Box 74, Item 2049: Draft of Nuclear power - some ethical and social dimensions


Box 74, Item 2049: Draft of Nuclear power - some ethical and social dimensions


Typescript (photocopy) of draft, with handwritten emendations and annotations, undated. Handwritten above title: Almost final version. 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.


The University of Queensland's Richard Sylvan Papers UQFL291, Box 74, Item 2049




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.


[36] leaves. 45.78 MB.




Richa rd and Val Rout ley

One hardl y needs initi ation into the dark myst eries
nucle ar phys ics to cont ribut e usefu lly to the deba
te now
wide ly ragin g over nucle ar powe r. While many impo
empi rical ques tions are still unres olved , these do
reall y lie at the centr e of the contr over sy. Inste
it is a deba te abou t value s .•.
many of the ques tions which arise are socia l and
ethic al
ones .2

A long dista nce coun try
trai n has just pulle d out. The train which is crowd
ed carri es both
passe ngers and freig ht. At an early stop in the
journ ey someone consi gns as
fr e ight, to a far dista nt desti natio n, a packa ge
which conta ins a highl y
toxic an d explo sive gas. This is packe d in a very
thin conta iner which , as
t he consi gner is awar e, may well not conta in the
gas for the full dista nce
f or whi ch it is consi gned , and certa inly will not
do so if the train shou ld
s t r i ke any real troub le, for exam ple, if the train
shou ld be dera iled or
i nvo l ved in a colli sion , or if some passe nger sh:>u
ld inter fere inad verte ntly
or de liber ately with the freig ht, perha ps tryin g
to stea l some of it. All
o f these sorts of thing s have happe ned on some previ
ous journ eys~ If the
co ntain er shoul d break the resu lting disa ster would
proba bly kill at least
some of the peop le on the train in adjac ent carri
ages , while othe rs could
be maimed ~or poiso ned or soon er or later incur serio
us disea ses.
Most of us would round ly condemn such an actio n.
What migh t the cons igner
of the parc el say to try to justi fy it? He migh
t say that it is not certa in
that the gas will escap e, or that the world needs
his prod uct and it is his
duty to supp ly it, or that in any case he is not
respo nsibl e for the train
or the peop le on it. These sorts of ~xcu ses howe
ver would norm ally be seen
as ludic rous when set in this conte xt. Unfo rtuna
tely, simi lar excu ses are
o ;,...:'. ~ f'\ o t- s "
99• ole~~ seen when the cons igner , again a
(resp onsib le) busin essm an.pu ts his
wor kers' healt h or other peop les' welf are at risk.
Suppo se he says that it is his own and othe rapr essin
g needs which justi fy
his actio n. The company he cont rols, which produ
ces the mate rial as a by-p rodu ct,
i s in bad finan cial stra its, and could not affor d
to produ ce a bette r cont ainer
even if it knew how to make one. If the company
fails , he and his famil y
wi ll suffe r, his empl oyees will lose their jobs and
have to look for othe rs,
aP.d the whole company town, throu gh loss of spend
ing, will be worse off. The
poor and unem ploye d of the town, whom he would other
wise have been able to help ,
will suffe r espe ciall y. Few peop le would acce pt
such groun da as justi ficat ion.

Even where there are serio us risks and costs to ones
elf or some group for whom
one is conce rned one is usua lly cons idere d not to
be entit led to simp ly
trans fer the heavy burde n of those risks and costs
onto othe r uninv olved parti es,
espe ciall y where they arise from one's own, or one's
grou p's chose n life- style .
The matte r of nucle ar waste has many mora l featu res
which resem ble the
train case. How fitti ng the analo gy is will becom
e appa rent as the argum ent
prog resse s. There is no known prove n safe way to
packa ge the high ly toxic
waste s gene rated by the nucle ar plan ts that will
be sprea d aroun d the world as
large -scal e nucle ar devel opme nt goes ahead .
The waste probl em will be much
more serio us than that gene rated by the 50 or so
react ors in use at prese nt,
with each one of the 2000 or so react ors envis aged
by the end of the centu ry
produ cing, on avera ge, annu al waste s conta ining 1000
times the radio activ ity
of the Hiros hima bomb. Much of this waste is extre
mely toxic . For exam ple,
a milli onth of a gramme of pluto nium is enoug h to
induc e a lung canc er. A leak
of even a part of the waste mate rial could invol ve
much loss of life, wide sprea d
disea se and gene tic dama ge, and conta mina tion of
innnense areas of land. Wast es
will inclu de the react ors them selve s, which will
have to be aband oned after their
expe cted life times of perha ps 40 year s, and whic
h, some have estim ated, may
requ ire U~ milli on y~ars to reach safe leve ls of
radio activ ity.
Nucl ear waste s must be kept suita bly isola ted from
the envir onme nt for
their entir e activ e lifet ime. For fissi on prod ucts
the requ ired stora ge perio d
avera ges a thous and years or so, and for trans uran
ic elem ents, which inclu de .
pluto nium, there is a half milli on to a milli on year
stora ge probl em. Serio us
probl ems have arise n with both shor t-term and propo
sed long- term metho ds of
stora ge , even with the comp arativ ely ~mal l quan tities
of waste produ ced over
th last twent y years . Shor t-term metho ds
of stora ge requ ire conti nued human
inter vent ion, while propo sed longe r term metho ds
are subje ct to both human inter feren ce and risk of leaka ge throu gh non-human facto
No one with even a sligh t know ledge of
the geolo gical and clim atic histo ry
of the earth over the last milli on year s, a perio
d whose fluct uatio ns in clim ate
we are only just begin ning to guage and which has
seen four Ice Ages , could be
confi dent that a rigor ous guara ntee of safe stora
ge could be provi ded for
the vast perio d of time invol ved. Nor does the histo
ry of human affa irs over the
last 3000 years give groun d for confi denc e in safe
stora ge by metho ds requ iring
human inter vent ion over perha ps a milli on year s.
Propo sed long- term stora ge meth ods
such as stora ge in gran ite form ation s or in salt
mine s, are large ly spec ulati ve
and relat ively unte sted, and have alrea dy prove d
to invol ve diffi culti es with
attem pts made to put them into prac tice. Even as
regar ds expe nsive recen t
prop osals for first embe dding conc entra ted wast es
in glass and enca psula ting the
resu lt in mult ilaye red meta l conta iner• befor e rock
depo sit, aimu latio n mode l•



revea l that radio activ e mate rial may not remai n suita bly
isola ted from human
envir onm ents. - In short , the best prese nt stora ge propo
sals carry very real
poss ibilit ies of irrad iatin g futur e peopl e and damaging
their enviro nmen t. 3
Given the heavy costs which could be invol ved for the
futur e, and given
the known limit s of techn ology , it is metho dolog ically unsou
nd to bet, as
nucle ar natio ns have, on the disco very of safe proce dures
for stora ge of waste s.
Any new proce dures (requ ired befor e 2000) will proba bly
be but varia tions on
not. only have
prese nt propo sals, and subje ct to the same inade quaci_e s.
For insta nce,/ none
of the propo sed metho ds for safe stor age~ been prope
rly teste d, but they
may well prove to invol ve unfor eseen diffi culti es and risks
when an attem pt is
made to put them into pract ice on a comm ercial scale .
Only a method that
could provi de a rigor ous guara ntee of safet y over the stora
ge perio d, that
place d safet y beyond reaso nable doubt , would be accep table
. It is diffi cult
to see how -such rigor ous guara ntees could be given conce
rning eithe r the
geolo gical or futur e human facto rs. But even if an econo
mical ly viabl e,
rigor ously safe long term stora ge met~ d could be devis ed,
there is the proble m
of guara nteein g that it would be unive rsally and invar iably
used. The
assum ption that it would be (espe cially if, as appea rs
likel y, such a method
prove d expen sive econo mical ly and polit icall y) seems to
presu ppose a level of
effic iency , perfe ction , and conce rn for the futur e which
has not previ ously
been encou ntered in human affai rs, and has certa inly not
been consp icuou s in
the nucle ar indus try.

