nor is the risk of direct harm from the escape or misuse of radioactive
materials th e only burden the nuclear solution imposes on the fu ture .


the energy provided by nuclear fission is merely a stop gap, it seems probable
that in due course the same problem , that of making a transition t o 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 .

For they may well have to face the change to renewable res ources 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' dreams of global
industrialisation are realised , more and more of the global population will have
become dependent on high energy consumption and associat ed 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 larg ely depleted of non-renewable
resources, and in which su ch r enewable r eso urces 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. Such points
tell against th e idea th a t future
people mGst be , if not direct beneficiaries of nuclear fission energy , at least
indirect beneficiaries .

It is for such reasons th at the train pa rabl e cannot

be turned around to work in favour of nuclear power, with for exampl e , the
nuclear train bringing relief as well as wastes to a remote town powered (onl y)
by nuclear power.
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 industrial society proposes, in order to ge t itself out of a
mess arising from its chosen life style - the creation of e conomies 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

in 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 to lead decent lives may be seriously jeopardised.
Industrial society has - under each paradigm, so it

will be argued -

cl e ar alternatives to · this action, which is taken essentially to avoid changing
corporately-controlled patterns of consumption and protect the interest of
those comparatively few who benefit from them .
If we apply to the nuclear situation, so perceived , the standards of
behaviour and moral principles generally acknowledged (in principle if perhaps
of t en not in fact ) in the contemporary wo rld, it is not easy to avoid the
conclusion that nuclear development involves gross injustice with respect to
th e future .
There appear to be only two plausible moves that might enable
the avoidance of such a conclusion.

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 the nuclear pa rcel
are in the non-immediate future.

Secondly, an attempt might be made to appeal

to overriding circumstances, for to reject the consigner's action in the circumstances outlined is not of course to imply that there are no circumstances in
which such an action might be justifiable, or at least whe re the matter is less

It is the same with the nuclear case .

Just as in the cas e of the

consigner of the package there is a need to consider what these justifying
circumstances might be, and whether they apply in th e present case.

We consider

these possible escape routes for the proponent of nuclear development in turn,
beginning with the ques tion of our obligations to the future.

Resolution of

this question casts light on other ethical questions concerning nuclear development.

It is only when these have been considered that the matter of whether

there are overriding circumstances is taken up again (in section VII).


The especially problematic area

is that of the distant (i.e . non-immediat e) fut ure, the futur e with which
people alive today will have no direct contact: by comparison, the immediate
future gives fewer problems for most ethical theories.

In fact the question of

obliga tions to future people presents tests which a number of ethical theories
fail to pass , and also has serious repercussions in political philosophy as
regards the adequacy of accepted (democra ti c and other) institutions which do
not take due account of the interests of future creatures.

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 considerations 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 th ere are no
moral obligations to the future beyond perhaps those to the next gene ration .
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 a ct ing or failing to act deriving from the
ef fect 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 accounts of moral obligation which are built on relations which presuppose
some temporal or spatial contiguity .

Th us moral obligation is seen as grounded

on or as presupposing various relations which could not hold between people
widely separated in time ( o r sometimes in space) . Fo r example, obligation is
seen as grounded in relations which are proximate or of short duration and also
non-transitive . Among su ch suggested bases or grounds of moral obligation, or
r eq uirements on moral obligation , which would rule out obligations to the nonimmediate future are these :- Firstly there are those accounts which require that
someone to whom a moral obligation is held be able to claim his r ights or
en titlement . People in the distant future will not be able to claim rights and
entitlements as against us, and of course they can do nothing effective to
e nforce any claims they might have for their rights against us.

Secondly , there

a re those accounts which base moral obligations on social or legal convention,
for example a convention which would require punishment of offenders or at least
some kind of social enforcement .

But plainly these and other conventions will

not hold invariant over change in society and amendment of legal conventions and
so will not be invariant over time. Also future people have no way of enforcing
their interests or punishing offenders, and there couid be no guarantee that any
contemporary institutions would do it for them .

Both the view that moral obligation requires the cont ex t of a moral
community and the view that it is contractually based appear to rul e out th e
distant future as a field of moral obligation as they not only require a
commonality or some sort of common basis which cannot be guaranteed in the case
of the distant future, but also a possibility of interchange or reciprocity
of action which cannot apply to the future.

Where the basis of moral obligation

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 obligations to the distant future also follows from
those views which attempt to ground moral obligations in non-transitive r ela tions
of short duration such as sympathy and love.

As well there are difficulties

about love and sympathy for (non-existent ) people in the far distant futu r e about
whose personal qualities and characteristics one must know very little and who
may well be committed to a life-style for which one has l ittle or no sympa th y .
On the current showing in the case of nuclear energy it would be easy to
conclude that contemporary society lacks both love and sympathy for future
peop l e ; and it would appear to follow from this that contemporary people had
no obligations concerning future people and could damage them as it suited them.
What all these views have in common is a picture of obligation as
some thing acquired, either individually or institutionally , something which
is conditional on doing something or failing to do something (e.g. pa rticipatin g
in the moral community, contracting), or having some characteristic one can
fail to have (e . g . love, sympathy, empathy). 16 Because obligation therefore
becomes conditional, features usually (and correctly) thought to characterise
obligation such as universality of application and necessitation (i.e. the binding
features) are lost, especially where there is a choice wh e ther 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 not
however sustainable. Consider, for example , 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 . No presently living person and
none of their immediate descendants would be affected, but the population of



the earth in the distant future would be wiped out as a direct and predictab le
result of the action. The unconstra ined position clearly implies that this is
an acceptabl e moral enterpris e, that whatever else we might legitimat ely
criticize in the scientis ts' experimen t, perhaps its being ove r-e xpensive or
badly designed, we cannot lodge a moral protest about the damage it will do
to futu re people . The unconstra ined position also endorses as morally acceptabl e
the following sort

of policy: -

A firm discovers it can make a handsome profit
from mining , processin g and manufactu ring a new type of material which, although
it causes no problem for present people or their immediate descendan ts, will
over a pe ri od of hundreds of years decay into a substance which will cause an
enormous ep idemi c of cancer among the inhabitan ts of the earth at that time .
According to the unconstra ined view the firm is free to act in its own interests ,
without any considera tion for the harm it does r emote future people.
Such counterex amples to the unconstra ined view, which are easily vari e d
and multiplie d , might seem childii>hl y obvious. Yet the unconstra ined position
concernin g the future f rom which they follow is far from being a straw man ; not
only have several philosoph ers endorsed this position, but it is a cl e ar
implicati on of many currently popular views of the basis of moral obligatio n, as
well as of prevailin g e conomic theory. It seems that those who opt for the
unconstra ined position have not considere d such examples , despite their being
clearly implied by their position.

We suspect that - we would certainly hope
that - when it is brought out that the unconstra ined position admits such
counterex amples , that being free to act implies among other thin gs being free to
inflict pointless harm for example, most of those who opted for the unconstra ined
position would want to assert that it was not what they intended. What many
of those who have put forward the unconstra ined position seem to have had in
mind in denying moral obligatio n is rather that · future people can look after
themselve s, that we are not responsib le for their lives. The popular view that
the future can take care of itself also seems to assume a future causal l y
independe nt of the present. But it is not. It is not as if, in the counterexample cases or in the nuclear case, the future is simply being left alone
to take care of itself .

Present people are influenci ng it , and in doing so
thereby acquire many of the same sorts of moral responsi bilities as they do in
causally affecting the present and immediate future, namely the obli gation to
tak e accoun t i n what they do of people affected and their interests , to be
care ful in their actions, to take account of the genuine probabili ty of their
actions causing harm, and to see that th ey do not act so as to rob future
people of the chance of a good life.

Furth e rmore, to say that we are not respon s ible f o r th e lives o f future
people does not amount to th e same thing as sayin g t hat we are fr ee to do as we
like with r es pe ct to them , that there are no moral constraints on our act io n
involving th e m. In just th e same way , th e fact that on e does no t hav e o r ha s not
acquired an obliga tion to some stran ge r with whom one has ne ver been i nvolved , that
on e has no responsibil ity for his life, does not imply that on e is fr ee t o do
what on e like s with respect to him, for e xample to r ob him or to pursue some
course of action of advantage to on e self which could s e riously ha rm him.
These difficultie s for the uncons trained position arise in part from the
(sometime s deliberate) failure to make an important distinction betwe e n acquired
or assume d obligation toward somebody , for which some act of acquisition or
a s sumption is required as a qualifying condition , and moral constraints , which
require, for example, that one should not act so as t o damage or harm someone ,
a n d for which no act of acquisition is required.

There i s a conside rable

di ffer ence in the level and kind of responsibil ity involved. In the first cas e
on e must do something or be something which one can fail to do or be, e . g.
have loves, sy!ll)athy, be contracted.

In the second case responsibil it y arises

as a r e sult of being a causal agent who is aware of the cons eque nces o r probable
consequence s of his action, and thus does not have to be es pecially acquired or

Thus there is no problem about how the latt e r class , moral c onstra ints,
can apply to the distant future in cases where it may be difficult o r i mpossible

for acquisition or assumption conditions to be satisfi e d . They appl y a s a result
o f th e abil i t y to produce causal effects on the distant future of a r eas onably
pr e dict a ble nature .

Thus also moral constraints can apply to what do e s not
(ye t) e xist, just as actions can cause results that do not (yet) exist . Wh ile

it may pe rhaps be the case that there would need to be an acquired or a ssume d
ob liga tion in order for it to be claimed that contemporar y people mus t make
special sacrifices f or future people of an heroic kind, or even to he lp them
e s pe cially, only moral constraints are needed in order for us to be constrain e d
from harming them . Thus, to return to the train parable, the consigne r cannot
argue in justificatio n of his action that he has never assumed or acquired
re s ponsibility for the passengers, that he does not know them and therefore has no
l ove or sympathy for th em and that t hey are not part of his moral community , in
short that he has no special obligations to help them. All that one ne eds to
argue concerning the train, and the nuclear case , is that there are mo ral
constrain ts against harming, not that there are specially acquired obligations
to take responsibil ity for the live s 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 distinction s between constraints and

acquired obligation and between obligation and supererogat ion this is just

13 .

to misrep resent the positio n of these obliga tions. For exampl e, one
is no more
engagin g in heroic self-sa crifice by not forcing future people into
an unviab le
life positio n or by refrain ing from causing then direct harm than
the consign er
is resorti ng to heroic self-sa crifice in re frainin g from placing his
dangero us
package on the train.
The conflat ion of moral restrai nts with acquire d obliga tion, and the
attemp t there~ ith to view all constra ints as acquire d and to write
off nonacq uired
constr aints, is facilit ated through the use of the term ' moral obligat
ion ' both
to signify any type of deontic constra ints and also to indicat e r athe
r someth ing
which has to be assumed or require d . The conflat ion is encoura ged
by reduct ionist
positio ns which, in attemp ting to accoun t for obligat ion in genera
l, mistake nly
endeavo ur to collaps e all obligat ions . Hence the equa ti on , and some
main roots
of the uncons trained positio n, of the erron eous belief that there
are no moral
constr aint s concern ing the distant future.
The uncons trained view tends to give way , under the weight of counte
rexampl es , to more qualifi ed, and sometim es ambiva lent, positio ns ,
for example
the positio n that
our obliga tions are to immedi ate poster ity, we ought to try to
improve the world so that we shall be able to hand it over to
our immedi ate succes sors in a better conditi on, and that is all; 17
there are in practic e no obliga tions to the distan t futur e . A main
argume nt
in favour of the latter theme is that such obliga tions would in practic
e be
otiose . Everyth ing that needs to be accoun ted for can be en compass
ed through
the chain picture of obliga tion as linking succes sive genera tions,
under which
each genera tion has obliga tions, based on loves or sympath y , only
to the
succeed ing genera tion . The re are at least three objecti ons to this
accoun t. First, it is inadeq uate to treat constr aints concern ing
the future
as if they applied only between genera tions, as if there were no questio
n of
constr aints on individ uals as opposed to whole genera tions, since
individ uals
can create causal effects , e . e. harm, on the future in a way which
may create
individ ual respon sibility , and which often cannot be sheeted home
to an e ntire
genera tion .

Nuclea r power and its wastes , for exampl e, are strictl y the
respon sibility of small groups of power- hol ders, not a genera tional

sibility .
Second ly, such chains, since non-tr ansitiv e, cannot yield direct obligat
ions to
the distan t future . But for this very r eason the chain pict ure cannot
adeq uate, as exampl es again show. For the pic ture is unable to explain
severa l
of the cases that have to be dealt with, e.g. the exampl es already
discuss ed
which show that we can have a direct effect on the distan t future
withou t
affecti ng the next genera tion, who may not even be able to influen
ce matters .


Thirdly, improvement s fo r immediate successors may be achieved at th e expense of
disadvantag es to people of the more distant future . Improving the world for
immediate successors is quite compatible with, and may even in some circumstanc es
be most easily achieved by , ruining it for less immediate successors . Such
cases can hardly be written off as "ne ver- never land" examples since many cases
of environment al exploitatio n might be seen as of just this type. e . g . not just
the nuclear case but also the exhaustion of non-renewab le resources and the
long- term depletion of renewable resources such as soils and forests through
overus e .

If then such obvious injustices to future people arising from th e
fa vouring 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 ove r time, and not merely as accruing to particular generations in
the way the chain picture suggests .
AND INDETERMINACY ARGUMENTS. While there are grave difficultie s for the
unconstrain ed position, qualificatio n leads to a more defensible position.
According to the main qualified position we a r e not entirely unconstrain ed
with respe ct 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 pres ent and immediate
future . The interests of future people then, except in unusual cases, coun t for
very much l ess than the interests of present people. Hence such thin gs as nuclear
development and various exploitativ e activities which benefi t present people should
proceed, even if people of the distant future are (somewha t) disadvantag ed 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
costs and benefits (and so of future interests) is obtained by application over
time of a discount rate , so dis counting costs and risks to future people.
a t tempt to apply economics as a moral theory, something that is becoming
increasingl y common , can lead then to the qualified position. What is
objectionab le in such an approach is that


economics should operate within the

bounds of moral (deontic) constraints , just as in practice it operates within
legal constraints , not detennine what those constraints are. There are moreover
alternative economic theories and simply to adopt, without further ado, one
which discounts the future is to beg many questions at issue.