The risks imposed on the futur e by proce eding with nucle
ar devel opme nt are,
then, signi fican t. Perha ps 40,00 0 gener ation s of futur e
peopl e could be force d
to bear signi fican t risks resul ting from the provi sion
of the (extra vagan t)
energ y use of only a small propo rtion of the peopl e of
10 gener ation s.
Nor is the risk of direc t harm from the escap e or misus
e of radio activ e
mate rials the only burde n the nucle ar solut ion impos es
on the futur e. Becau se
the energ y provi ded by nucle ar fissio n is merel y a etop
gap, it seems proba ble
that in due cours e the same proble m, that of making a trans
ition to renew able
sourc es of energ y, will have to be faced again by a futur
e popu lation which will
proba bly, again as a resul t of our actio ns, be very much
worse place d to cope
with it.
Their world will most likel y be a world which is serio usly
deple ted
of non-r enewa ble resou rces, and in which such renew able
resou rces as fores ts
and soils as remai n, resou rces which inevi tably form an
impo rtant part of the
basis of life, are run-down or destr oyed. Such point s
tell again st the idea
that futur e peopl e must be, if not direc t bene ficiar ies
of energ y from nucle ar
fissio n, at least indir ect bene ficiar ies.


The "solu tion" then is to buy time for conte mpora ry socie
ty at a price
.which not only creat es serio us proble ms for futur e peopl
e but which reduc es
their abili ty to cope with these probl ems. Like the consi
gner in the train
parab le, conte mpora ry indus trial socie ty propo ses, in order
to get itsel f out
of a mess arisin g from its own life- style - the creat ion
of econo mies
depen dent on an abund ance of non-r emwa ble energ y, which
is limit ed in suppl y to pass on costs and risks of serio us harm to other s who
will obtai n no
corre spond ing bene fits. The "solu tion" may enabl e the
avoid ance of some
uncom fortab le chang es in the lifeti me of those now livin
g and their imme diate
desce ndant s, just as the consi gner• • actio n avoid s uncom
foriab le chang es for
him and those in his imme diate surro undin gs, but at the
expen se of passi ng
heavy burde ns to other uninv olved parti es whose oppo rtunit
y to lead decen t
lives may be serio usly jeopa rdise d.
If we apply to the nucle ar situa tion the stand ards of behav
iour and moral
princ iples gener ally ackno wledg ed (in princ iple, if not
so often in fact) in
the ·conte mpora ry world , it is not easy to avoid the concl
usion that nucle ar
devel opme nt invol ves injus tice with respe ct to the futur
e on a grand scale .
There appea r to be only two plaus ible ways of tryin g to
avoid such a concl usion .
First , it might be argue d that the moral princ iples and
oblig ation s which we
ackno wledg e for the conte mpora ry world and perha ps the
imme diate futur e do not
apply to those in the non-im media te futur e. Secon dly,
an attem pt might be
made to appea l to overr iding circu mstan ces; for to rejec
t the consi gner' s
actio n in the circum stanc es outlin ed is not to imply that
there are no
circum stanc es in which such an actio n might be justi fiabl
e. As in the case
of the consi gner .of the packa ge there is a need to consi
der what these
justif ying circum stanc es might be, and wheth er they apply
in the prese nt case.
We consi der these possi ble escap e route s for the propo
nent of nucle ar
develo pmen t in turn.





The espec ially probl emati c area
is that of the dista nt (i.e. non-im media te) futur e, the
futur e with which
peopl e alive today will have no direc t conta ct; by comp
arison , the imme diate
futur e gives fewer proble ms for most ethic al theor ies.
In fact the quest ion
of oblig ation s to futur e peopl e prese nts tests which a
number of ethic al theor ies
fail to pass, and also has serio us reper cussi ons in polit
ical philo sophy as
regar ds the adequ acy of accep ted (demo cratic and other )
insti tutio ns which do
not take due accou nt of the inter est• of futur e creat ures.

\ r

Moral phil osop hers have , pred icta bly, diff
ered on ques tion s of obli gati ons
to dist ant futu re crea ture s. A good many
of the phil osop hers who have exp lici tly
cons ider ed the ques tion have come down in
favo ur of the same cons ider atio n
bein g give n to the righ ts and inte rest s of
futu re peop le as to thos e of
cont emp orary or imm edia tely futu re peop le.
Othe rs fall into thre e cate gori es:
thos e who ackn owle dge obli gati ons to the futu
re but who do not take them
seri ousl y or who assi gn them a less er weig
ht, thos e who deny , or who are
com mitte d by thei r gene ral mora l posi tion
to deny ing, that ther e are mor al
obli gati ons beyond the imm edia te futu re, and
thos e who come down, with
adm irab le phil osop hica l caut ion, on both side
s of the issu e, but with the
weig ht of the argu men t favo urin g the view
unde rlyin g prev ailin g economic
and poli tica l inst itut ions , that ther e are
no mora l obli gati ons to the futu re
beyond thos e perh aps to the next gene ratio
Acco rdin g to the most extre me of thes e posi
tion s agai nst mora l obli gati ons to
the futu re, our beha viou r with resp ect to
the futu re is mor ally unco nstra ined ~
ther e are no mora l rest rict ions on acti ng
or fail ing to act deri ving from the
effe ct of our acti ons on futu re peop le. Of
thos e phil osop hers who say, or whose
view s impl y that we do not have obli gati ons
to the (non -imm edia te) futu re, many
have base d this view on acco unts of mora l
obli gati on which are buil t on
rela tion s which pres uppo se some degr ee of
temp oral or spa tial con tigu ity. Thus ,
mora l obli gati on is seen as pres uppo sing vari
ous rela tion s whic h coul d not hold
betw een peop le wide ly sepa rate d in time (or
some time s in spac e). Let us call
the posi tion that we have no obli gati ons to
(dis tant ) futu re peop le the Nocon stra ints posi tion .
Among sugg este d base s or grou nds of mora l
obli gati on for the pos itio n,
which would rule out obli gati ons to the nonimm edia te futu re, are thes e.
Firs tly. ther e are thos e acco unts whic h requ
ire that someone to whom a mora l
obli gati on is held be able to claim his righ
ts or enti tlem ent. Peop le in the
dist ant futu re will not be able to claim righ
ts and enti tlem ents agai nst us,
and of cour se they can do noth ing to enfo rce
any claim s they migh t have
agai nst us. Seco ndly , ther e are thos e acco
unts whic h base mora l obli gati ons
on soci al or lega l conv enti on, for exam ple
a conv entio n whic h would requ ire
puni shm ent of offe nder s or at leas t some kind
of soci al enfo rcem ent. But
plai nly thes e and othe r conv entio ns will not
be inva rian t over chan ge in soci ety
and amendment of lega l conv enti ons; henc e
they will not be inva rian t over time .
Also futu re peop le have no way of enforcin
& thei r inte rest s or puni shin g
off~ ndin g pred eces aora .





The No-cons traints view is a very difficu lt one to sustain . Conside r, for
example , a scienti fic group which, for no particu lar reason other than to test a
particu lar piece of technolo gy, places in orbit a cobalt bomb set off by a
triggeri ng device designed to go off several hundred years from the time of its
despatch .

No present ly living person and none of their immedia te descend ants
would be affected , but the populat ion of the earth in the distant future would
be wiped out as a direct and predicta ble result of the action. The ·Ho-con straints
position clearly implies that this is an accepta ble moral enterpr ise, that
whateve r else we might legitim ately criticiz e in the scienti sts' experim ent
(perhaps its being over-ex pensive or badly designed ) we cannot lodge a moral
protest about the damage it will do to future people. The no-cons traints
position also endorse s as morally accepta ble the followin g sorts of policy: I
A firm discove rs it can make a handsome profit from mining, process ing and
manufac turing a new type of materia l which, although it ca~ses no problem for
present people or their immedia te descend ants, will over a period of hundred s
of years decay into a substan ce which will cause an enormous epidemi c of cancer
among the inhabita nts of the earth at that time. Accordi ng to the Ko-con straints
view the firm is free to act in its own interes ts, without any conside ration
for the harm it does remote future people.
Such countere xamples to the NQ-con straints position , which are easily
varied and multipl ied, might seem childlis hly obvious . Yet this view is far
from being a straw man; not only have several philosop hers endorsed this
position , but it is a clear implica tion of many current ly popular views of the
basis of moral obligat ion, as ~eli as of prevaili ng economic theory. It seems
that those who opt for the No-con straints position have not conside red such
example s, despite their being clearly implied by their position . We suspect
that {we certain ly hope that) when it is brought out that their position admits
such countere xamples , that without any constra ints we are free to cause
pointles s harm for example , most of those who opted for this position would
want to assert that it was not what they intended . What many of those who have
put forward the No-con straints posit ion~ to have had in mind (in denying
moral obligat ion) is rather that future people can look after themsel ves, that
we are not respons ible for their lives. The popular view that the future can
take care of itself also seems to assume a future causally indepen dent of the
present . But it is not. It is not as if, in the countere xample cases or in
the nuclear case, the future is simply being left alone to take care of itself.
Present people are influenc ing it, and in doing so thereby acquire many of
the same sorts of moral respons ibilitie s as they do in causally affectin g the
present and immediate future, a.oat notably the obligat ion to take account in

'what they do of peop le affec ted and their inter ests,
to be care ful in their
ac tions , to take accou nt of the genu ine prob abili ty
of their actio ns causi ng
harm, and to sec that they do not act so as to rob
futur e peop le of the chnnc c
of a good life.

Furth ermo re, to say that we are not resp !~ibl e for
the lives of futur e
peop le does not amount to the same thing as sayin g
that we are free to do as we
like with respe ct to them. In just the same way,
the fact that one does not
have or has not acqu ired an oblig ation to some stran
ger with whom one has neve r
been invol ved does not imply that one is free to do
what one likes with respe ct
to him, for example to rob him or to serio usly harm
him when this could be
avoid ed.


These diffi culti es for the No-c onstr aints posi tion
resu lt in part
becau se of a failu re to make an impo rtant disti nctio
n. Some of our
oblig ation s to othe rs arise becau se we have volu ntari
ly enter ed into some
a greem ent with them - for exam ple, we have made a
prom ise. Othe r oblig ation s,
howe ver, such as our duty not to damage or harm some
one, do not assume that
an agree ment has been struc k betwe en us. Let us call
oblig ation s of the
f ormer kind acqu ired oblig ation s and those of the
latte r unac quire d oblig ation s.
There is a cons idera ble diffe renc e in the type of
resp onsi bilit y asso ciate d with
each. In the case of acqu ired oblig ation s resp onsi
bilit y arise s becau se one
s hould do some thing which one can fail to do, e.g.
keep a prom ise. In the
case of unac quire d dutie s resp onsi bilit y arise s as
a resu lt of being a caus al
ag ent who is aware of the conse quen ces or prob able
conse quen ces of his actio n,
a resp onsi bilit y that is not depen dent on one's havin
g perfo rmed some act in
the past (e.g. , made a prom ise).
Our oblig ation s to futur e peop le clear ly
are ,una cqui red. not acqu ired oblig ation s, a fact
the No-c onstr aints posi tion
simpl y fails to take into acco unt. These oblig ation
s arise as a resu lt of our
abili ty to produ ce caus al effec ts of a reaso nably
pred ictab le natu re, whet her
on our cont emp orar ies~ on those in the dista nt
futur e.
Thus , to retur n to
the train para ble, the cons igner cann ot argue in justi
ficat ion of his actio n
that he has. for exam ple, neve r assumed or acqu ired
resp onsi bilit y for the
passe ngers . that he does not know them and there fore
has no love or symp athy for
them and that they are not part of his mora l comm
unity; in shor t, that he has
acqu ired no oblig ation , and baa no apec ial oblig ation
• to help them. All that

t '

r .

one needs to argue conce rning the train , and in the nucle
ar case, is that there
are moral oblig ation s again st impos ing harm ~ ~ ~·~
which are not speci ally
oblig atiq9 s to the dista nt
acqui red. Nor can this claim be rebut ted by the all
prete nce tha:,( tutur e i~vo1 ve
heroi c self sacri fice, somet hing "abov e and beyon d" what
is norm ally requi red.
One is no more engag ing in heroi c self sacri fice by not
forcin g futur e peopl e
into an unvia ble life posit ion or by refra ining from causi
ng them direc t harm
than the consi gner is resor ting to heroi c self sacri fice
in refra ining from
shipp ing the dange rous packa ge on the train .



ng these
diffi culti es the No-c onstr aints posit ion may be quali fied
rathe r than wholl y
aband oned. Accor ding to the Quali fied posit ion we are
not entir ely uncon strain ed
wi th respe ct to the dista nt futur e. There are oblig ation
s, even to dista nt futur e
peopl e, but these are not so impor tant as those to the
prese nt, and the inter ests
of dista nt futur e peopl e canno t weigh very much in the
scale again st those of
the prese nt and imme diate futur e. The inter ests of futur
e peopl e then, excep t
in unusu al cases , count for very much less than the inter
ests of prese nt
peopl e. Hence such thing s aa nucle ar devel opme nt and vario
us explo itativ e
activ ities which bene fit prese nt peopl e shoul d proce ed,
even if peopl e of the
dista nt futur e are (somewhat) disad vanta ged by them.
The Quali fied posit ion appea rs to be widel y held and is
impli cit in
preva iling economic theor ies, where the posit ion of a decre
ase in weigh t of
futur e costs and bene fits (and so of futur e inter ests)
is obtai ned by
appli catio n over time of a disco unt rate, so disco untin g
costs and risks to
aM- a...-pi~ ~ \ -4 .
futur e peopl e. The attem pt to apply econo mics as a moral
theor y, -eeme th'-t
that is becoming incre asing ly common, can lead the~ to
the Quali fied posit ion.
What is objec tiona ble in such an appro ach is that econo
mics must opera te withi n
the bounds of ackno wledg ed non-a cquir ed moral cons train
ts, just as in pract ice
it opera tes withi n legal const raint s. What econo
mics canno t legiti mate ly do is
determ ine what these const raint s are. There are, moreo
ver, alter nativ e econo mic
theor ies and simpl y to adopt . witho ut furth er ado, one which
disco unts the futur e,
givin g much less impor tance to the inter ests of futur e
peopl e, is to beg all
the quest ions at issue .
Among the argum ents that econo mists offer for gener ally
disco untin g
the futur e, the most threa dbare is based on the Rosy -futur
e assum ption , that
futur e gener ation s will be bette r off than prese nt ones
(and so bette r place d
to handl e the waste probl em). Since there is moun ting
evide nce that futur e
gener ation s may wel l~ be bette r off th,Z prese nt ones,
espec ially in thing s
that matte r, no argum ent for disco untin g the inter ests
of futur e gener ation s
on this basis can carry much weigh t. For the waste proble
m to be hande d dovn