Among the arguments that economists offer for generally discounting
the future, the most threadbare is based on the assumption that future
generations will be better off than present ones, and so better placed to handle
th e waste problem. 18 Since there is mounting evidence that future ge ne rations
may well not be better off than present ones, especially in things that matter,
no argume nt for discounting the interest s of future gcncrntionfl on thi s
can carry much weight. Nor is that all that is wrong with the argument.

biH:1i. B


it depends at base on the assumption that poorer contemporar ies would be making
sacrifices to richer successors in foregoing such (allegedly beneficial)
development s as nuclear power .

That is, it depends on the already scotched

sacrifice argument .

In any case, for the waste disposal problem to be
legitimatel y bequeathed to the future gene rations, it would have to be shown,
what recent economic progress hardly justifies, that future generations will
be , not just better off , but so much better off and more capable that they
can duly absorb the nuclear waste burden.
A more plausible argument for discounting is directly 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-immedia te future (because the first
dollar could meanwhile be invested at compound interest), that discounting is
required to obtain equivalent monetary values, and so for efficient allocation
of resources . Similarly it is argued, by virtue again of equalizatio n of monetary
value, that compensatio n - which is what the waste problem is taken to come to
economica lly - costs much less now th an later . Thus a few pennies set aside
(e.g . in a trust fund) now or in the future, if need be, will suffice to
compensate eventually for any victims of remote radioactive waste leakage.
There are, presently at least , insurmounta ble practical difficultie s about
applying such discounting , e . g . how to de t ermine appropriate future discount rates .
A more serious objection is that applied generally, the argument presupposes ,
what is false, that compensatio n, like value, can always be converted into
monetary e quivalents , that peo ple (including those outside market frameworks)
can be monetarily compensated for a variety of damages, i n cluding cancer and loss
of life . There is no compensatin g a dead man, or for a lost species. In fact
the argument presupposes a do uble reduction neither part of which can succeed :
it is not just that value cannot in general be represented at all adequately
monetarily , 19 but (as against utilitariani sm, for example) that constraints and
obligations can not be somehow reduced to mat t ers of value . It is also
presupposed that all decision me thods, suitable for requisite nuclear choices,


are bound to apply discounti ng . This is far from so : indeed Goodin argues that,
on the contrary, more appropria te decision rules do not allow discounti ng, and
discounti ng only works in practice with expected utility rules (such as underlie
cost-bene fit and benefit-r isk analyses) , which are, he contends strictly
inapplica ble for nuclear choices (since no t all outcomes can be duly determine d
and assigned probabil ities, in the way that applicatio n of the rules requires. ). 20
As the preceding arguments reveal, the discounti ng move often has the same
result as the unconstra ined position . If, for instance, we consider the cancer
example and reduce costs to payable compensa tion, it is evident that over a
sufficien tly long period of time discounti ng at curren t prices would lead to the
conclusio n that there are no recoverab le damages and so , in economic terms, no
constrain ts . In short, even certain damage to future people could be written off.
One way to achieve the bias against future people is by the applicatio n of
discoun t rates which are set in accord with the current economic horizons of no
more than about 15 years, 21 and applicati on of such rates would simply beg
the question against the i.nterests and rights of future pe ople . Where there is
certain future damage of a morally forbidden type, for example , the whole method
of discounti ng is simply inapplica ble, and its use would violate moral
constrain ts .
Another argument for the qualified position, which avoids th e objection s
from cases of certain damage, comes from probabili ty considera tions. The distant
future, it is argued , is much more uncertain than t he present and itillue diate
fut ure, so that probabili ties are consequen tly lower, perhaps even approachi ng
or coincidin g with zero for any hypothesi s concernin g the distant future. But
then if we take ac count of probabil iti es in the obvious way , by simply multiplyi ng
th e m 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 ,
must count for (very much) less than those of present and neighbour ing people
where (much ) high~r probabil ities are attached. So in the case of confl ict
between the present and the future where it i s a question of weighing certain
benefits to the people of the present and the immediat e future against a much
lower probabili ty of indetenni nate costs to an indetermi nate 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 nucle ar case, especial ly if it is a question of risking
poisoning some of the earth for half a million or so years , with consequen t
risk of serious harm to thousands of ge nerations of future people, in order to
obtain doubtful benefits for some present people, in the shape of the opportuni ty
to maintain corporati on profitabi lity or to continue unnecess arily high energy

And even if the costs an d benefits were comparabl e 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
s ufficiently large.
Such a cost-benefi t or risk-benefi t approach to moral and decision
problems , with o r 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 counterintu itive results.

For example, it would follow on such principles

that it is permissible for a firm to injure, or very likely injure, some
innocent party provided the firm stands to make a sufficiently large ga in from
it. But the costs and benefits involved are not transferabl e in any simple or
general way from one party to another .

Transfers of this kind, of costs

and benefits involving different parties, commonly rais e moral issues - e.g.
is x entitled to benefit himself by imposing costs on y - which are not
susceptible to a simple cost-benefi t approach of the sort adopted in promotion
of nuclear energy, where costs to future people are sometimes dismissed with
the soothing remark that any development involves costs as well as benefits.
The limitations of tran sfer point is enough to invalidate the comparison,
heavily relied on in building a case for the acceptabili ty of the nuclea r
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 overwhelmin g extent, those who bear the serious health
costs and risks involved . In contrast the users and supposed beneficiari es
of nuclear energy will be r isking not only, or even primarily, their own lives
and health, but also that of others who may be non-benefic iaries and who may be
spatially or temporally removed, and these risks will not be in any dire ct 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 of solving moral conflict between different parties,
and the introductio n of p r obability consideratio ns - as in utilita r ian de cision
methods such as expected utility rules - does not change the principles involved
but merely complicates the analysis . One might further object to the probability
argument that probabiliti es 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 morai prob l ems 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 .

18 .

Uncerta inty argumen ts in various forms are the most common and importan t
ones used by philo s ophers, economi sts and others to argue f or the position that
cannot be expe cted to
distant future .

take serious ac count of the effects of our actions on th e
There are two strands to the uncertai nty argumen t, capable of

s eparatio n , but frequen tly tangled up. Both argumen ts are mistaken , the first
on a priori grounds, the second on a posterio ri grounds. The first argumen t
is a gene ralised uncerta inty argumen t which runs as fol lows :- In contras t to
the exa ct informa tion we can obtain about the present, the informa tion we can
obtain about the effects of our a-ctions on the di s tant future is unreliab le,
fuzzy and highly specula tive. But we cannot base assessm ents of how we shoul
act on informa tion of this kind, especia lly when accurate informa tion is obtainable about the present which would indicate differen t act ion. Therefo re we must
r eg retfully ignore the uncertai n effects of our actions on the distant fut ure.
More formally and crudely: One only has obligati ons to the futur e if t hese
obliga tions are based on reliable in forma tion at present as regards th e
distant future. Therefo re one has no obligati ons to the distant future. This
first argumen t is essentia lly a variant on a sceptica l argwnen t in epistemo logy
concerni ng our knowledg e of the future (formall y, replace 'obligat ions ' by
'knowled ge' in the crude stateme nt of the argumen t above). The main ploy is
conside rably overesti mate and oversta te the degree of certaint y availabl e with
r es pect to the present and immedia t e future, and the degree of certaint y which
is required as the basis fo r moral conside ration with r espect to the present
and with respect to the f uture.

Associa ted with thi s is the attempt to sugges t
a sharp division as regards certaint y between the present and immedia te 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 divi sion between the distant
future and the adjacen t future and the present, at l east with re spect to those
things in th e pres e nt which are normally subject to moral constra ints. We can
and constan tly do act on the basis of such "unrelia ble " informa tion, as the
sceptic as regards the future conveni ently labels "unce rta i nty"; for scepticproof certaint y is rarely, or never, availab le with respect to much of the
present and immedia te future . In moral situatio ns in the pres e nt, action
often takes acco unt of risk and probabi lity , even quite low probab iliti es .
Conside r again the train example. We do not need to know for certain that the
containe r will break and the lethal gas escape . In fact it does not even have
to be probable , in the relevan t sense of more probable than not, in order for
us to condemn the consign er's action. It is enough that there is a signific ant
risk of harm in this sort of case. It does not matter if the decrease d wellb eing of the consigne r is certain and that the prospec ts of the passeng ers
quite uncertai n, the resoluti on of the problem is neverth eless clearly in fa
of the so-calle d "specul ative" and "unrelia ble". But if we do not require
certaint y of action to apply moral constra ints in cont emporary affairs, why


should we require a much higher standard of certainty in the future?

Why should

we require for the future, ep istemic standards which the more familiar sphere of
moral act ion concerning the present and adjacent futur e does not need to meet?
The insistence on certainty as a necessary condition before moral consi deration
ca n be given to the distant future, then, amounts to an eipstemic double standard.
But such an epistemic double standard, proposed in explaining th e difference
between the present and the future a nd 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
e ach class, which difference is in turn in need of justification.
The second uncertainty argument is a practical unc e rtainty argument,
that whatever our theoretical obligations to the future, we cannot in practice
take the interests of future people into account becaus e uncertainty about
the distant future is so gross th a t we canmot determine what the lik ely
cons equences 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 gross where certain incompatible

hypotheses are as good as one another and there is no rati onal ground for
ch oosing between them.
this way : -

The seco!ld uncertainty argume nt can be put alternatively

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

that is of such forms as "if x has character h then x is wrong, for eve r y
(action) x", then what the argument claims is that we cannot ever obtain the
info rmation about future actions which would enable us to detach the
an tecedent of the implication .

So even if moral principles theoretically

apply to future people, in practice they cannot be applied to obtain cl ear
conclusions or dire ctions concerning contemporary action action of th e "It is
wrong to do x" type.
Many of the assumptions of the second argument can be conceded.


th e 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 th e effects of
present action will be, and whether any given action will help or hinder future
people, then moral principles, although they may apply theoretically to th e
future, will in practice not be applicable to obtain an y clea r conclusions about
how to act.
on action .

Hence the distant future will impose no practical moral constraints
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


20 .
argument has to assume .

There are some areas where un certainty is not so grea t as

to ex clude constraints on action, especially when account is taken of the point ,
which was noticed in connection with the first argument, that complete certain ty
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

uncerta inty about many factors which are not highly, or at all, morally r e levant,
but this does not extend to many factors which are of much greater importance
t o moral is sues .

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

in a hundred years in names or footwear, or what flavour s of ice cream people
will be eating if any, but we do have excellent reason to believe, espe cially
if we consider 3000 years of history, that what peop le there are in a hundred
years are likely to have material and psychic needs not entirely unli ke 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 ge netic defec ts, by the destruction of resources, or the
elimination from the ear th of that wonderful variety of non-human life which at
present makes it such a rich and interesting place .

For this sort of r eason ,

the second uncertainty argument should be rejected.

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 orde r 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 is
evident 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 defects of the preceding uncertainty arguments, we can
see the defects in a number of widely employed uncertainty arguments used to
write off probable or possible harm to future people as outside the scope of
prope r consideration.

Most of these popular moves employ both of the uncer taint y

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 r eally

take account of future people because we cannot be sure that th ey will exis t or
that their tast es 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


things that would affect us.

But this is to insist upon compl e t e ce r taint y of a

sort be yond what is required for the pre sent and imme diate future, whe r e there
i s also commonly no guarantee that some disast e r will not overtake t hose we are
mo rally cowmi tted to. Again we may be told that th e r e i s no guarant ee that
future peopl e will be worthy of any e fforts on our part, because th ey may be
mo rons or for ever plugged into enjoyme nt or other machin es . Even if on e is
prepare d t o accept the elitist approach presupposed -

according to which

only those who meet certain properly civilized or int e ll e ctual standards a r e
e ligible for moral consideration - what we are being han de d in such ar guments
as a serious defeating consideration is a gain a mere outside possibility li ke the sceptic who says that solid-looking desk in front of us is pe rhaps only a
facade, not because he has any particular r e ason for doing so, but bec ause he
hasn't looked around the back , drilled holes in it, etc. etc .

Ne ith e r the

cont emporary nor the historical situation gives any positive reason for supposing
that a lapse into universal moronity or universal-pleas ure-machine escapism is
a serious possibility, as opposed to a logical possibility.

We can contrast with

th e se me re logical possibilities the very real historically supportab l e risks
of escape of nuclear waste or decline of a civilisation through destruction
of its resource base.
The possibilities just considered in these uncertainty argume n t s of
sceptical character are not real possibilities. Another argument which may
consider a real possibility, but still does not succee d in showing th a t it is
a c ce ptab l e to proceed with an action which would appear to be harmful to future


people, is often introduced in the nuclear waste cas e .

This is the argument that

future p eople may discover a rigorously safe and permanent storage me thod for
nuclear was tes 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 affect 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 appears to
be a live possibility, and not merely a logi cal possibility, does not make the
action of the firm earlier discussed, 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

s orts were admissible only j_f what was required for inadmissibility was certainty
of harm or a very high probability of it . In such cases before such actions could

be conside r e d admissible what would be 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 expected to apply to protect th emselves .
The strategy of these and other uncertainty arguments is fairly clear then,
and may be brought out by looking yet again at the train example wh ere the consigner
says that he cannot be expected to take account of th e effec t of his actions on
the passengers b ec ause 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 positi ve r eason to believe
that they are any more than that, that is they are not live possibilities.


strategy is to stress such remote possibilities in order to create the false
impression that there is gross uncertainty about the future, that the real
possibility that the container 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 consigner's taking account of the passengers' welf are and th e
real possibility of harm from his parcel and thereby to excuse his action. A
related strategy is to stress a real possibility, 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 re al possibility
of avoidance of damage is to show that this allegedly r eq uired high degree of
certainty or probability cannot be attained.