to the futur e gener ation s, it would have to be shown, what
recen t economic
progr ess hardl y justi fies, that futur e gener ation s will
be not just bette r off
but so much bette r off that they can (easi ly)ca rry and
contr ol the nucle ar
freig ht.
A more plaus ible argum ent for disco untin g, the Oppo rtunit
y-cos t argum ent,
build s direc tly
on the notio n of oppo rtunit y cost. It is argue d from the
that a dolla r gaine d now is worth much more than a dolla
r receiv ed in the nonimme diate futur e (beca use the first dolla r could meanw hile
be inves ted at
compound inter est}, that disco untin g is requi red to obtai
n equiv alent mone tary
value s. This same line of reaso ning is then appli ed to
the alloc ation of
re sourc es. Thus, comp ensati on - which,___1s what the waste
proble m is taken to come
to econo mical ly - cost~ much less now than later , e.g. a
few penni es set aside
(e.g. in a trust fund ).the futur e, if need be, will suffi
ce to comp ensate
event ually for any ~ctim s of remot e radio activ e waste
leaka ge. Two proble ms
~ First , there are,
beset this appro ach.
prese ntly at least , insurm ounta ble
pract ical diffi culti es about apply ing such disco untin g.
We simpl y do not know
how to determ ine appro priate futur e disco unt rates . A
more serio us objec tion is
that the argum ent depen ds on a false assum ption. It is
not true that value , or
damages, can alway s be conve rted into mone tary equiv alent
s. There is no clear
"mon etary comp ensati on" for a varie ty of damag es, inclu ding
cance r, loss of
life, a lost speci es.
The disco untin g theme , however argue d for, is inade quate
, becau se it
leads back in pract ice to the No-c onstr aints posit ion.
The reaso n is that
disco untin g impos es an" economic horiz on"
beyond which nothi ng need be
consi dered , since any costs or bene fit which might arise
are, when disco unted
back to the prese nt, negli gible .
A diffe rent argum ent fot the Quali fied posit io~. the Prob
abilit ies argum ent,
avoid s the objec tions from cases of certa in damage throu
gh appea l to proba bility
consi derat ions. The dista nt futur e, it is argue d, is much
more uncer tain than the
prese nt and imme diate futur e, so that prob abili ties are
conse quent ly lower ,
perha ps even appro achin g or coinc iding with zero for any
hypot hesis conce rning
the dista nt futur e. Thus, the argum ent conti nues, the -inter
ests of futur e
peopl e must (apar t from excep tiona l cases where there is
an unusu ally high degre e
of certa inty} count for (very much) less than those of
prese nt and neigh bouri ng
peopl e where (much') highe r prob abili ties are attac hed.
So in the case of
confl ict betwe en the prese nt and the futur e, where it is
a quest ion of weigh ing
certa in bene fits to the peopl e of the prese nt and the imme
diate futur e again st
a much lower proba bility of indet ermin ate coats to an indet
ermin ate number of


assuming anything like similar costs and benefit s were involve d.
is however

badly flawed.

The argumen t

Firstly , probab ilities involvin g distant

future situatio ns are not always less than those concern ing the immedia te
'"'tt..N ~ ~ -~ -q Nat l'-.Now wJ~a..+. ~,NA. «f ~~e J~N f2.(;.~ ~L of. ~~ft.. - ~ t~( _d-'z..,ve.. , ~ 1t:e..
future in the way the argumen t suppose s.AMor eove)th e outcome s of some moral
problem s often

do not depend on a high level of probabi lity.


In many cases it

is enough, as the train parable reveals , that a signific ant risk is created ;
such cases do not depend critica lly on high probabi lity assignm ents.


of course, can it be assumed that anything like similar ly weighte d costs and
benefits are involved in the nuclear case, especia lly if it is a question of
risking poisonin g some of the earth for half a million or so years, with
consequ ent risk of serious harm to· thousand s of generat ions of future people,
in order to obtain quite doubtfu l, or even trivial , benefit for some present peopl
jin the shape of the opportu nity to continu e (unnece ssarily) shigh
energy use.
And even


the costs and benefit s were compara ble or evenly weighte d, such

an argumen t would be defectiv e, since an analogo us argumen t would show that
the consign er's action in the train parable , is accepta ble provided the benefit
(e.g. the profit the company stood to gain from imposin g signific ant risks on ·
other people) was sufficie ntly large.
Such a cost-be nefit approac h to moral and decisio n problem s, with or
without the probabi lity frills,

is quite inadequ ate when differe nt parties

are involved or when cases of conflic t of interes t involvin g moral obligat ions
are at issue.
permiss ible


For example , such a cost-be nefit approac h would imply that it is

for a company to injure, or very likely injure, some innocen t party

provided only that the company stands to make a sufficie ntly large gain from it,
that costs to some


are more than morally

larger benefit s to another group.

compens ated for by

But costs or benefit s are not legitim ately

transfer red in any simple way from one group to another .

The often

appealed to maxim "If you (or your group) want the benefit s . you have to accept
the costs" is one thing, but the maxim "If I (or my group) want the benefit •
then~ have to accept the coat• (or aome of theDJ at leaat)"

i• another an_d_ _ __


very different thing.

It is a widely accepted moral principle that one is

not, in general, entitled to simply transfer costs of a significa nt kind arising
fro~ an activity which benefits oneself onto other parties whQ are not involved
in the activity and are not beneficia ries. 6 This Transfer -limiting principle
is especiall y clear in cases

of whiea e

thalidomide rnaoufact u~ias and

mark.eti.Ag eompany J:9 or.a.,.. where the significa nt costs include an effect

on life or health or a risk thereof, and where the benefit to the benefitti qg


e. -1, J

-tt.. e ~ ~ "" {

party is of a noncrucia l or dispensib le nature/\ The principle is of

o ~f'(.,v,._{ ,~

fundamen tal importanc e in the nuclear debate, and appears again and again



it applies not merely to the waste problem but as regards several other
liabiliti es of nuclear developm ent, e.g. the risk of nuclear war, the matter
of reactor meltdown.

ln particula r, the principle invalidat es the compariso n,

heavily relied on in building a case for the ~cceptab ility of the nuclear risks,

between nuclear risks and those from such activitie s as airplane travel or
cigarette smoking.

In the latter case those who supposedl y benefit from the

activity are also, to an overwhelm ing extent, those who bear the serious health
costs and risks involved.

In contrast the users and supposed beneficie aries

of nuclear energy will be risking not only, or even primarily , their own
lives and health, but also that of others who may not be beneficia ries at allwho may be just the opposite!
More generally , the distribut ion of costs and damage in such a fashion,
i.e. on to non-bene ficiaries, is a characte ristic of certain serious forms of
po llution, and is among its morally objection able features.
productio n, from nuclear or fossil
pollution .

i mportant necessary condition for energy options:

energy option

risks of harm

Large-sca le energy

fuel sources, can cause or lead to serious

Thus from the Transfer -limiting

principle emerges an
To be morally acceptab le

should not involve the transfer of significa nt costs or


parties who .!!!.



benefit correspon dingly from!!!.!, energy source.