That is, the strate gy draws

attention to some real uncertainty implying that this is sufficient to defeat th e
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 th e ir numbers are

ind eterminate and their interests unknown how, it is asked, 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 rais ed
particularly by problems of sharing fixed quantities of resources among present
and future people, for example oil, when the numbers of the latte r 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 by


ignoring such factors.

Nor are distributio nal problems as large and
representat ive of a class of moral prob lems concerning the future as the tendency
to focus on them would suggest. It can be conceded that there will be cases
where the indetermina cy of aspects of the future will make conflicts very
difficult to resolve or indeed irresoluble - a realistic ethical theory will
not deliver a decision procedure - but there will equally be othe r conflict
cases where the level of indetermina cy does not hinder resolution of the issue,
e . g . the train example which is a conflict case of a t ype . In particular,
th e re will be many cases which are not solved by weighing numb ers , n umbers of
interests, or whatever , cases for which one needs to know only the most general
probable characteris tics of future people .
The crucial question which emerges is then :

are there any features of

futu re people which would disqualify them from full moral consideratio n o r
r e duce thei r claims to such below those of present people? The answe r is:


principle None .

Prima facie, moral principles are universalis able , and lawlike,
in that they ap ply independent ly of position in space or in time, for examp le.

But universalis ability of principles is an outcome of those ethical theories
whi ch are capable of dealing satisfactor ily with the pres ent : in other words, a
theory that did not allow properly for the future would be found to have defects
as regards th e present, to deal unjustly or unfairly with some present people,
e .g. those remotely located, those outside some select subgroup, such as (whit e skinned) humans , etc .

The only candidates for characteris tics that would fairly
rule out future people are the logical features we have been looking at, such

as uncertainty and indetermina cy; but, as we have argued, it would be far too
sweeping to see thes e features as affecting the moral claims of future people in a
general way. These special features only affect certain sorts of cases (e.g.
the determinatio n of best probable of practical course of action given only
present information ) . In particular, they do not affect cases of th e so~t
be ing considered, nuclear development , where highly determinate or certain
infonnation about the numbers and characteris tics of the class likely to be
harmed is not required, nor is certainty of damage.
To establish obligations to the future a full universaliz ability
principle is not required: it is enough that the temporal position of a person
cannot affect his entitlement to just and fair treatment, to full moral
consideratio n; 24

inversely, that it is without basis to discriminat e morally
against a person in virtue of his temporal position . As a result of this


universalizabi lity, there are the same general obligations to future peo ple as
to the present; and thus there i s the same obligation to take account of them
and thei r 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 inde t e rminacy do not relieve us 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 conside ration, then futurity alone will not
provide adequate grounds for proceed ing with the action, thus discri mina ting
against future people.

Accordin gly we cannot escape, through appeal to
futurity , the conclusi on already tentativ ely reached, that proposa ls for nuclear
developm ent in the present and likely future state of technolo gy and practice
for future waste disposa l are immoral.
Before we conside r (in section VII) the remainin g escape route from this
conclusi on, through appeal to overridi ng circumst ances , it is importan t to
pick up th e further case (which heavily r einforce s the tentativ e conclusi on)
against nuclear developm ent, since much of it relies on ethical princip les
similar to those that underlie obligati ons to the future, and since it too
is commonly met by similar appeal to extenua ting ci rc umstanc es.

eth ical problems with nuclear power are by no means confined to futur e creature
Just as remoten ess in time does not erode obligati ons or enti tl emen ts t o just
treatmen t, neither does location in spac e , or a particu lar geograp hical position
First of all, the problem of nuclear waste disposa l rais es serious question s
distribu tive justice not only across time, across generat i ons, but also across
space. Is one state or region entitled to dump its radioac tive polluti on in
another state's or region's yard or water s? When that region receives no due
compens ation (whateve r that would amount to, in such a case), and the people
do not agree (though the leaders imposed upon them might)? The answer, and
argumen ts underpin ning the answer, are both like those already given in arguing
to the tentativ e conclusi on concerni ng the injustic e of imposing radioac tive
wastes upon future people. But the cases are not exactly the same: USA and
cannot endeavo ur to discoun t peoples of the Pacific in whose regions they propose
to drop some of their radioac tive pollutio n in quite the same way the y can
discoun t people of two centurie s hence . (But what this conside ration really
reveals is yet another flaw in the idea that entitl ement to just treatmen t can
be discoun ted over time.)
Ethical issues of distribu tive justice, as to equity , concen1 not only
the spatio-t emporal location of nuclear waste, but also arise elsewher e in the
assessm ent of nuclear developm ent; in particu lar, a s regards the treatmen t of
those in the neighbou rhood of reactors , and, dif fe rently, as regards the

distribu tion of (alleged ) benefits and costs from nuclear power across nations. 25
People living or working in the vicinity of a nuclear reactor are subject to
special costs and risks : firstly, radioac tive pollutio n, due to the fact that
reactors discharg e radioac tive materia ls into the air and water near the plant,

25 .
and secondly catast rop hic accidents, such as (steam) explosion of a reactor .
immediate question is whether such costs an d risks can be imposed, with any


eth ical legitimacy, 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 nuclear 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 otl1er largescale polluting industry, where local participation and que stions, fundamental
to a genuine democracy of regional det ermination and popular sovereignty , are
commonly ignored or avoided.
The "normal" emission, during plant operation, of low level radiation
car ri es carcinogenic and mutagenic costs .

While the re are undoubtedly costs,

there remains, however, substantial disagreement over the likely numbe r of cancers
and precise ex tent of genetic damage induced by exp os ure to such rad iation , over
the local health costs involved. Under t he Old Paradigm, whi ch (ill egi timately)
permits free transfer of costs and risks from one person to another, the e thical
issue directly raised is said to be: what extent of cancer and genetic damage,
if any, is permissibly traded for the advantages of nucl ear power, and under
what conditions? Under the Old Paradigm the issue is th en translat e d into
decision-theor etic questions, such as to 'how to employ risk/benefit analysis
as a prelude to government regulation' and ' how to determine what is an
acceptab le level of risk/safe ty for the public. 26
The Old Paradigm attitude, reflected in the public policy of some countries
that have such policies, is that the economic benefits conferred by allowing
radiation emissions outweigh the costs of an increase in cancer and genetic
damage . An example will reveal that such evaluations, which rely for what
appeal th ey 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 con ditioner
working in summer . Such frequently trivial and rather inessential benefits,
which may be obtained alternatively, e.g. by modification of houses, in no way
comp ensate for the agony of cancer . 27 The point is that the costs to one party
a r e not justified, especially when such benefits to other parties can be
alte rnatively obtained without such awful costs , and morally indef ensible , being
imposed .
People, minorities, whose position is particularly compromised are those
who live within 50 miles of a nuclear plant . (Children , for example, are in a

particularl y vulnerable position, since they are severa l 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 large.

A non-negligi ble percentage (in excess of 3% of those

exposed for 30 years) of people in the area will die, all egedly for the sake
of the majority who are benefitted by nuclear powe r production (allegedly,
for th e real reasons for nucl e ar development do not concern this silent
majority) . Whatever
charm the argument from overriding benefits had, e ve n
unde r the Old Paradigm, vanishes once it is seen that t he re are alternative ,
and in several respects less expensive, ways of deliveri ng the r eal benefi ts
There are several other tricks used in showing that the imposition of
r adia tion on minorities, most of whom have little or no genuine voice in the
location of reactors in their environment and cannot move away without serio us
losses, is quite (morally) acceptable. One ch eape r trick, deployed by the US
Atomic Energy Commission, 28 is to suppose that it is permissible to double,
through nuclear technology, the level of (natural) radiation that a pop ulation

received with apparently negligible consequence s, th e argument being that
the additional amount (being equivalent to the "natural" level) is also likely

to have negligible consequence s.

The increased amounts of radiation - with

their large man-made component - are then accounted no rmal, and, of course,
so it is th en claimed, what is normal is morally acceptable. None of the steps
in this argument is sound.

Drinking one bottle of wine a day may have no illeffects, whereas drinking two a day certainly may affe ct a person's well-being;
and while the smaller intake may have become normal for the person, the larger
one will, unde r such conditions, not be. Finally, what is or has become normal,
e . g. two murde rs or twenty cancers a day in a given city, may be far from acceptabl e .
In fact, even the USA, which has strict standards by comparison with most
other countries with planned nuclear reactors, permits ra diation emissions very
sub s tantially in excess of the standards laid down; so the emission situation is
worse than me re consideratio n of the standards would disclose. Furthermore , the
monitoring of the standards "imposed" is entrusted to th e nuclear op erators
themselves, scarcely disintereste d parties . Public policy is determin ed no t so
as to guarantee public he alth, but rather to serve as a ' public pacifier' wh ile
private nuclear operations proceed relatively unhampered . 29

2 7.

While radioacti ve emissions are nn ordinary feature of react o r op e ration,
breakdown is, hopefully , not: an accident of magnitude is accounted , by official
definitio n, an 'extraord inary nuclear occurrenc e'. But such accidents can happen,
and almost have on several occasions (the most notorious being Three Mile Island). 30
If the cooling and emergency core cooling systems fail in American (light water)
r e actors ,
then the core melts and 'containm ent failure' is likely, with the
r e sult that an area of 40,000 square miles could be radioacti vely contamina ted .
I n 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 , prope rt y da mages
would exceed $1 7 billion and an area the size of Pennsylva nia would be destroyed .
Mod e rn nuclear reactors are about five times the size of the reactor for which
t h ese conservat ive
Us governmen t f'igures are given
t he con s equences of a
s imilar accident with a modern reactor would according l y be much great e r still.

Th e consigner in risking the lives, we ll-being and property of the
passenger s on the train has acted inadmissi bly. Does a governme nt-sponsor ed
private utility act in a way that is anything other th an much less responsib le
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
consigner s ' action is , as we would ordinaril y ·suppo se , inadmissi ble and i rrespon-


The proponent s of nuclear power have in effect argued to the cont rary,
while at the same time endeavour ing to shift the dispute out of the ethical arena
and into a technolog ical dispute as to means (in accordanc e with the Old Paradigm) .
It has been contended , firstly, what con trasts with the train example, that
there is no real possibili ty of a catas trophic nuclear accident . Indeed in the
influenti al Rassmusse n report 32 - which was extensive ly used to support public
confidenc e in US nuc lear fission technolog y - an even stronger, an incredibl y
strong , improbab ility claim was stated: n amely , the likelihoo d of a catastrop hic
nucle ar accident is so remote as to be '3.lmost) e. The main argument for
this claim de rives from the assumptio ns and estimates of the report i.tself . These
assumptio ns like the claim are undercut by nuclear incidents that came very close
to accidents , incidents which reflect what happens in a reactor rather better than
mathemat ical 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
technolog ical limitatiom s and human error, of waste leakage and r eactor inciden t s
and quite possibly accidents , not in an ideal world far removed from the actual ,
a technolog ical dream world whe re there is no real possibili ty of a nuclear


In such an ideal nuclea r world, wh e re wa s t e disposal we r e fool-proof

and reactors we re accident-proof, thin gs would no doubt be morally different.
But we do no t live in s u ch a world .
According to the Rasmuss en r e port its calc ulat ion of extremely low accident
probabilities is based upon reasonable mathematical and technological a ssumptions
and is methodo logically sound.

This is ve ry far from being the cas e .

The under-

ly ing mathematical methods, variousl y called "fault tree analysis " and
"reliability estimating techniques", a r e unsound, because they exclude as "not
credible" po s sibilities or as "not significant" branches that are re a l
possibilities, which may well be realised in the real world.

It is the

eliminations that are othe rworldly .

In fact the me thodology and dat a of the report
· · 1 y cr1.t1.c1.ze
h as b een soun dl y an d d
. · ·
d . JJ And 1.t
. h as b een s h own t1at
t he r e
is a real possibili t y, a non-negligible probability, of a serious accident .
It is contended, secondly, that even if there is a non-negli gib l e
prob abi li ty of a reactor accident, still it is acceptable, be ing of no greater
orde r than risks of accidents t hat ar e already socially accepted.

Here we

enco unt e r agai n that insidious e ngin e ering approach to morality built into
mod e ls of an e conomic cast, e.g. benefit - cost balance s heets , risk assessment
mode ls, et c.

Risk assessment, a sophistica ti on of trans ac tion or tr ade -off

mode ls, pur.-ports to p ro vide a compari s on between th e relative ri sks at tach ed to
different options, e . g . e nergy options, which settl es th e ir ethical status .
The fo llowing lines of argume nt are encountered in a risk assessme nt as applied
to energy options:

if option a imposes costs on fewer people than option b then option a is

preferable to option b;
(ii )

option a involves a total net cost in terms of cost to people (e.g. deaths,

injuries , etc .) which is less than th at of option b, which is already accepted;
there for e op tion a is acceptable . 34
For example, the number likely to be killed by nuclear power stations is less than
the likely number killed by cigarette smoking or in road accident s , which a r e
accepted: so nuclear power stations are acceptable .

A little reflection reveals

that this sort of risk assessment argt.mlent involves the same kind of fallacy
as transaction models.

I t is far too simple -minded, and it ignores distrib ut ional

and other r e l e vant aspect s of the context.

In o rde r to ob tain an ethical

assessment we s hould need a much fuller pi cture and we sho uld nee d to know at
least t he s e thin gs :- do the costs and benef it s go to th e same parti es ; and is
the person who undertakes the risks also t he person who receives the benefits or

primar ily, as in driving or cigare tte smokin g, or are the costs impos
e d on other
parties who do not benefi t? It is only if the parties are the same
in the case of
th e options compar ed, and there are no such distrib utiona l problem
s, that a
compar ison on such a basis would be 35 This is rarely the cas
e , and it is
not so in the case of risk assessm ents of energy options . Second
ly, does the
person incur the risk as a result of an activit y which he knowin gly
underta kes
in a situati on where he has a r easona ble choice, knowing it entails
the risk,
etc ., and is the level of risk in propor tion to the le~el of the
rel evant
ac tivity, e.g. as in smoking ? Thirdly , for what reason is the risk
imposed :
is it for a s e rious or a relativ ely trivial reason? A risk that is
e thica lly
accepta ble for a serious reason may not be ethica lly accepta ble for
a trivial
reason. Both the argume nts (i) and (ii) are often employe d in trying
to justify
nuclea r power. The second argume nt (ii) involve s the fallaci es of
th e firs t (i)
and an additio nal set , namely that of forgett ing that the health risks
in the
nuclea r s e nse are cumula tive , and already high if not , some say ,
too high.
The maxim "If you want the benefi ts you have to accept th e costs "
one thing and the maxim "If I want the benefi ts then you have to accept
costs (or some of them at least)" is anothe r and very differe nt thin
g . It is
a widely accepte d moral princip le, already argued for by way of exampl
es and
already invoked , that one is not, in genera l, entitle d to simply
transfe r cos ts
of a signifi cant kind arising fron an activit y which benefi ts onesel
f onto other
parties who are not involve d in the activit y and are not benefi ciaries 37
transfe r princip le is especi ally clear in cases where the signifi cant
include an effect on life or health or a risk thereof , and where
the benefi t to
the benefi tting par ty :is of a noncru cial or dispen sible nature , becaus
e, e . g.
it can be substit uted for or done withou t. Thus, for instanc e , one
is not
usually entitle d to harm , or risk harmin g, anot her in the process
of be nefitti ng
onesel f . Suppose , for anothe r example , we consid er a village which
produc es, as a
result of an indust rial process by which it lives, a noxious waste
materi al which
is expens ive and difficu lt to dispose of and yet creates a risk to
life and health
if undispo sed of. Instead of giving up thei r i.ndus trial process and
turning to
some other way of making a living such as farming the surroun ding
country side,
they persis t with this way of life but ship their problem on a one-way
deliver y
service , on the train, to the next village . The inhabi tants of this
village are
then forced to face the problem either of under taking the expens ive
and difficu lt
dispos al process oor of sustain ing risks to thei r own lives and health
or else
leaving the village and their livelih oods. Most of us would see
this kind of
transfe r of co s ts as morally unacce ptable .

From this arises a necessary condition for ene rgy options: that to be
morally acceptable they should not involve the trans fer 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 us e .

Included in the scope of this

condition are not only future people and future generations (those of the next
vil lages) but neighbours of nuclear reactors , especially, as in third world
co untries, neighbours who are not nuclear powe r users.

The distribution of

costs and damage in such a fashion, i.e. on to non-beneficiaries is a
characteristic of certain wide spread and serious forms of pollution, a nd is one
of its most obje ctionable moral features.
It is a corollary of the condition that we sho ul d not hand the world on t o
our successors in substantially worse shape than we received it - t he tramsmission

For if we did then that would be a signi ficant transfe r of costs .

(The corollary can be independerltly argued for on the basis of certain e t hic al
theories) .

The problems already discuss ed by no means exhaus t the

envi ronme ntal, health and safety risks and costs in or arising from th e nuclea r
fuel cycle.

The full fuel cycle include s man y sta ges both before and after

r eacto r operation , apart from waste disposal, namely mining , milling, conversion,
enrichment and preparation, reprocessing spent fuel, and trans po rtati on of

Seve ral of these stages involve hazards.

Unlike the special risks

in the nuclear cycle - of sabotage of plants, of theft of fissionab le material,
and of the further prolife ration of nuclear armaments - thes e hazard s have
parallels, if not exact equival ents, in other very polluting method s 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".
Furth ermo re, the
various (often serious) hazards encountered in working in some sectors of
uranium fabrication should be differently viewed from those resultin g 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 occupational

relocation), and many types of hazards incurred in workin g with radio a ctive
material are now known in advance of choice of such a n occupation: with where
one al re ady lives things are very different.

The uranium mine r's choice of

occup ation can be compared with the airline pilot's choice, whe r eas t he Pacific
Islander ' s "fact" of location cannot be.

The social issue o f arrangements that

contract occupational choices and opportuni ti es and often a t l east ease peo ple
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 i ssue newly produced by nuclear associated occupa tions .


Other social and environm ental problems - though endemic where large-sca le
industry operates in societies that are highly inegalita rian and include sectors
that are far from affluent - are more imtimatel y linked with the nucle ar power

Though pollu tion is a common and generally undesirab le component of
large-sca le industria l operation , radioacti ve pollution , such as uranium mining
for instance produces, is especiall y a legacy of nuclear developme nt, and a
specially undesirab le one , as enormous rectifica tion estimates for de ad radioactive lands and waterways reveal .

Though sabotage is a threat t o many large

industrie s , so that modern factory complexes are often guarded like concentra tion
camps (but from us on the outside), sabotage of a nuclear reactor can have dire
consequen ces, of a different order of magnitude from most industria l sabotage
(consider again the effects of core meltdown) . Though theft of material from more
dubious enterpris es such as munitions works can pose threa ts to populatio ns at
large and can assist terrorism , no thefts for allegedly peaceful enterp rises
pose problems of the same order as theft of fissionab le material . No other
industry produces materials which so readily permit of fabricatio n into such
massive explosive s.

No other industry is, to sum it up, so vulnerabl e on so

many fronts.
In part to reduce it, vulnerab ility, in part because of its long and
continuin g associati on with military activitie s, the nuclear industry is subject
to, and encourage s, several practices which (certainly given their scale) run
counter to basic features of free and open societies , crucial features such as
personal liberty, freedom of associati on and of expressio n, and free access to
informati on . These practices include secrecy , restricti on of infonnati on,
formation of speci al police and guard forces, espionage , curtailme nt of civil
lib e rties.
Already operators of nuclear installat ions are given extraordi nary
powers, in vetting employees , to investiga t e the backgroun d and
activitie s not only of employees but also of their families and
sometimes even of their friends. The installati ons themselve s
become armed camps, which especiall y offends British sensibili ties.
The U.K. Atomic Energy (Special Constable s) Act of 1976 created a
special armed force to guard nuclear installat ions and made it
answerabl e ..• to the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority . 39
These developme nts in the United Kingdom, and worse in West Germany, presage
along with nuclear developme nt increasin gly authorita rian and anti-demo cratic
societies . That nuclear developme nt a ppears to force such political consequen ces
tells heavily against it.

Nuclear developme nt is further indicted political ly by the dire ct
connectio n of nuclear power with nuclear war. It is fortunate ly true that
e thical questions concernin g nuclear war - for example, whether a nucle ar war
is justified , or just, under any circumsta nces , and if so what circums tances are distingui shable from those concernin g nuclear power. Undoubted ly , however,
t he spread of nuclear powe r is substanti ally increasin g the technical me ans
for engaging in nuclear war and so, to that extent, the opportuni ty for , and
chances of, nuclear engagemen t.

Since nuclear wars are neve r account able
positive goods , but are at best the lesser of major evils, nuclear wars are
always highly ethically undesirab le .

The spread

of nuclear power according ly

expands the opportuni ty for, and chances of, highly undesirab le consequen ces.
Finally the la tt e r, so increasin g thes e chances and opportun ities, is itself
undesirab le, and therefore what leads to it, nuclear developme n t, is also
undesirab le .

The details and considera tions that fill out this argume nt,
from nuclea r war against nuclear developme n t, are many. They are fir stly

technical , that it is a relativel y straightfo rward and inexpensi ve matte r to
make nuclear explosive s given access to a nuclear powe r plant, secondly political ,
that nuclear engagemen ts once institute d

likely to escalate and that those

who control (or different ly are likely to force access to) nuclear power plant s
do not shrink from nuclear confronta tion and are certainly prepared to toy with
nuclear engagemen t (up to "strategi c nuclear strikes" at least) , and thirdly
ethical, that wars invariabl y have immoral consequen ces, such as mas sive
damage to involved parties, however high sounding their justifica tion is.
Nucl ea r wars are certain to be considera bly worse as regards damage inflicted
than any pr e vious wars (they are likely to be much worse than all previous
wars p ut together) , because of th e enormous destructi ve power of nuclear
weapons, and the extent of spread of their radioacti ve effec ts, and because
of the expected rapidity and irreversi bility of any such confronta tions .
The supportin g considera tions are, fourthly, drawn from decision theory, and
a r e designed to show that the chances of such undesirab l e out comes is itself
und e sirable .

The core argument is in brief this (the argument will be
elaborate d in section VIII):- Energy choice between alternativ e options is
a case of de ci sion making under uncertain ty , because in particula r of th e gross
uncertain ties involved in nuclear developme nt. In cases of this type the
ap propriate rational procedure is to compare worst cons equences of each
alternati ve, to reject those alternati ves with th e wor s t of these worst
consequen ces (this is a pretty uncontrov ersial part of th e maximin rule which
enjoins selection of the alternati ve with the best worst consequen ces) . The
nuclear alternati ve has, in particula r because of the r e al possibili ty of a nuclear
war, the worst worst consequen ce~ and is according ly a particula rly undesirab le
alternati ve.


DEVELOPMENT. As with nuclear war, so given the cumulative case against nuclear
development , only one justificatory route r emains open, that of app e al to
important overriding circumstances.

That appeal, to be ethically acceptable,

must go far beyond merely economic considerations.

For, as already observed ,

the consigne r's action cannot be justifi ed by purely economistic argume nts,
such as that his profits would ris e , the firm or the village would be more
prosperous , or by appealing to the fact that some possibly uncomfortable
changes would otherwise be needed. The transfer principle on which this
assessment was based, that one was not usually entitl ed to cre ate a serious
risk to othe rs for these sorts of reasons, applied more generally and, in
parti cular, applied to the nuclear case. For this r eason the economistic
arguments which are those most commonly advanced under th e Old Paradi gm to promote
nuclear development - e .g. cheapness, efficiency, profitability for electri city
utilities, and the need otherwise fo r uncomfortable changes such as restructuring
of employment, investment and consumption - do not even begin to show that the
nuclear alternative is an acceptable one.

Even if these econornistic assumptions

about benefits to present people were correct - it will be contended that most of
them are not - the arguments would fail because economics (like the utilitarianism
from which it characteristica lly derives) has to operate within the framework of
moral constraints, and not vic e versa .
What do have to be considered are however moral confli ct arguments, that is
arguments to the effe ct that, unless the prima facie unacceptable (nuclear)
alt e rnative is taken, some even more unacceptable alternative is the only
possible outcome, and will ensue . For example, in the train parable, the
consigner may a rgue that his action is justified becaus e unless it is take n his
village will starve. It is by no means clear that even such a justification
as this would 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 clearcu t, and one would perhaps
hesitate to condemn any action taken in such circumstances.
Some of the arguments advanced to show moral confl i ct are based on competin f
commitments to present people, and others on competing obligatio ns to future people .
both of which are taken to override the obligations not to impos e on the future
significant risk of serious harm. The structure of such moral conflict arguments
is based crucially on the presentation of a genuine and e xhaustive set of
alternatives (or a t ].east practical alternatives ) and upon showing that the only
alterna tives to admittedly mo rally undesirable actions are even more undesirable

If some practical alternative which is not morally worse than the action to
be justified is overlooked, suppressed, or neglected in th e argument - for
example, if in the village case it turns out that the villagers have another option

to starvi ng or to the sendin g off of the parce l, name l y ea
rning a liv ing in some
other way - then the argum ent is defect ive and cannot r eadily
be patche d . Just
s uch a suppre ssion of practi cable altern atives has occurr ed
in the argum ent
design ed to show that the altern atives to the nuclea r option
are even worse than
the option itself , and that there are other factua l defect
s in thes e argum ents
as well. .In short, the argum ents depend essen tially on the
presen tation of
false dichot omies .
A first argum ent, the povert y argum ent , is that there is
an ove rridin g
ob li gation to the poor , both the poor of the third world
and the poor of
indus trialis ed countr ies . Failur e to develo p nuclea r energy
, it is often claime d,
would amoun t to denyin g them the oppor tunity to reach the
standa rd of afflue nce
we curren tly enjoy and would create unemp loymen t and povert
y in th e indus triali s e d
n a tions.
The unemp loymen t and povert y argume nt does not stand up to
exami nati on
eithe r for t he poor of th e indus trial countr ies or for thos
e of th e thir d world.
The re is good eviden ce that large- scale nuclea r energy will
help to increa se
unemp loymen t and povert y in the indus trial world, throug h
the divers i on of very
much availa ble capita l into an indust ry which is not only
an excep tional ly
poo r provi der of di rect employ ment , but also helps to reduce
availa bl e jobs throug h
encour aging substi tution o f energy use for labour use. 40
The argume n t that nuclea r
ene rgy is needed for the third world is even less convin cing.
Nuclea r energy is
both politi cally and econom ically inapp ropria te for th e third
world, since it
requir es massiv e amoun ts of capita l , requir es numbe rs of
import ed sci en tists
and engine ers, but create s neglig ible local employ ment, and
depend s for its
feasib ility upon, what is largel y lackin g , establ ished electr
icity transm ission
system s and back-u p facili ties and suffic ient electr ical
applia nce s to plug into
the system . Politi cally it increa ses foreig n depend ence,
adds to ce ntrali sed
entren ched power and reduc es the chance for change in the
oppres sive politi cal
struct ures which are a large part of the proble m . 41 The
fa c t that nuclea r energy
is not in the intere sts of the people of t he third world
does not of course
mean that it is not in the intere sts of, and wanted by, their
rulers , the
wester nised and often milita ry elites in whose intere sts
the econom ies of thes e
countr ies are usuall y organi sed, and wanted often for milita
ry purpos es . It
is not patern alistic to examin e critic ally the demand s these
ruling elites may
make in the name of the poor.

35 .
The po verty argume nt is then a fraud. Nuclear ene r gy will not be used t o
help th e poor. Both for the third world and for the industr ialised co untrie
there are well-kno wn energy-c onservin g alternat ives and the practi cal option
developi ng oth e r energy sources, alternat ives some of which offer f a r bette r
prospec ts for helping the poor .
It can no longer be pretende d that there is no alt e rnative to nuclear
de velopme nt: indeed nuclear de velopme nt is itself but a bridging , or stop-gap
procedu re on route to solar or perhap s fusion deve lopment . And there a r e various
alternat ives : coal and other fossil fuels, geotherm al, and a range of solar
op tions (includi ng as well as narrowly solar, wind, water, tidal and plant power),
each po ss ibly in combina tion with cons e rvation measures ~ 2 Despit e the availab
of alterna tives, it may still be pre t e nde d that nuclea r deve lopment is ne cess
fo r affluenc e (what will emerge is that it is advantag eous for the power and
aff luence of ce rtain select groups ) . Such an assumpt ion really und erlies part
o f t he pover ty argumen t, which thus amounts to an elabora tion of th e trickledown argumen t (much f avoured within the Old Paradigm se tting) . For the a rgument
runs : - Nuc l ea r developm ent is necessar y for (continu ing an d in c r eas in g)
affluenc e.