~ ~ ~



~ ~ ~



Included in the acope of

c~ @.

this cond ition , which nucl ear deve lopm ent viol
ates , are futu re peop le, i.e.
not mere ly peop le livin g at the pres ent time but
also futu re gene ratio ns (tho se
of the next town s). A furth er coro llary of the
prin cipl e is the Tran smis sion
Prin ciple , that we shou ld not hand the worl d we
have so expl oited on to our
succ esso rs in subs tant ially wors e shap e than we
"rec eive d" it. For if we did
then that would be a sign ifica nt tran sfer of cost
The Tran sfer- limi ting prin cipl e can be deriv ed
from cert ain ethi cal
theo ries (e.g . thos e of a deon tic cast such as
Kan t's and Raw ls') and
from common prec epts (such as the Golden Rule ),
where one serio usly cons iders
putt ing ones elf in anot her's posi tion . But the
prin cipl e is perh aps best
defe nded , on a broa der basi s, indu ctive ly, by
way of exam ples. Supp ose, to
embr oider the train para ble, the company town
deci des to solv e its
disp osal prob lem by ship ping its noxi ous wast e
to anot her town down the line ,
which (like futu re towns) lack s the means to ship
it back or to regi ster due
prot est. The inha bitan ts of this town are then
force d to face the prob lem
eith er of unde rtaki ng the expe nsive and diff icul
t disp osal proc ess or of sustaini ng risk s to thei r own live s and heal th.
Most of us would rega rd this kind
of tran sfer of cost s as mora lly una~ cept able ,
however much the cons igne r's company
town flou rish es.



Many of the argu ment s desig ned to show that we
cann ot be expe cted to take too
much acco unt of the effe cts of our actio ns on
the dist ant futu re appe al to
unce rtain ty. Ther e are two main components to
the Gene ral Unc ertai nty
argu ment , capa ble of sepa ratio n, but freq uent ly
tang led up. Both argu ment s
are mist aken , the firs t, an argum ent from igno
ranc e, on.! prio ri grou nds, the
seco nd on a post erio ri grou nds. The Argument
from igno ranc e conc erned runs as
foll ows :/ In cont rast to the exac t info rmat ion
we can obta in abou t the pr;s ent,
the infor mati on we can obta in abou t the effe cts
of our actio ns on the dist ant
futu re is unre liab le, wool ly and high ly spec ulati
ve. But we cann ot base
asse ssme nts of how we shou ld act on info rmat ion
of this kind , espe ciall y when

accurate informati on is obtainabl e about the present which would indicate
different action.

Therefore we must regretful ly ignore the · uncertain effects of

our actions on the distant future.

A striking example of the argument from

at work is afforded by official US analyses favouring nuclear

developm ent, which ignore (the extensive ) costs of
grounds of uncertain ty. More formally and crudely

waste control on the
the argument concerned is this:

One only has obligatio rts to the future if these obligatio ns are based on
reliable informati on.
distant future.

There is no reliable informati on at present as regards the

Therefore one has no obligatio ns to the distant future.

This argument is essential ly a variant on a sceptical argument concernin g
our knowledge of the future (formally , replace 'obligati ons' by 'knowledg e'
in the crude statement of the argument above).

The main ploy is to considera bly

overestim ate and overstate the degree of certainty available

with respect to

the present and immediate future, and the degree of certainty which is - required
as the basis for moral considera tion both with respect to the present and with
respect to the future.

Associate d with this is the attempt to suggest a sharp

division as regards certainty between the present and immediate future on the one
hand and the distant future on the other.

We shall not find, we suggest, that

there is any such sharp or simple division between the distant future and the
adjacent future and the present, at least with respect to those things in the
present which are normally subject to moral constrain ts. We can an~ constantl y
do act on the basis ofj"unre liable" informati on, which the sceptic as regards the
future convenien tly labels "uncerta inl,,'.

In moral situation s in the present,

assessmen ts of what to do often take account of risk and probabil ity, even quite
low probabil ities.

Consider again the train parable.

We do not need to know

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

In fact

it does not even have to be probable, in the relevant sense of more probable
than not, in order for us to condemn the consigne r's action.
that there is a significa nt risk of harm


It is enough

in this sort of case.

It does not

matter if the decreased well-bein g of the consigner ia certain and that the

prospects of the passenger s quite uncertain .

It is wrong to ship the gas.


if we do not require certainty of action to apply moral constrain ts in contempo rary
affairs, why should we require a much higher standard of certainty in the future?
The unwarrant ed insistenc e on certainty as a ·necessary condition before moral
considera tion can be given to the distant future, then, amounts to a flagrant double
According to the second argument, the Practical -uncertai nty


even if in theory we have obligatio ns to the future, we cannot in practice
take the interests of future peopl~ into account because uncertain ty about .
the distant future is so gross that we cannot determine what the likely
consequen ces of actions on it will be.

Therefore , however good our intention s

to the people of the distant future are, in practice we have no choice but to
ignore their interests .

Given that moral principle s are characte ristically

of universal implicati onal form, e.g. of forms such as "if x has character


is wrong, for every (action)

sharply thus:



the argument may be stated more

We can never obtain the informati on about future actions whicl\.
,< tt a.s c t..tu._ a.. ~~
h J•
would enable us to iea ■ Jh the anteceden t of the implicati on/\ Therefore , even



if in theory moral principle s do extend to future people, in practice they cannot

be applied to obtain clear conclusio ns.
It is true that if the distant future really were so grossly uncertain
that in every case it was impossibl e to determine in any way better than
chance what the effects of present action would be, and whether any given action
would help or hinder future people, then moral principle s, although applicab le
in theory to the future, would not in practice yield any clear conclusio ns
about how to act.

In this event the distant future would impose no practica l .

moral constrain ts on action.


However. the argument is factually incorrect in

as s uming that the future always is ao grossly uncertain or indeterm inate.
Admittedl y -there is often a high degree of uncertain ty concernin g the distant
future, but as a matter of (continge nt) fact it is not always so gross or
sweeping •• the argument ha• to •••um•.

There are aome areas where uncertain ty ia


not so great as to exclud e const raints on action . For examp le,
we may have
little id ea what the fashio ns will be in a hundre d years or, to
take anothe r
morally -irrel evant factor , what brands of ice cream people will
be eating , if any,
but we do have excel lent reason to believ e, espec ially if we consid
er 3000 years
of histor y, that what people there are in a hundre d years are
likely to have
mater ial and psych ic needs not entire ly unlike our own, that they
will need
a health y biosph ere for a good life; that like us they will not
be immune
to radiat ion; that their welfa re will not be enhanc ed by a high
incide nce of
cancer or geneti c defec ts, by the destru ction of resou rces, or
the elimin ation
from the face of the earth of that wonde rful variet y of non-human
life which at
presen t makes it such a rich and intere sting place. The case
of nuclea r waste
storag e, and of uncer tainty of the effec ts of it on future people
, is onearea where uncer tainty in moral ly releva nt ~espe cts is not so
great as to
preclu de moral const raints on action .
For this sort of reason , the
Pract ical uncer tainty argum ent should be reject ed.
Through the defec ts of the prec~d ing argum ents, we can see the
defec ts in
a number of widely employed uncer tainty argum ents used to write
off proba ble harm
to future people as outsid e the scope of prope r consid eratio n.

Most of these

popula r moves employ both of the uncer tainty argum ents as suits
the case,
switch ing from one to the other.