Affluenc e inevitab ly tr i ckl es down to th e poor. Th e r e for e nuclear
developm ent benefits the poor . First, the argumen t does not on i ts own sh ow
a nything specific about nuclear power : for it works equally well if ' ene r gy '
is substitu ted f or ' nuclear ' .

It has also to be shown , what the next major
argumen t will try to claim, that nuclear developm ent is unique among e ne rgy
alternat ives in increasi ng affluenc e . The second assumpt ion , that affluenc e
inevitab ly trickles down, has now been roundly refuted , both by r ecent historic
da ta, which show increasi ng affluenc e ( e .g. in terms of GNP averaged per capita)
co upled with increasi ng poverty in several countrie s, both developi ng and
de veloped , and th r ough economic models which reveal how "affluen ce" can increase
withou t r e dist ribution occur ring .
Another maj o r argumen t a dvanced to show moral conflic t app eals to a set
of suppos e dly ove rr iding and competin g obligati ons to future people . We have,
it is said , a du ty to pass on the immense ly valuable things and institut ions
which our culture has develope d .

Unless our high-tec hnology , high ene r gy
industr ial society is continue d and fo s tered, our valuab l e institut ion s and
tra ditions will fall into de cay or be swept away. The ar gument is essentia lly

th a t without nuclear powe r, withou t th e conti n ued level of materia l wealth
it alone is assumed to make possible , the li gh ts of our civiliza ti on wil l go
Fut ure people will be th e los e rs.


The lights-goin g-out argument doe s rais e quest ions as to what is valuable
in o ur society, and of what characteris tics are necess ary for a good society .
But for the most part th ese large questions, which deserve much full e r
ex amination , can be avoided .

The reason is that the argument adopts an extremely

un critical position with re spe ct to present high-techno logy societi es , apparently
assuming that they are uniformly and uniquely valuable . It assumes that technologi c
society is unmodifiabl e , that it cannot be changed in the direction of energy
conse rvation or alternative (perhaps high technology) energy sources without
collapse. It has to be accepted and assessed as a whole, and virtually unlimited
supplies of ene rgy - such as nuclear and only nuclear power is a ll eged t o furnish ar e essential to maintain this whole.
These assumptions are hard to accept.

The assumption that technologic al

so c ie ty's energy patterns are unmodifiabl e is especially so - after all it has
survived events such as world wars which have r equired major social and technologic a
r es tructuring and consumption modificatio n. If western society ' s demands for energy
a re totally unmodifiabl e without collapse, not only would it be committed to a
program of increasing destruction , but one might ask what use its culture co uld
be to future people who would very likely , as a consequence of this destruction ,
lack the resource base which th e argument assumes to be essential in the case of
contemporar y society.
There is also difficulty with th e assumption of uniform valuablene ss;
but if this is rejected the question be comes not: what is necessary to maintain
exis ting high-techno logical society and its political institution s, but rather:
what is necessary to maintain what is valuable in that society and th e political
institution s which are needed to maintain those valuable things . While it may be
easy to argue that high energy consumption centrally controlled is necessary to
maintain the political and economic status quo, it is not so easy to a rgu e that it
is e ssential to maintain what is valuable, and it is what is valuable, presumably
that we have a du ty to pass .on to the fut ure.
The evidence, for instan ce from history, is that no very high level of
material affluence or energy consumption is needed to maintain what is valuable.
The re is good reason in fact to believe that a society with much lower energy and
resource consumption would better foster what is valuable than our own. But e ve n
if a radical change in these di rec tions is independent ly desirable, as we should
arg ue, it is not necessary to presuppose such a change, in the short term at least,
in order to see that the assumptions of the lights-goin g-out a rgument a re wrong.
No enormous reduction of well-b e ing is required to consume less energy than at


present , and certainly far less than the large increase over present levels of
consumption which is assumed in the usu al economic case for nucl ear energy . 44
What the nuclear strategy is really designed to do then is not to preven t the
lights going out in west e rn civilisation , but to enable th e lights to go on
burning all the time - to maintain and even increase the wattage output of
th e Energy Extravaganza.
In fact there is good reason to think that, far from the high e nergy
consumption society fostering what is valuable, it will, es pecially if e nergy
is obtained by nuclear fission means , be positively inimical to it.

A society

which has become heavily dependent upon an ext remely high centralised, controlled
and garrisoned, capital-

and expertise-intensive energy source, must be one

which is highly susce ptible to entrenchment of power, and one in which the forces
which control this energy source , whether capitalist or bureaucratic, can exert
enormous power over the political system and over people's lives, even more
than they do at present.

Such a society would, almost inevitably t e nd to become

autho ritarian and increasingly anti-democratic, as an outcome, among other
things, of its response to the threat pos ed by dissident groups in the nuclea r




Nuclear development may thus help in passing on to future generations
some of th e worst aspects of our society - the consumerism, alienation,
destruction of nature, and latent authoritarianism - while many valua ble
asp e cts, such as the degree of political freedom and those opportunities for
p ersonal and collective autonomy which exist , would be lost or diminish e d:
political freedom , for example, is a high price to pay for consume ri sm and
energy extravagance.

But it is not the status quo, but what is valuable in

our society, presumably, 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 alternatives,
alternative social, economic and political choices, which do not involve such
unacceptable consequences, are available. The alternative to the high technologynuclear option is not a return to the cave, the loss of all that is valuable,
but either the adoption of an available alternative such as coal for power or,
rath e r, the development of alternative technologies and lifestyles which offer
far greater scope for the maintenance and further development of what is
valuable in our society than the highly centralised nuclear option.

The lights-

going-out argumen t, as a moral conflict argument, accordingly fails, because it
also is based on a false dichotomy.

38 .
Thus the further escape route, the appeal to moral conflict, is, like the
appeal to fut urity, closed.

If then we apply - as we have argued we should -

the same standards of morality to the future as we ought to acknowledge for the
present, the conclusion that large-scal e nuclear developmen t i s a crime agains t
the future is inevitable .

Closed also, in the same way, are the escape routes

to other ar_guments - from reactor melt-down, radiation emissions, and so on for rejecting nuclear development as morally unacceptable, for saying that it is
not only a moral crime against the distant future but also a crime against the
present and immediate future .

In sum, nuclear development is morally

unacceptable on several grounds.

A corollary is that only political arrangements

that are morally unacceptable will support the impending nuclear future.
The arg ument thus far, to anti-nuclear conclusions, has r elied upon, and
defended premisses that would be rejected under the Old Paradigm; for examp l e,
such theses as that the interests and utilities of future people are not
discounte d (in contrast to the temporally-limited utilitarianism of marketcentred economic theory ), and that serious costs and risks to health and life
cannot admissibly be simply transferred to uninvolved parties (in contrast
to the transfer and limited compensation assumptions of mainstream economic

To close the cas e, arguments will now be outlined which are designed

to show that even within the confines of the Old Paradigm, choosing the nuclear
future is not a rational choice .
Large-scale nucl ear developme nt is not just something that happens, it
requires, on a continuing basis, an immense input of capital and energy .


investment calls for substantial reasons; for the investment should be, on
Old Paradigm assumptions, the best among feasible alt ernatives to given economic

Admi t tedly so much capital has already been invested in nucle ar fission

research and development, in marka:l. contrast to other newer rival sources of
power, that there is strong political incentive to proceed - as distinct from
requisite reasons for further capital and energy inputs.

The reasons can be

divided roughly into two groups, front reasons, which are the reasons given
(ou t) , and which are, in accordance with Old Paradigm percepts, pub l icly
eco nomic (in that they are app roved for public consumption), and th e r ea l
r ea s ons , which involve private economic factors and matters of power and social

The main argument put up, an economic growth argument, upon which
variations are played, is the following version of the lights-going -out argument
(with economic growth duly standing in for material wealth, and even for what is
valuable!): - Nuclear power is necessary to sustain economic growth. Economic
growth is desirable (for all the usual reasons, e . g. to increas e the size of
the pie, to avoid or postpone redistributi on problems, and connected social
unr e st, e tc.). Therefore nuclear power is desirable. The first premiss is
part of US energy policy, 46 and the second premiss is supplied by standard
economics textbooks . But both premisses are defective, the second because
what is valuable in economic growth can be achieved by selective economic growth,
which jettisons the heavy social and environmen tal costs carried by unqualified
economi c growth .
More to the point, since the second premiss is an assumption
of the dominant paradigm, the first premiss (or rath e r an appropriate and less
vulne rabl e restatement of it) fails even on Old Paradigm standards. For of course
nuclear power is not necessary given that there are other, perhaps costlier
alt e rnatives .

The premiss usually defended is some elaboration of th e premiss
Nuc lear power is the economicall y best way to sustain economic growth, 'economicall y
best' being filled out as ' most efficient', 'cheapest ' , 'having most favourable
benefit-cos t ratio', etc.

Unfortunate ly for the argument, and for nuclear
development schemes, nuclear power is none of these things decisively, unless

a goo d deal of economic cheating (easy to do) is done. Much data, beginning with
th e cancellatio n of nuclear plant orders, can't be assembled to show as much. Yet
the argument requires a true premiss, not an uncertain or merely possible one, if
it is to succeed and detachment is to b e permitted at all, and evidently true
if the argument is to be decisive.
The data to be summarised splits into two parts, public ( governmenta l)
analyses, and private (utility) assessments . Virtually all available data
concen1s the USA; in EuroZS, West and East, true cos ts of uniformly "publicly=
controlled" nuclear power
are generally not divulged.
Firstly, the capital costs of nuclear plants, which have been rising much
more rapidly than inflation, now exceed those of coal-fired plants .
has estimated that capital costs of a nuclear generator (of optimal capacity)
will exceed comparable costs of a coal-fired unit by about 26 % in 1985. 49 And
capital costs are only one part of the equation that now tell rather decisively
against private utility purchase of new nuclear plants . Another main factor
is the poor performance and low reliability of nuclear generators . Coney showed
that nuclear plants can only generate about half the elect ricit y th ey were
designed to produ ce , and that when Atomic Energy Commis sion estimates of relative
costs of nuclear and coal power, which assumed that both opera t ed at 80% of design
capacity , were adjusted accordingly , nuclear generated power proved to be far more


d 50

The discrepancy between actual and estimated


is especially important because a plant with an ac tual capacity factor of 55 %
produced electricity at a cost about 25% high e r than if the plant had performed
at the manufacturers' projected capacity rate of 70-75%.

The low reliability

of nuclear plants (p e r kilowatt output) as compared with the superior
r e liability of smaller coal-fired plants adds to the case, on conventional economic
grounds of ef ficienc y and product production costs , against nuclear powe r .
Thes e unfavourable assessments are from a privat e (utility) perspective,
before the very extensive public subsidization of nuclear power is duly taken
into account .

The main subsidies are through research and development , by way

of insurance (under the important but doubtfully constitutional Price-Anderson
Act ), in en richme n 4 and in waste management . It has been estimated that
charging such costs to the electricity consumer would increase electricity bills
for nucl ea r power by at least 25% ( and probably much more) .
Wh en official US cost/benefit analyses favouring nuclear power over
coal are examined, it is f ound that they inadmissibly omit seve ral of the public
costs i nvolve d in producing nuclear power .

For example, the analyses igno re

waste costs on the quite inadmissible ground that it is not known curren tly
wha t t he costs involved are .

But even using actual waste handling cos t s (while

wastes await s torage) is enough to show that coal power is preferable to nuc l ear . 52
When further public costs, such as insurance against accident and for radiation
damage , are dul y taken into account, the balance is swung stil l further i n
favo ur of al te rnatives to nuclear and

aga i nst nuclear power .

In short , eve n on

proper Old Par a digm accounting, the nu c l ear alte rn at iv e s hould be rejected.
Nuclear development is not economical, it certainly se ems ; it has b een
kept going n~ through its clear economic v iability, but by massive pub li c
s ubsidization , of s e vera l types .

In USA, to take a main examp le where

information is available , nuclear developme nt is publicly supported through
heavily subsidized or somet i mes free research and development , thro ugh the
Price-Anderson Act, which sharply limits both private and public liability,
i . e . wh ich in ef fe ct p rovided t he insurance subsidy making corporat e nuclear
development e conomicall y f e asibl e, and through government ag r eement to handle all
r adioactive wastes .
While the Old Paradigm str ictly construed c annot sup port un economical
developments, cont empo rary liberalisation of the Paradigm do e s allow fo r
un economi c projects, seen as operated in the public interest, in such fields as
soc ial welfare.

Duly admitting s ocial welfare and some


pr i nciples


i n th e dist ribut ion of wealt h (not necessa rily of pol l ution) l e ads the modern
version of the Old Paradigm , called the Mo dified Old Paradigm .

The main

changes from the Old Paradigm are (as with state socialism) as emphasis of
economic facto rs, e . g . individual self-he lp is down- played , wealth is to a
small extent redistributed, e.g . through t:axation , market forces are re gulated
or disp la ced (not in principle eliminat e d, as with stat e s ocialism).

Now it

has been cont ended - outrageous though it should now se e m - that nuclear powe r
is i n the public interest as a means to various sought public ends, for example ,
apart from those already mentioned suc h as energy fo r growth and che ap
e l ect ricity, and such as plantiful powe r f or heating and cooking a nd app lian ce
use , avoidan ce of shortages , rat ioning ,

brown-outs and the like .


alternative power sources, such as coal, could s e rve some ends given power was
supplied with suitable extravagance, the

argumen t has aga in to show that t he

cho ice of nucle ar power over other a lterna tives is best in the requ isite
respects, in s erving the public interes t.

Such a n ar gumen t is a matter for

decision theory, unde r which head cost -bene f i t analyse s which rank alternatives
a l so fall as special cases .
Decision theory purports to cover th eo r e tically the field of choice
b e tween alte rnatives; it is present ed as the theory which ' dea l s with t he
pro bl em o f c h oosing
one cours e o f acti. on among s e vera 1 poss1'bl. e cou r ses 1 . 53
Th us the choice of alt e rnati~ modes of energy pro duc ti on, t he ene r gy choice
problem, be comes an exercise

in decision theory; and the nucl ea r choice is

often ''.justi f ied" in Old Paradigm terms t h rough app e al to decision t heo ry.
But though decision theory is in principle comp rehens ive , as soon as it is put
to work in such practi cal cases as energy choice,

it is very considerably

contracted in scope, several major assumptions are surreptitiously imported,
and what one is confronte d with is a


theory drastically

pruned down to confo r m with the narrow utilitarianism of mainstream e conomic
theory .
The extent of reduction can be glimpsed by comp a ring , to take one
imp ortant example , a general optimisation model for decision (wh ere
uncertainty is not gross) with comparab le decision the ory methods, such as th e
expe cted uti lity model.

The general model for best choice among alte rnatives

specifies maximisation of expected value subject to constrain ts, which may

et hical constraints ex clud ing cert a in alt e rnati ves under gi ven

cond itions .

Expected utility

models dEmote value to utility, assuming thereby

measurability and transference prop e rt ies t hat may not obtain, and elimina te
constraints altoget her (absorbing what is fo rbidden, fo r examp le , as having a
hi gh dis u tili ty, but one that can be compensate d for none th eless ).

Thus , in

particula r,

e thical constrain ts against nuclear developme nt are replaced, in
Old Paradigm fashion, by allowance in principle for compensat ion for damage
sustained . Still it is with decision making in Old Paradigm terms that we
are now embroiled , so no longer at issue are the defective (nee-clas sical)
economic assumptio ns made in the theory, for example as to the assessmen t of
everythin g t o be taken into account through utility (which comes down to
monetary terms : everythin g worth accountin g has a price), and as to the legitimac y
of transferr ing with limited compensat ion risks and costs to involved parties.
The energy choice problem is, so it has commonly been argued in the
assumed Old Paradigm framework , a case of decision under uncertain ty . It is not a
case of decision under risk (and so expected utility models are not applicabl e),
be cause some possible outcomes are so unce rtain that, in contrast to the case of
risk, no (suitably objective ) quantifia ble probabil ities can be assigned to them.
It ems that are so uncertain are taken to include nuclear war and core me ltdown
of a reactor, possible outcomes of nuclear de velopment : 54
widesprea d radioactive pollution is, by contrast, not uncertain .
The correct rule for decision under uncertain ty is, in the case of energy
ch oice , maximin, to maximize the minimum payoff, so it is sometimes contended .
In fact, on ce again, it is unnecessa ry for present purposes to decide which
energy option is selected, but only whether the nuclear option is rejected .
Since competing selection rules tend to deliver the same rejection s for
options early rejected as the nuclear options, a convergen ce in the rejection of
the nuclear option can be effected . All rational roads lead, not to Rome,
but to rejection of the nuclear option .

A further convergen ce can be effected

also , because the best possible (economic ) outcomes of such leading options as
coal and a hydroelec tric mix are very roughly of the same order as the nuclear
option (so Elster contends, and his argument can be elabo rated). Unde r these
condition s complex decision rules

(such as the Arrow-Hor wicz rule) which take
account of both best possible and most possible outcomes under each option
reduce to the maximin

rule .

Whichever energy option is selected under the
maximum rule, the nuclear option is certainly rejected since there are options
where worst outcomes are

substanti ally better

than that of the nuclear
option (just consider the scenario if the nuclear nightmare , not th e nuclear
dream, is realised) . Further applicati on of the rejection rule will reject
the fossil fuel (predomin antly coal) option, on the basis of estimated effe cts

on the earth 's climate from burning massive quantitie s of such fuels .


Although the rejection rule coupled with maximin
position several rivals to maximin


enjoys a privileged

for decision under uncertainty have been

of which has associated rejection rules.

Some of these
rules , such as the risk- added reasonin g criticised by Goodin (pp.507-8),
which 'assesses
the riskiness of a policy in terms of the increment of
risk it adds to those pre-existin g in the status quo, rather than in te rms of
th e absolute value of the risk associated with the policy' are decidedly

and rather than offering a


decision procedure appears t o

afford protection of the (nuclear) status quo.

~~at will be argued, or rather

what Goodin has in effect argued for us, is that wherever one of these rival
rules is applicable, and not dubious, it leads to rejection of the nuclear
option .

For example , the keep -options-op en or allow-for-r eversibility

(not an entirely unquestiona ble rule


'of strictly limited applicabili ty')

e xcludes the nuclear option because 'nuclear plants and their by-products have
an air of irreversibi lity ... " One cannot simply abandon
a nuclear reactor
the way one can abandon
a coal-fired plant"' (p.506). The compare-the alt e rnatives rule, in ordinary application , leads back to th e cost -b e nefit
assessments , which, as already observed, tell decisively against a nuclear
option when costing is done properly.

The maximise-s ustainable-b enefits rule,

which ' directs us to opt for th e policy producing the highest level of net
b enefits which can be sustained indefinitel y', 'decisively favours r e newable
sources ', ruling out the nuclear option.

Other lesser rules Goodin discusses,

which have not really been applied in the nuclear debate, and which lead yet
further from the Old Paradigm framework,
harm-avoida nce and protecting- thevulnerable als o yields th e same nuclear-exc luding results. Harm-avoida nce,
in particular, points


decisively in favour of "alt ernative" and "renewable "
energy sources ... combined with strenuous efforts at energy cons ervation'
(p.442) .

The upshot is evident: whatever reasonable decision rule is adopted
the result is the same, a nuclear choice is rejected, even by Old Paradigm
standards . Nor would reversion to an expected utility analysis alter this
conclusion; for such analyses are but glorified cost-benefi t analyses,wi th
probabiliti es duly multiplied in, and the
is as before from
cost-b enefit co nsideration s, against a nuclear choice.
The Old Paradigm does not, it thus appears, sustain the nuclear
juggernaut : nor does its Modificatio n. The real reasons for the continuing
development program and the heavy commitment to the program have to be sought
elsewhere, outside the Old Paradigm, at least as preached. It is, in any case,
sufficientl y evident that contemporar y e conomic behaviour does not accord with
Old Paradigm percepts, practice does not accord with nee-classic al economic


th eory nor, to consider the main modification , with social democratic
th eory .

There are , firstly, reasons of previous commitment, when nuclear

power, cleverly promoted at least, looked a rather cheaper and safer deal,
and certainly profitable one :

corporations so committed are understandably

ke en to realise returns on capital already invested .

There are also typical

self-interest reasons fo r commitment to the program, that advantages accrue to
some, like those whose field happens to be nuclear engineering, that profits
accrue to some, like giant corporations, that are influential in politica l
affairs, and as a spin-off profits accrue to others , and so on .

The r e are

just as important, ideological reasons, such as a belief in the control of
both political and physical power by t e chnocratic-entrepre nial elite, a belief
in socl al control from above , control which nuclear powe r o f f ers f a r mo r e tlwn
alternatives, some of which (vaguely) threaten to alter th e power bas e , a f a ith
in th e unlimitedness of t e chnological enterprise, and nuclear in particular ,
so that any real probl ems that arise will be solved as development proceeds.
Such b e li e f s are especially conspicuous in the British scene, among the
gove rning and technocratic classes.

Within contemporary corporate capitalism,

thes e sorts of reasons for nuclear development are intimately linked, because
thos e whos e types of enterprise benefit substantially from nuclear developme nt
are commonly those who hold the requisite beliefs .
It is then, contemporary corporate capitalsim, along with its state
e n t erprise image, that fuels the nuclear juggernaut.

To be sure , corporate

capitalism , which is the political economy largely thrust upon us in we stern
nations, is not necessary for a nuclear future; a totalitarian state of the
t ype such capitalism often supports in the third world will suffice .


unlike a hypothetical state that does conform to precepts of the Old Paradigm,
it is sufficient for a nuclear future - evidently, since we are well embarked
on such a future.
The historical route by which the world reached its present advanced
threshold to a nuclear future confirms this diagnosis.
split into two main cases, the notional

This diagnosis can be

development of nuclear power in the

and the international spread of nuclear technology for which the US has been

largely responsible .

By comparison with the West, nuc lear power production i n

th e


Eastern bloc is

and is largely confined to the Soviet Union

which had in 19 77 only about
nuclear plants .

one -sixth the wattage output of


Nuclear development in USSR has been, of course, a state

controlled and subsidized venture, in which there has been virtually

no public

participation or discussion; but Russian technology has not been exported elsewhere to any great extent .

American technology has .


The 60s were, because of the growth in electrici ty demand, a period of
great expansion of the elec trical utilities in the US . These companies we re
e ncouraged to build nuclear plants, rather than coal or oil burning plants,
for several state controlle d or influence d reasons:- Firs tly, owing to
governme ntal regulatio n procedure s the utilities could (it then seemed) earn
a higher rate of profit on a nuclear plant than a fossil fuel one. Secondly ,
the US governmen t arranged to meet crucial costs and risks of nuclear operation ,
and in this way, and more directly through its federal agencies , actively
encourage d a nuclear choice and nuclea r deve lopment. In particula r, state
limitatio n of liability and shoulderi n g of part o f insurance for nu clear
accidents and state arrangeme nts to handle nuclear wastes were what made
profit able private utility operation appear feasibl e and r esulting in nuclea r
investmen t.

In the 70s, though the state subsidiza tion continued , the private
pict ur e changed : 'high costs of construct ion combine d with low capacity
factors and poor r eli ability have wiped out the last advantage that nuclear power '
had enjoyed in the US.
Much as the domestic nuclear market in th e US is con trolled by a few
co rpor ations , so the world mark et is dominated by a few countries , predomina ntly
and first of all the US, which through its two leadi ng nuclear companies ,
We stinghous e and Gen e ral Electric, has been the major exporter of nuclear
technolog y. 55 These companies were enabled to gain entry into European and
subsequen tly world markets by US foreign policies, ba sically th e " Ato ms for
Peace" program supplemen ted by bilateral agreement s providing for US technolog y ,
r e search, enri ched uranium and financial capital. ' The US offered a [ s tat e
s ub si dize d ] nuclear package that Europe could not refus e and with whi ch the
British could not compete'.

In the 70s the picture of US dominatio n of Common
Market nuclear technolog y had given way to subtler influence : American companies
held (actually dealing with relevant governmen ts) substanti al interests in Europ ean
and Japanese nuclear companies and held licences on the technolog y which remained
largely American.

Meanwhile in the 60s and 70s the US entered into bilateral
ag re ements for civilian use of atomic energy with many other countries , for
example, Argentina , Brasil, Columbia, India, Indonesia , Iran, Ire l and, Israel ,
Pakistan, Philippin es, South Korea, Portugal, South Africa, Spa in,
Taiwan, Turk ey , Venezuela , South Vi etnam.

The US proceeded ,

in this way, to ship

nuclear technolog y and nuclear materials in gre at quantitie s round th e world.
It also proceeded to spread nuclear t echnology t hrough th e Internati onal Atomic
Ene rgy Agency , originall y de si gne d to control and saf eg uard nuclear ope rati ons,
but most of whos e ~udget and activitie s • .. have gone to promote nu c l ear
activitie s' .

A main reason for th e promotion and sales pressure on Third World
countries has been the failure of US domestic market and industrial world
markets for reactors. Less developed countries
offer a new frontier where reactors can be built with
easy public financing, where health and safe t y regulations
are loose and enforcement rar e , where public opposition
is not pennitted and where weak and corrupt regimes offer
easy sales.
..• the US has considerabl e leverage
with many of these countries. We know from painful
expe rience that many of the worst dictatorshi ps in the planet
would not be able to stand without overt and covert US support .
Many of those same regimes
are now
nuclear path, for all the worst reasons. 56
It is e v ident from this sketch of the ways and means of r eactor
proliferatio n that not only have practices departed far from the framework
of the Old Paradigm and the social Modificatio n, but that the practices (of
corp orate capitalism and associated third world imperialism ) involve much
that is eth ically unacceptabl e, whether
by olde r, modif ied, or alternative
for principles such as those
and self-d e termination are grossly vio late d.
option that is most often contrasted with nuclear power, namely coal power,
while no doubt preferable to nuclear power, is hardly acceptable . For it
carries with it the likelihood of serious (air) pollution and associ ated
phe nomena such as acid rain and atmospheric heating, not to ment ion the
despoliatio n caused by extensive strip mining , all of which result from its us e
in meeting very high projected consumption figures. Such an option would also
fail, it seems, to meet the necessary transfer condition, because it would
impose widespread costs on nonbenefic iaries for some concentrate d benefits to
some profit takers and to some users who do not pay the full costs of production
and replacement .
To these conventiona l main options a third is often added which emphasizes
softer and more benign technologie s, such as those of solar energy and, in
Northern Europe, hydroele ctricity . The deeper choice, which even softer paths
tend to neglect, is not technologic al but social , and involves both
conservatio n measures and the restruct urin g of production away from energy
intensive uses: at a more basic level there is a choice between consumerist ic
and nonconsume ristic futures.

These more fundamental choices between social
alternative s , conventiona l t echnologica lly-oriented discussion of energy options
tends to be obscure.