For examp le, we may be told that we

canno t really take accou nt of future people becaus e we canno t
be sure that they
will exist or that their tastes and wants will not be compl etely
differ ent from
our own, to the point where t.hey will not suffer from our exhau
stion of reso\l rces
or from the things that _would affec t us. But this is to insist
upon compl ete


certai nty of a sort beyond what is requir ed for the presen t and
immed iate future ,
where there is also commonly no guaran tee that some disas ter will
not overta ke
those to whom we are moral ly comm itted. Again we may be told
that there is no
guaran tee that future people will be worthy o( any effort s on
our part, becau se

MOc-CJ. , Ne,,.,i


-fl~ ,v-

they may be morons o/ foreve r plugge d into/\Emjoyment.,


ef othe

±-ultiR ea


if one is prepar ed to accep t the elitis t approa ch presup posed
- accord ing to which
only those who meet certai n prope rly civili zed or intell ectua l
standa rds are

eligib le for moral consid eratio n - what we are being handed in
such argum ents


... ..,.
i s again a mere outside possibility.


Neither the contemporary nor the historical

situation gives any positive reason for supposing that a lapse into universal
moronity or universal-pleasure-machine escapism is a serious possibility.

We can

contrast with these mere logical possibilities the very real historically
supportable risks of escape of nuclear waste or decline


a civilisation through

destruction of its resource base.
Closely related to uncertainty arguments are arguments premissed on the
indeterminacy of the future.

For example, according to the tndeterminacy argument,

the indeterminacy of the number and exact character of people at future times will
prevent the interest of future peopie being taken into account where there is a
conflict with the present.

Since their numbers are indeterminate 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 raised particularly by problems of sharing fixed

quantities of resources among present and future people, for example oil, when the
numbers of the latter are indeterminate.

Such problems are indeed difficult, but

they are not resolved by ignoring the claims

of the future.

Nor are distributional

problems involving non-renewable resources as large and representative a class
of moral problems concerning the future as the tendency to focus on them would

It can be freely admitted, that there will be cases where the


indeterminacy of aspects of the future will make conflicts very difficult to
resolve or indeed irresoluble - no realistic ethical theory can give a precise
answer to every

ethical question.

But, as the train parable again illustrates,

there are cases where such difficulties do not hinder



cases of conflict which are not properly approached by weighing numbers, numbers
of interests, or whatever, cases for which one needs to know only the most general
probable characteristics of future people.

The case of nuclear power is like that.

The failure of these various arguments reveals, what can be iodependently
-+- '-"
thelr placement . does noL
ar gued from the universalisability features of moral principles, 8 thatf
disqualify future people from full moral consideration or reduce their claimsr ,
tllUU' ,.., ') \trt2r /
below the claima of present people. That ia, we hav, "tbe ••m•


to future people as to the presen t;


thus there is the same obliga tion to take

accoun t of them and their intere sts in what we do, to be carefu l in our
action s,
to take accoun t of the probab ility (and not just the certain ty) of our action
causing harm or damage, and to see, other things being equal, that we do
not act
so as to rob them of what is necessa ry for the chance of _a good life. Uncert

and indeter minacy do not relieve us of these obliga tions.




The ethica l problem s with nuclea r power are by no means confine d to waste
storag e
and future creatu res.
entitle ment

Just as remote ness in. time does not er~de obliga tions or

to just treatm ent, neithe r does locatio n in space, or a partic ular

geogra phical positio n.

Hence severa l furthe r problem s arise, to which princip les

and argume nts like those already arrived at in consid ering the waste problem

For exampl e, if one group (socia l unit,

or state) decide s to dump its

radioa ctive wastes in the territo ry or region of anothe r group, or not to
preven t
its (radioa ctive) polluti on enterin g the territo ry of anothe r group, then
impose s risks

and costs on presen tly existin g people of the second group, in

much the way that presen t nuclea r develop ments impose costs and risks on
future people .

There are differe nces howev er:

spatia lly

distan t people

cannot be discou nted in quite the way that future people can be, though

Jiie ~~~ o·F-tu



intere sts and objecti ves/\Nt ?Wlc ignored or overrid den.
People living in the vicini ty of a nuclea r reacto r are subjec t to specia
costs and risks.

One is radioa ctive pollut ion, becaus e reacto rs routin ely dischar 1

radioa ctive materi als into the air and water near
Emissio n problem .

the plant : hence the

Such "norma l" emissio n during plant operat ion of low level

radiati on carrie s carcino genic and mutage nic costs.

While there are undoub tedly

costs, the number of cancer s and the precis e extent of geneti c damage induced
by exposu re to such radiati on are both uncert ain.

If our

ethica l princi ples

permit ted free transfe r of coata and riaka from one person to anothe r,
ethica l iaaue direct ly raised by nuclea r ••miaa ion•wo uld be:

what extent of



cancer and genetic damage, if any, is permissibly traded for the advantages of
nuclear power, and unde{ what conditions?

Since, however, risks and benefits

are NOT {morally) transferable this way - recall the Transfer-limit ing
principle - such a cost-benefit approach to the risks nuclear emission poses


for those who live near a reactor cannot with justice be approached in this fashion~ >
And these risks are



In the USA, people who live within 50 miles of a nuclea ·

power plant bear a risk of cancer and genetic damage/as much as 50 times that
borne by the population at large.

And children living in this region are even more

vulnerable, since they ar~ several times more likely to contract cancer through
exposure than normal adults.

The serious costs to these people cannot be

justified by the alleged benefits for others, especially when these benefits could
be obtained without these costs.

Thus it is not just complacent to say 'It's

a pity about Aunt Ethel dying of cancer, but the new airconditioner s
' make life comfprtable'.


For such benefits to some as airconditioner~

provide,~which can be alternatively obtained, for example by modification of
buildings, can in no way compensate for what others suffer.
Among the other strategies used in trying to persuade us that the
+£«-0:sc w~ \,14 e close ~ Nu<.. (e..a.,R,. pt~~
imposition of radiation ~ d i H - most of whom have no genuine voice
in the location of reactors in their environment and cannot move away without
~\ \

serious losses - is really quite ,'right is the Doubling argument. ~ccording

to the US Atomic Energy Commission, "ho dcployud dU.&i nr• it is pennissfble
to double, through nuclear technology, the level of (natural) radiation that a
population ha$

received with apparently negligible consequences, the argument

bei ng that the additional amount (being equivalent
is also

likely to have negligible consequences.

to the "natural" level)
The increased amounts of

radiation - with their large man-made component - are then accounted normal,
and, its; claimed, what is normal is morally acceptable.




argument is sound.


of eh@ seeps

Drinking one bottle of wine a day may have no

ill-effects, whereas drinking two a day certainly may affect a person'• well-being;
and while the smaller intake may have become for the person, the larger
one will, under euch conditiona, not be.

Finally, what ia or has become norcna_l_, _ _ _~ .


two murders or twenty canc ers a day in a give
n city , may be far from
acce ptab le.


IJ \

In fact , even the USA, which has very stri ct
stan dard s by compar_ison with
most othe r cou ntrie s with planned nucl ear reac
tors , perm its radi atio n emis sion s
very sub stan tiall y in exce ss of the stan dard
s laid down; so the emis sion
situ atio n is much worse than what cons ider atio
n of the stan dard s would
disc lose . Furt herm ore, the mon itori ng of the
stan dard s "imp osed " is entr uste d to
the nucl ear oper ator s them selv es, scar cely
disi nter este d part ies. Thus pub lic
poli cy is dete rmin ed not so as to guar ante e
pub lic hea lth, but rath er to serv e
as a "pub lic pac ifie r" whil e pub licly -sub sidi
zed priv ate nucl ear oper atio ns
proc eed rela tive ly unhampered? ·
While radi oact ive emis sion s are an ordi nary
feat ure of reac tor ope ratio n,
reac tor breakdown is, hop eful ly, not: offi cial
repo rts even try to make an
acci dent of mag nitud e, as a mat ter of defi niti
on, an 'ext raor dina ry nucl ear
occu rren ce'. But "def init ions " notw iths tand
ing, such acci dent s can happ en,
and almo st have on seve ral occa sion s (the most
noto riou s bein g Thre e Mile Isla nd):
henc e the Core-meltdown prob lem.
If the cool ing and emergency core cool ing syst
ems fail in American (lig ht
wate r) reac tors ,
then the core melt s and 'con tain men t fail ure'
is like ly,
with the resu lt that an area of 40,0 00 squa
re mile s coul d be radi oact ivel y
cont amin ated . In the even t of the wors t type
of acci dent in a very sma ll
reac tor, a steam expl osio n in the reac tor vess
el, abou t 45,0 00 peop le would be
kill ed inst antl y and at leas t 100, 000 would
die as a resu lt of the acci den t,
prop erty damages would exce ed $17 bill ion and
an area the size of Penn sylv ania
would be dest roye d. Modern nucl ear reac tors
are abou t five time s the size of
the reac tor for which thes e cons erva tive US
figu res (sti ll the best avai labl e from
offi cial sour ces) are give n:
the cons eque nces of a sim ilar acci dent with
modern reac tor would acco rdin gly be much grea
The cons igne r who risk s the live s and well -bei
ng of pass enge rs on the
trai n acts .i nadm issib ly. A government or
gove rnm ent- endo rsed util ity
appe ars to act in a way that doe• not diff er
in mor all;y aign ifica nt resp ect• in

siti ng a nuc lear rea cto r in a commun
ity, in pla ntin g such a dan gero us pac kag
e on
the "community trai n". More dir ect ly,
the loc atio n of a nuc lear rea cto r in
community, even if it sho uld hap pen to
rec eiv e a fav our able ben efit -co st
ana lysi s and oth er economic app rais al,
would vio late such eth ica l requ irem ents
as the Tra nsf er-l imi ting prin cip le.
The adv oca tes of nuc lear power hav e,
in eff ect , end eav oure d to avo id
que stio ns of cos t-tr ans fer and equ ity,
by shi ftin g the disp ute out of the
extr aor din ary imp rob abil it't, , V
e thic al aren a and into a tech nol ogi cal
disp ute abo ut eaau~ theJ
· 0
r eac tor mal fun ctio n. They hav e argu ed,
in par ticu lar, what con tras ts with the
trai n par able , tha t the re is no rea l
pos sib ilit y of a cata stro phi c nuc lear


acc iden t.

Inde ed in the infl uen tial Rassmussen
rep ort - which was ext ens ive ly
used to sup por t pub lic con fide nce in
US nuc lear fiss ion tech nolo gy - an even
stro nge r, an inc red ibly stro ng, imp rob
abil ity clai m was stat ed: nam ely, the
' like liho od of a cata stro phi c nuc lear
acc iden t is so rem ote as to be (alm ost)
imp ossi ble. However, the mat hem atic
al models reli ed upon in this rep ort,
var iou sly call ed "fa ult tree ana lysi s"
and "re liab ilit y esti mat ing tech niq ues
are unso und , bec aus e, among oth er thin
gs, they exc lude as "no t cre dib le"
tha t the
pos sib ilit ies tha t may wel l happen in
the rea l wor ld. It is not sur pris ing
, the n,/
methodology and dat a of the rep ort hav
e bee n sou ndly and dec isiv ely crit icis
or tha t off icia l sup por t for the rep
ort has now been with draw n.12 Mor eov er,
of alte rna tive methods and data ind icat
es tha t the re is a rea l pos sib ilit y,
non -ne glig ible pro bab ility of a · seri
ous acc ide nt.
In resp ons e it is con tend ed tha t, even
if the re is a non -ne glig ible
pro bab ility of a rea cto r acc ide nt. sti
ll tha t is acc epta ble, bein g of no
gre ater ord er than risk s of acc iden ts
tha t are alre ady soc iall y acc epte d.
we enc oun ter aga in tha t insi dio us eng
inee ring app roac h to mor alit y bui lt into
dec isio n models of an economic cas t,
e.g . ben efit -co st bala nce she ets, risk
asse ssm ent mod els, etc . Ris k asse ssm
ent, a sop his tica tion of tran sac tion
trad e-o ff mod els, pur por ts to pro vide
a com pari son betw een the rela tive riak
atta che d to diff ere nt opt ion s, ••I• ene
rgy otp ion a, whi ch aet tlea the ir

eth ica l stat us.

The foll owi ng assu mpt ions are enc oun
tere d in risk asse ssm ent
as app lied to ene rgy opt ion s:



If o~io n'.J t_im pos es (co mpa rab le)B osts
on few er peo ple than op tio n~
then opt ion ,i_
pre fera ble to opt ion . ;



,,_....,_,, .


Op tion iinv olv es a tota l net cos t in
term s of cos t to peo ple (e.g .
dea ths, inju ries , etc .) which is less
than tha t of opt ion .wh ich is •~re
acc epte d; the refo re opt ion ~is acc ept
abl ef 3
These assu mpt ions are then app lied as
foll ows .


Sin ce 't he number like ly to

eve ntu all' i'
by nuc lear power sta tion cata stro phe
is less !ha n the like ly number
kill ed by cig are tte smoking, and sinc
e the risk s of cig are tte smoking are
acc epte d;
it foll ows tha t the risk s of nuc
lear power are acc epta ble. A litt le
refl ect ion
rev eals tha t this sor t of risk asse ssm
ent argument gro ssly vio late s the Tra
nsfe r~
lim itin g prin cip le. In ord er to obt ain
a pro per eth ica l asse ssm ent we need
be kill ed


a much full er pic ture , and we need to
know at lea st thes e thin gs: / Do the
cos ts and ben efit s go to the same par
ties ; and is the pers on who vol unt aril
und erta kes the risk s also the pers on
who prim aril y rece ives the ben efit s,
as in
driv ing or cig are tte smoking, or are
the cos ts imposed
on oth er par ties who do
not ben efit ? It is only if the par ties
are the same in the cas e of the opt ion
S vC-t...
compared, and the re are no ~d ist rib
uti on al prob lem s, tha t a com pari son
8ft •-•h
would be sou ndly bas ed. Thi s is rare
ly the cas e, and it is not ao in
the case of risk asse ssm ents of ene rgy
opt ion s.