It is not just a matter of de ciding in which way to meet

4 7.

give n and unexamine d goals (as the Old Paradigm would imply), but als o a matter
of examining the goals. That is, we are not merely faced with the question of
comparing different technolog ies or substitut e ways of meeting some fi xed or give n
demand or level of consumpti on, and of trying to see whether we can meet this
with s oft rather than hard technolog ies; we are also fac e d, and pr i ma rily, with th e
matter of examining those alleged needs and the cost of a society t hat creates
them . It is not just a question of devising less damaging ways to mee t these
alleged needs conceived of as inevitabl e and unchangea ble . (Hence there are
solar ways of producing unnecessa ry trivia no one really wants, as opposed to
nuclear ways.) Na turally this is not to deny that th e se softer options are
sup e rior because of the ethically unaccepta ble features of the harder options.
But it is doubtful that any technolog y, howe ver benign in principle , will
be likely to leave a tolerable world for the future if it is expect e d to meet
unbounded and uncontrol led energy consumpti on and demands. Even the more benign
technolog ies such as solar technolog y could be used in a way which creates costs
for future people and are likely to result in a deteriora ted world being hand e d
on to them . Consider, for example, the effect on the world's forest s , which are
commonly counted as a solar resource, of use for productio n of methanol or o f
e lectricit y by woodchipp ing (as already planned by forest authoriti es and
contempla ted by many other energy organisat ions) . While few would object to t he
use of genui ne waste material for energy productio n, the unrestric ted exploi t ation
of forests - whether it goes under the name of " solar energy" or not. - to meet
e ver increasin g energy demands could well be the final indignity for the world's
already hard-pres sed natural forests.
The effects of such additiona l demands on the maintenan ce of the
forests are often dismissed , even by soft technolo gicalists, by the simpl e
expedient of waving around the label 'renewabl e resources '. Many forests are
in principle renewable , it is a true, given a certain (low) rate and kind of
exploitat ion , but in fact there are now very few forestry operation s anywhere
in the world where the forests are treated as completel y renewable in the sense
of the renewal of all their values. 59 In many regions too the rate of
e xploitatio n which would enable renewal has already been exceeded, so that a total
decline is widely thought to be imminent if not already well advanced . It certainly
has begun in many regions, and for many forest types (such as rainfores t types)
which are now, and very rapidly, being lost for the future. The addition of a
major further and not readily limitable demand pressure, that for energy,
on top of present pressures is one which anyone with a realistic appreciat ion
of the conduct of contempor ary forestry operation s, who i s also concerned with
long-t erm conservat ion of the forests and remaining natural communiti e s, must
regard with alarm. The result of massive deforesta tion for energy purposes,


r esemb li n g the deforesta tion of England at the beginning of th e Industrial
Revolution, again for ene rgy purposes, would be extensive and devastating
erosion in s t eeper lands and trop i cal are as , dese rtification in more a rid
r egions, possib le climatic change, and massive impoverishm en t of na tural
ecosystems .

Some of us do not wa nt to pass on - we are not entitled to pass
on - a de fores ted world to the future, any more than we want t o pass on on e
poisone d by nuclear products or polluted by coal p roduct s . In sh or t, a mere
swi t ch t o a more benign t e chnology - important though this i s - wi th out any
more bas ic structural and social change is inadequate .
Nor is such a simple technolo gi cal swi. tch likely to be achieved. It is
not as if political pressure could oblige the US government to stop its nuc lear
program (and that of the countrie s it influences, much of the world), in the
way pressure appeared

to succeed in halting the Vietnam war.

While without
doubt it would be good if this could be accomplishe d, it is ve ry un likely
give n th e inte gration of political powe rholders with those sponsoring nuclear
de velopment . 60

The deeper social options involve challenging and trying to change a social
structure which promotes consumerism , consumption far beyo nd genuine needs, a nd
a n e conomic s tructure which en coura ge s increasing use of highly energy-inte nsive
mode s of prod uc tion. This means, for instance, trying to change a social
stru c ture in which those who are lucky enough to make it into the work f o rce
are cogs i n a production machine over which they have ve ry little r eal cont r ol
an d in which most people do unpleasant or boring work fro m which they derive
very 1i t tle real satisfactio n in orde r to obta i n the r eward of consume r goo ds
and services . A society in which social rewards are obtained primarily from
prod ucts rather than proc es s e s, fro m consumption , rath e r than from satisfac tion
in work an d in social r e lations and oth er activities , is virtually bound to be
one which generates a vast amount of unn e cessary consumption . (A production
system that produces goods not to meet genuine needs but fo r created and nongenuine needs is virtually bound to overproduce . ) Consumption frequently
be comes a substitute for satisfaction in other areas.
The adjustments focussed upon are only parts of the large r set of
adjustments involved in s ocially implementin g the New Paradigm , the move away
f rom consumerism is for examp le part of th e more ge ner al shift from ma t eri al ism
and ma terialist values .
The social change option tends to be obscured in mos t dis cussions o f
energy options and of how to meet energy needs, in part because it do e s
que stion unde rlying values of current social arrangemen ts . The conventiona l
discussion proceeds by taking alleged demand (often conflated with wants or
n ee ds
) as unchall e ngeable, and th e iss ue to be on e of which t ech nology can

be most profi tably employed to meet th em.

This e ffectiv e ly pre s en ts a f a l se

choice, and is the result of taking needs and demand a s lacking a s ocial
contex t so that the social structure which produces the needs is similarly
take n as unchallengeable and unchangeable .
The point is readily illustrated.

It is commonly argue d by representat i ves

of such industries as trans!X)rtation and petroleum, as for exampl e by McGrowth
of the XS Consumption Co., that people want deep freezers, air conditioners,
powe r boats, ... It would be authoritarian to prevent th em from satisfying
th e se wants.

Such an argument conveniently ignores the social framework in

which such nee ds and wants arise or are produced.

To point to th e de t e rmination

of many such wants at the framework level is not however to accept a Marxist
approach a ccording to which they are entirely de t ermined at the framewo rk level
( e .g. by indu s trial organisation) and th e r e is no such thing as indivi dual
ch oic e or de termination at all.

It is to s ee the soci a l framework as a major

f a c t o r i n de t e rmining certain kinds of choices, such as those for travel ,
a n d t o see ap pare ntly individual choices made in such matte rs as being channelle d
a nd dire cte d by a social framework de t e rmined l argely i n th e inte r es t s o f
corporat e an d private pro f it and advantage .
The so cial change option is a hard option - at l e ast it wil l b e difficult
to obtain pol itically - but it is the only way , so it has been argued , of a voidin g
passing on serious costs to the future.

And there are other sorts of r easons t han

suc h ethical ones for taking it: it is the main, indeed the only sort of option
open to those who take a deeper ecological perspective 62 , a perspective integ ral
with the New Paradigm but not essential to radical departure from the dominant

The ethical transmission requirement defended accordingl y requires,

hardly surprisingly, social and pol i tical adjustment.
The social and political changes that the deeper alternative require s will
be strongly resisted because they
and power structure.

mean changes in current social organisation

To the extent that the option repre sents some kind of

threat to parts of present political and economic arrangements it is not surp r ising
that official energy option discussion proceeds by misre pres enting and often
ob scuring i t .

But difficult though a change will be , es pec ially one with s uch

f a r - r eaching e ffects on th e prevailing power struc tur e , is to obt ai n, it is
imp e rative t o try: we are al l on the n uclear train.


All but the last line of the quote is drawn from Goodin, 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-settin g 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 fallacies
and decision theory is at least a s important as knowledge of nuclear technology.

to the first, see references cited in Goodin , p . 417, footnote 1.
As regards the second see Cot grove and Duff, and some of the references

given therein.

Cot grove and Duff, p. 339.


The table is adapted from Cotgrove and Duff, p. 341;
Catton and Dunlap, especially p. 34 .

compare also

See, e.g ., Gyorgy , pp . 357- 8.


For one illustration , see the conclusions of Mr Justice Parker at
the Windscale inquiry (The Windscale Inquiry Vol. 1., Her Majesty 's
Stationery 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 manoeuvres
favour the (pro-)nucle ar establishme nt, since they (those of th e
alliance of military, large industry, and government) control much of the

information and (subject to minor qualificatio ns) can release what, and only
what , suits them.

This is a conclusion of several governmenta l inquiries and is
conceded by some leading proponents of nuclear deve lopment; for requisite

details up to 1977 see Routley (a).

The same conclus ion has been reached in

some, but not all, more recent official reports, see , e . g.,



For some details see Gyorgy, p. 60 ff.

11 .

Se e the papers, and simulations, discussed in Goodin, p. 428.


Naturally the effect on humans is not the only factor that has to be

taken into account in arriving at moral assessments.

Nuclea r radi ation , unlike

most ethical theories, does not confine its scope to human life and welfare.
But since the harm nuclear development may afflict on non-human life, for
exampl e , can hardly improve its case, it suffices if the case against it can
be made out solely in terms of its effects on human life in the convent ional
(Old Paradigm) way.

On the pollution and waste disposal record of the nuclear industry,

see Nader and Abbotts, Lovins and Price, and Gyorgy.

On the more general

problem of effective pollution controls, see also, Routley (a), footnote 7.

Back of thus Humanity Unlimited assumption is the idea of Man

replacing God.

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

during the Enlightenment Man replaced God, Man was to have unlimited

Science and technology were the tools which were to put Man into the

position of unlimitedness.

More recent l y nuclear power is seen as providing

man at least with unlimited physical power, power obtained through technology.
[ability to manage technology repr esent s the past]
14 .

On such l imitation theorems, which go back to Finsler and Godel on one

side and to Arrow on the other, see, e.g. Routley 80.

All these theorems mimic

paradoxes, semantical "paradoxes" on one side and vot ing "p aradoxes" on the

Other different limitation resu1 ts are presented in Routley 81 .


follows that there are many problems that have no solution and much that is
n e cessarily unknowable.
Limitative results put a serious dent in the progress picture.


th e Dominant Western Worldview,
the history of humanity is one of progress; for every problem
there is a solution, and thus progress need never cease (Catton
and Dunlap, p . 34) .

See Lovins and Price .

15a .

The points also suggest a variant argument against a nuclear future,

A nuclear future narrows the range of opportunities
open to future generations.
'What justice requires ... is that the overall range
of opportunities open to successor generations should not be
narrowed' (Barry, p. 24 3).
Therefor e ~ a nuclear f utur e contrav enes r equirements of justice .



For examples , and for some details of the history of philosoph e rs'
positions on obligatio ns to the future, see Routley (a).
17 .

Passmore, p. 91.

Passmore' s position is ambivalen t and , to
all appearanc es, inconsist ent. It is considere d in detail in Routley (a),
as also is Rawls ' position.

For related criticism s of the e conomists ' arguments for discounti ng,
a nd for citation of the often eminent economist s who sponsor them, see
Goodin , pp. 429-30.

The reasons (not elaborate d here) are that the propertie s 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
satisfact ory fashion . What he claims is tha t we cannot list all the
possible outcomes in the way that such rules as expe ct ed util ity maximiza tion
presuppos es, e.g. Goodin suggests that we cannot list all the things that can
go wrong with a nuclear power plant or with waste storage procedure s. But
outstandi ng alternativ es can always be comprehen ded logically , at worst by
saying "all the rest" (e.g. "'P covers everythin g except p). For example ,
outcomes Goodin says cannot be listed, can be comprehen ded along such lines
as "plant breakdown through human error". Furthermo re the different
more app ropriate rules Goodin subsequen tly considers also requir e listing of
"possible " outcomes .

Goodin's point can be alternati vely stated however.


are really two points.

The first trouble is that such ragbag alternati v es
cannot in general be assigned required quantitat ive probabil ities, and it is
at that point that applicati ons of the models breaks dovm. The breakdown is
just what separates decision making under uncertain ty from decision making
under risk. Secondly, many influenti al applicatio ns of decision theory methods,
the Rasmussen Report is a good example, do, illegitim ately, delete possible
alternati ves from their modelling s.
21 .

Discount, or bank, rates in the economis ts' sense are usually set to
follow the market, cf. P.A. Samuelson , Economics , 7th Edition, McGraw-H ill,

New York , 1967, p.351.
22 .

Thus the rates have little moral relevance .

A real possibili ty is one which there is evidence for believing could
eventuate . A real possibili ty requires producibl e evidence for its
considera tion . The contrast is with mere logical possibili ty.



Such a princip le is explici t both in classica l utilitar iani s m (e.g.
Sidgwick p. 414) , and in a range of contrac t and other theories from Kant and
Rousseau to Rawl s (p.293).
How the princip le is argu ed for will depe nd
heavily , however, on the underlyi ng theory; and we do not want to make our use
depend he avily on particu lar ethical theories .

The latter question is taken up in section VII; see especia lly, the
Poverty argumen t.
26 .

SF, p. 27.

Shrader -Freche tte is herself somewha t critical of the
carte blanche adoption of these methods , suggesti ng that ' whoever aff irms or
den ies the desirab ility of ... [such] standard s is, to some degree,
symboll ically assentin g to a number of American value patterns and cu l tural
norms' (p. 28 ).

The examp le paralle ls the sorts of countere xamp les often advance d to
utilitar ianism, e.g. the admissi ble lynching of an innocen t person because
of pleasure given to the large lynching party.
against utilitar ianism, see ...

For the more general case

28 .

US Atomic Energy Commissi on , Compara tive Risk-Co st-B en ef it Study of
Alterna tive sources of Electric al Energy (WASH-1224), US Governm ent Printing
Office , Washing ton, D.C., Decembe r 1974 , p.4-7 and p. 1-16.
29 .

As SF points out, p.37-44 ., in some detail. As she remarks,
... since standard s need not be met, so long as the
NRC [Nuclea r Regulato ry commiss ion] judges that the
licence shows 'a reasonab le effort' at meetin g them,
current policy allows governm ent regulato rs to trade
human health and welfare for the [apparen t ] good
intentio ns of the promo tors of technolo gy. [Such]
good intentio ns have never been known to be sufficie nt
for the morality of an act (p. 39).
The failure of state regulati on, even where the standard s are as mostl y not very
demandin g, and the alliance of regulato rs with those th ey a re s upposed t o be
r eg ulating, are conspicu ous features of modern environm ental control, not just
of (nuclear ) pollutio n control.

30 .

31 .

The figures are thos e from the origin al Bro okhaven Report: ' Theo r e
t ical
possib ilities and consequ ences of major accide nts in large nuclea
r plants ',
USAEC Report WASH-740, Governm ent Printin g Office , Washin gton , D. C.,
This r e port was r eques ted in the first place because the Commis sion
on Atomic Energy
wanted pos i tive safe t y conc l usions "to r eass ure th e
private insuran ce compan ies" so that they would pr ovid e
coverag e for th e nuclea r indust ry. Since even th e
cons e rvative statist ics of the r eport we r e alannin g it
was supp r essed and its data we r e not made public until.
almost 20 years later, after a suit was brough t as a r esult of
the Freedom of Inform ation Act (Shrad er-Frec hette, pp. 78-9).
32 .

Atomic Energy Commis sion, Re actor Safe ty Study: An Ass e ssment of
Acc ident Risks in US Comme rcial Nuclea r Power Plants , Governm ent
Printin g Offi ce ,
Washin gton, D.C., 1975 . This report, the only alleged ly comple te
study ,
conclud ed that fission reactor s presen ted only a minima l health risk
t o the
public .

Early in 1979, th e Nuclea r Regula tory Commis sion (th e r elevan t
organ isation that superse ded the trouble d Atomic Energy Commis sion)

i ts suppor t for the report, with the result that there is now no
compreh ensive
analys is of nuclea r power approve d by the US Governm ent.
32a .

Most presen t and planned r eactors are of this type: see Gyo r gy .

33 .

34 .

Even then relevan t environ ment factors may have been neglec t ed .


There are variati ons on (i) and (ii) which multip ly costs agains t
number s such as probab ilities. In this way risks, constru ed as probab
cos ts, can be taken into accoun t in the assessm ent.
(Alt e rnative ly, risks may
be assesse d through such familia r method s as insuran ce.)
A princip le varying (ii), and fonnula ted as follows :
(ii ) a is ethica lly accepta ble if (for some b) a include s no more
risks than b
and b is sociall y acce pted. was the basic ethica l princip le in terms
of which
the Cluff Lak e Board of Inquiry recentl y decided that nuclea r power
de velo pme nt

in Saskat chewan is ethically acceptable :

s e e Cluff Lake Board of Inquiry Final

Report, Departme nt of Environment , Government of Saskatchewa n, 1978, p. 305 and
p . 288 . In this report, a is nuclear power and bis either a ctiviti e s clearl y
accepted by society as alternative power sources.

In other application s b has

been taken as cigarette smoking, motoring, mining and even the Vietna m War(!)
The points made in the text do not exhaust the objections to principles
(i) - (ii'). The principles are certainly ethically substantive , since an
ethical consequence cannot be deduced from nonethical premisses, but they have an
inadmissibl e conventiona l character. For l ook at the origin of b: b may be
socia lly accepted though it is no longer socially acceptable, or though its
social acceptibili ty is no longer so cle arcut and it would not have been socially
accepted if as much as is now known had been known when it was introduced. 'What
is required in (ii'), for instance, for the argument to begin to look convincing
is then 'ethically acceptable' rather than 'socially accepted'. But even with
th e amendments the principles are invalid , for the reasons given in the text.
It is not disconcertin g that thes e arguments do not work . It would be
sad to see yet another area lost to the exper ts, namely ethics to actuaries.

A main part of the tr oubl e with the models is that they are narrowly
utilitarian , and like utilitariani sm they neglect distributio nal features ,
involve na tu ralistic fallacies, et c.

Really they try to treat as an uncon-

straine d optimisatio n what is a deontically constraine d optimisatio n :
V. Routley 'An expensive repair kit for utilitarian ism'.

s ee R. and


Ap parent exceptions to the principle such as taxation (and redistr i bution
of income generally) vanish when wealth is construed (as it has to be i f taxation
is to be properly justified) as at least partly a social asset unfairly
monopolised by a minority of the population .

Example s such as that of motoring

dangerously do not constitute counterexam ples to the principle; for one is not
morally entitled to so motor.

SF, p. 15, where references are also cited.

39 .

Goodin, p. 433.

40 .

On all these points see R. Grossman and G. Daneker, Guide to Jobs and
Energy , Environment a lists for Full Employment, Washington DC, 1977, pp.1-7,
and also the details supplied in substantiat ing th e interesting case of Commoner
[7 ] . On the absorption of available capital by the nuclear industry, see as
well [18], p. 23 . On th e employment issues, see too H. E. Daly in [ 9], p. 149.

A more fundamental challenge to the poverty argument appears in I. Illich,
Ene rgy and Equality , Calden and Boyars, London 1974, where it is argued that
the sort of development nuclear energy represents is exactly th e opp osite of
what the poor need.

41 .

For much more deta il on the inappropria teness see E.F . Schumacher,
Sma ll is Beauti ful, Blond and Briggs, London, 1973. As to the capital and
o ther requirement s, see [2] , p. 48 , and also [7] and [9] .
For an illuminatin g l ook at the sort of d evelopmen t high - energy
t e chnolo gy will t end to promote in the so-called unde rdeveloped countri es see
the pap e r of Waiko and other papers in The Melanesian Envfr•onment (edited
J . H. Wins l ow), Au s tr a l ian National University Press, Canb e rr a, 1977.
42 .

A useful survey is given in A. Lovins , Energy Strategy : The Road Not
Taken , Fr iends of the Earth Australia, 1977 (reprinted from Fo 1°eign Affair•s ,
Oc tob e r 1976); s ee also [ 17], [6 ] , [ 7], [14] , p . 233 ff, and Schumacher, op . cit .
43 .

An argument like this is suggested in Passmo re, Chapters 4 and 7,

with respect to the question of saving resources. In Passmore this argument
for the ove rriding importance of passing on contemporar y culture is underpinn e d
by what appears to be a future-dire cted ethical version of the Hidden Hand
argument of economics - that, by a coincidence which if correct would indeed he
fortunate, the best way to take care of the future (and perhaps even the only
way to do so, since do-good interventio n is almost certain to go wrong) is to
take proper care of t he present and immediate future. The argument has all
t he defects of the related Chain Argument discussed above and others.


See Nader and Abbotts, p. 66, p . 191, and also Commoner .

45 .

Very persuasive arguments to this effect have been a dvanced by civ il
liberties groups and others in a number of countri e s: see especially M. Flood
and R. Grove-White , Nuclear Pr ospects. A comment on the individual , the State

and Nuclear Power , Friends of the Earth, Council for the Protection of Rural
England and National Council for Civil Liberties , London, 1976.

' US energy policy, for example , since the passage of the 1954 Atomic
Energy Act , has been that nuclear powe r is necessary to provide "an e conomical
and reliable basis"

n eed ed "to sustain economic growth" (SF, p . 111, and
r efe rences there cit e d) .


There are now a great many criticism s of the second premiss in th e
literat ure . For our criticism , and a r e formulati on of the premiss in terms
of selec tive economic growth (which would exclude nu clear developm ent), see
Routley (b) , and also Berkley and Seckler.
To simple-mi ndedly contrast e conomic growth with no-growth , in the fa shion
of some discussio ns of nuclear power, c . f . Elster, is to leave out
alte rnatives ; the contracti on of course much simplifie s the otherwise faulty
case for unalleged growth.

In UK and USSR nuclear developme nt is explicitl y in the public domain,
in such countries as France and West Germany the governmen t has very s ubstantia l
interests in main nuclear involved companies . Even as regards nuclear plant
operation in the US,
it is difficult to obtain comprehen sive data.
Estimates of cost very dramtical ly according to the
sample of plants chosen and the assumptio ns made
concernin g the measureme nt of plant performan ce
(Gyorgy, p. 173).

49 .

See Kalmanoff , p .


See Corney.


Ref. to what it has to say about Price Anderson Act.


Full ref to SF on argument

from ignorance etc.
53 .

These e . g. Elster, p. 377.

On deci sion theory see also,

54 .

A recent theme in much economic literatur e is that Bayesian dec ision
theory and risk analysis can be universal ly applied . The theme is upset as
soon as one steps outside of select Old Paradigm confines. In any case , even
within these confines there is no consensus at all on, a nd few (and
widely diverging ) figures for the probabili ty of a reactor core meltdown,
an d no reliable estimates as to the likelihoo d of a nuclear confronta t i on.
Thus Goodin argue s (in 78) that 'such uncertain ties plague energy theories'
as to 'rend er expected utility calculati ons impossibl e '.
55 .

For details see Gyorgy, p. 398 ff ., from which presentat ion of the
internati onal story is adapted.


Gyo rgy, p . 307, and p. 308.

points, see Chomsky

For elaborati on of some of th e important

and Hermann.


Whatever one thinks of the ethical principle s underlyin g the Old
Paradigm or its Modificat ion - and they do form a coherent set th at many
people can
respect - these are not the principle s unde rlying contempor ary
corporate capitalism and associate d third-wor ld i.mperialis m.

Certainly practical transitio nal programs may involve tempo rary and
limited us e of unaccepta ble long t erm commoditi es such as coal, but in

presentin g su ch practical details one should not lose sigh t of the more basic
social and structura l changes, and the problem is really one of making those.
Similarly practical transitio nal strategie s should make use of such
measures as en vironment al (or replaceme nt) pricing of energy i . e . so that the
price of some energy unit includes the full cost of r e placing it by an
equivalen t unit taking account of environm ental cost of productio n. Other
(sometime s s trategies towards more satisfact ory alternativ es should
a lso, of course , be adopted, in particula r the removal of institutio nal barriers
to energy conservat ion and alternati ve technolog y (e . g. local governmen t
regulatio ns blocking these), and the removal of state assistanc e to fuel and
power industrie s.

Symptoma tic of the fact that it is not treated as r enewable is that
forest economics do not generally allow for full renewabi lity - if th ey did
the losses and deficits on forestry operation s would be much more s triking tha n
t hey already are often enough.

It is doubtful, furthermo re, that energy cropping of forests can be a
fully r e newable operation if net energy productio n is to be worthwhil e; see, e.g .
the argument in L. R.B . Mann 'Some difficult ies with energy farming for portable
fuels', and add in the costs of e cosystem maintenan ce.

For an outline and explanati on of this phenomena see Gyorgy,
and also Woodmansee .

61 .

The requisite distinctio n is made in several places , e . g . Routley (b),
and (to take one example from the real Marxist literatur e), Baran and
Sw eezy .

62 .

The distinctio n between shallow and deep ecology was first emphasise d
by Naess. For its environm en tal i mpo rtance see Routl ey (c) (wher e
further reference s are cited) .


In o rde r to contai n refe r e n ces to a modes t length, r efrre ncc to
primary sources has often been replaced by referen ce through secondary sources .
Generally the reader can easily trace the primary sour ces . For those parts of
the text that ove rlap Routley (a), fuller references wil l be found by
consulting the latter article.
S. Cotgrove and A. Duff, 'Environmen talism, middle-clas s radicalism an d
politics', Sociologica l Review 28 (2) (1980), 333-51.
R.E . Goodin, 'No moral nukes ', Ethics 90 (1980), 417-49.
A. Gyorgy and Friends , No Nukes: everyone's guide to nuclear power, South End
Press, Boston, Mass., 1979.
R. Nader and J. Abbotts, The Menace of Ato mic Energy, Outb ack Press , Melbourn e ,
R. a nd V. Routley, 'Nuclear energy and obligations to the future', Inquiry
21 ( 1978), 133-79 (cited as Routley (a)).
Fox Repo rt: Ranger Uranium Environmen tal I nquiry First Report , Australian
Go vernmen t Publishing Service, Canberra , 1977.
K.S. Schrader-Fr echet te, Nu clea r Power and Publi c Policy, Reidel, Do rdrecht,
1980 (refe rred to as SF).
W. R. Cat ton, Jr., and R. E. Dunlap, 'A new ecol ogical paradigm for post - ex uber an t
sociology', Ame rican Behavioral Scientist 24 (1980) 15-47 .
Unite d States Interagency Review group on Nuclea r Waste Managemen t, Repo rt
to the President, Wash i ngton. (Dept. of Energy) 1979. (Ref. No . El. 28 . TID29442) (cited as US(a)) .
A.B . Lovins and J.H. Price, Non-Nuc lear Futures : The Case for an Eth ical
Energy Strategy, Friends of the Earth Internation al, San Fran cisco , 1975.
R. Routley , 'On the impossibili ty of an ortho dox social theory and of an
orthodox solution to environmen tal problems', Logique et Analyse,
23 (1980), 145-66.
R. Routl ey , 'Necessa r y limits for knowledge: unknowable tru ths', in Es says in
honour of Paul Wei nga rtner,
(ed. E. Norscher ), Salzberg, 1980.
J. Passmore , Man's Responsibi lity for Nature, Du ckworth , London, 1974 .



R. and V. Routley, The Fight for the Forests, Third Editi on, RSSS, Austra lian
National University, 1975 (cited as Routley (b)).
J . Rawls , A Theory of Justice, Harvard Unive rsit y Press, Cambridge , Mass.,
19 71.
P . hl . Berkl ey a nd D.W . Seckler, Economic Gr owth and Environment a l Dec ay,
Harcourt Brace Jovanovitch , New York, 1972 .
J . Elster, 'Risk, uncertainty and nuclear power' , Soci al Science Information
18 (3) (1979) 371-400.
J. Robinson , Economic Heresi e s, Basic Books, New York, 1971.
B. Barry, 'Circumstan ces of Justice and future generat i ons ' in Obligations to
Future Generations (ed. R.I. Sikora and B. Barry), Templ e Universit y Press,
Philadelphi a, 1978.
H. Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics , Macmillan, London , 1962 (r e issue ).
B. Commoner, The Poverty of Power , Knopf, New York, 1975.
N. Chomsky and E.S. Herman, The Political Economy of Human Right s , 2 vols., Black
Rose Books, Montreal, 1979 .
J. Woodmans ee , The World of a Giant Corporation , North Coun tr y Pr es s , Seattle ,
Washing ton, 1975.
P . A. B~r a n and P . Sweezy, Monopoly Capita l, Penguin, 1967.
A. Naess, ' The shallow and the deep, long range eco l ogy movement.
A summary ', Inquiry 16 (1973) 95-100.



Richard Routley and Val Routley, “Box 59, Item 1873: Draft of Nuclear power - ethical, social and political dimensions,” Antipodean Antinuclearism, accessed December 10, 2023,

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