alre ady disc uss ed by no means exh aus
t the
env iron men tal, hea lth and safe ty risk
s and cos ts in, or aris ing from , the
nuc lear
fue l cyc le. The ful l fue l cyc le incl
ude s many stag es both bef ore and afte
rea ct or ope rati on, apa rt from was te disp
osa l, nam ely, min ing, mil ling , con ver
sion ,
enri chm ent and pre par atio n, rep roc essi
ng spe nt fue l, and tran spo rtat ion of
materia ls. Sev eral of thes e stag es inv
olv e haz ard s. Unl ike the spe cial


risk s in the nuc lear cyc le

- of sab otag e of pla nts , of the ft of
fiss ion abl e

mat eria l, and of the furt her pro life rati
on of nuc lear armaments - thes e haz ards


have para llels . if not exac t equi vale nts, in othe
r high ly poll utin g methods of
gene ratin g powe r. e.g. 'wor kers in the uran ium
mini ng indu stry sust ain "the same
risk" of fata l and nonf atal inju ry as work ers
in the coal indu stry '.14 The
prob lems are not uniq ue to nucl ear deve lopm ent.
Othe r soci al and envi ronm enta l prob lems -

thou gh endemic wher e dang erou s

larg e-sc ale indu stry oper ates in soci etie s that
are high ly ineg alita rian and
inclu de sect ors that are far from afflu ent - are
more intim ately linke d with the
nucl ear power cycl e. Though poll utio n is a comm
on and gene rally unde sirab le
component of larg e-sc ale indu stria l oper ation ,
rad~ oact ive poll utio n .suc h
as urani um mini ng for insta nce prod uces . is espe
ciall y a lega cy of nucl ear
deve lopm ent. and a spec ially unde sirab le one,
as rect ifica tion cost s for dead
radi oact ive land s and wate rway s reve al. Though
sabo tage is a thre at to many
larg e indu strie s, sabo tage of a nucl ear reac tor
can have dire cons eque nces ,
of a diffe rent orde r of magn itude from most indu
stria l sabo tage (where core
meltdown is not a poss ibili ty). Though thef t
of mate rial from more dubi ous
ente rpris es such as mun ition s works can pose thre
ats to popu latio ns at larg e
and can assi st terro rism , no thef ts for alleg edly
peac eful ente rpris es pose
prob lems of the same orde r as thef t of fissi onab
le mate rial. No othe r indu stry
prod uces mate rials which so read ily perm it fabr
icati on into such mass ive
expl osiv es. No othe r indu stry is, to sum it up,
so vuln erab le on so many fron ts.
In part to redu ce its vuln erab ility , in part beca
use of its long and
cont inuin g asso ciati on with mili tary acti viti es,
the nucl ear indu stry is subj ect
to, and enco urag es, seve ral prac tices whic h (give
n thei r scal e) run coun ter to
basi c featu res of free and open soci etie s, cruc
ial featu res such as pers onal
libe rty, freedom of asso ciati on and of expr essio
n,an d free acce ss to info rmat ion.
Thes e prac tices inclu de secr ecy, rest ricti on of
info rmat ion, form ation of
spec ial poli ce and guar d forc es, espio nage , curt
ailm ent of civi l libe rtie s.
Alre ady oper ators of nucl ear inst alla tion s are
give n extr aord inar y
powe rs, in vett ing empl oyee s, to inve stiga te the
back grou nd and
acti vitie s not only of empl oyee s but also of thei
r fami lies and
sometimes even of thei r frien ds. The inst alla
tion s them selve s
become armed camps, whic h espe ciall y offe nds Brit
ish sens ibili ties .
The U.K. Atomic Energy (Spe cial Con stab les) Act
of 1976 crea ted a
spec ial armed forc e to guar nucl ear inst alla tion
s aud..made it
answ erab le • • • to the U.K. .. dAtom
ic En• ·


These devel opme nts, and worse ones in West Germany
and elsew here, presa ge along
with nucle ar devel opme nt incre asing ly auth orita rian
and anti- demo crati c
soci eties . That nucle ar devel opme nt appe ars to force
such poli tical
conse quen ces tells heav ily again st it. Nucl ear devel
opme nt is furth er indic ted
poli tical ly by the direc t conn ectio n of nucle ar powe
r with nucle ar war. It ia
true that ethic al ques tions conc ernin g nucle ar war
- for exam ple, whet her a
nucle ar war is justi fied , or just, unde r any circu msta
nces, and if so what
circu msta nces - are disti ngui shab le from those conc
ernin g nucle ar power.
Undo ubted ly, however, the sprea d of nucle ar power is
subs tanti ally incre asing
the techn ical means for engag ing in nucle ar war and
so, to that exte nt, the
oppo rtuni ty for, and chanc es of, nuc~ ear engagement.
Since nucle ar wars are
neve r accou nted
posi tive good s, but are at best the lesse r of majo r
evils ,
nucle ar wars are alway s high ly ethic ally unde sirab le.
The sprea d of nucle ar
power acco rding ly expan ds the oppo rtuni ty for, and
chanc es of, high ly unde sirab le
conse quen ces. .,.fina l:½) the lac cet, sb irlete a&In g r.huuw
cbancac i'itid Opt111c I Oil I I te:::s,
is Heal f unda sha~ h,

■Rd 'lber efore )wha t


leads to it;nu clea r devel opme ntA is

unde sirab le.

This is, in outli ne, the argum ent from nucle ar war
again st
large -scal e nucle ar devel opme nt. 16

t5 F ·~ , ~


NUCLEAR DEVELOPMENT. Much as with _nucle ar war, so
given the cumu lative caTe
again st nucle ar deve lop~e nt, only one
justi ficat ory route rema ins open ,
that of appe al to over ridin g circu msta nces. That appe
al, to be ethic ally
acce ptabl e; must go beyond mere ly economic cons idera
tions . For, as obse rved,
the cons igne r's actio n, in the train para ble, cann ot
be juati fied by pure ly
econ omis tic . argum ents, such as that his prof its would
rise, the company or the
town would be more prosp erous , or by appe aling to the
fact that some poss ibly
unco mfor table chang es would other wise be neede d. So
it is also in the nucle ar
case: ./Tra nsfe r-lim iting princ iple appl ies. But
suppo se now the cons igner argue s
that his actio n ia justi fied becau ae unlea a it 1• taken
the town will die. It ia


by no means clear that even such a justification as this would be sufficient,
especia lly where the risK5 to the passengers is high, since the case still
amo~ntsione of transfer of costs and risks onto others. But such a conflict
situation, where a given course of action, though normally undesirable, is

alleged to be the lesser of two evils in a given case, is morally more problemthan c~ses
atica;(where v~fer-limitin g principle is clearly violated. Nuclear development is often defended
in this way, through Conflict arguments, to
the effect that even though nuclear development does have undesirable features,
nevertheless the alternatives are worse.
Some of the arguments advanced to demonstrate conflict are based on
competing commitments to present people, and others on competing obligations
to future people, both of which are taken to override the obligations not to
i mpose on the future significant risk of serious harm. The success of such
conflict arguments requirESthe presentation of a genuine and exhaustive set of
alternatives (or at least practical alternatives) and showing that the only
al ternatives to admittedly morally undesirable actions are even more undesirable
ones. If some practical alternative which is not morally worse than the
action to be justified is overlooked, suppressed, or neglected in the argument
(for example, if in the train parable it turns out that the town has another
option to starving or to shipping the parcel, namely earning a living in some
other way), then the argument is defective and cannot readily be patched. Just
such a suppression of practicable alternatives, we shall argue, has occurred in
the argument designed to show that the alternatives to the nuclear option are
even worse than the option itself.
A first argument, the Poverty argument, is that there is an overriding
obligation to the poor, both the poor of the third world and the poor of industrialised countries. Failure to develop nuclear energy, it is often claimer,
would amount to denying them the opportunity to reach the standard of affluence
we currently enjoy and would create unemployment and poverty in the industrialised

And this would be worse - a greater evil - than such things as violating
the Transfer-limit ing principle through nuclear development.

The Poverty argument does not stand up to examination, either for the
poor of the industrial countries or for those of the third world. There is
good evid ence that large-scale nuclear energy will help increase unemployment
and poverty in the industrial world, through the diversion of very much available
capital into an industry which is not only an exceptionally poor provider of
direct employment, but also tends to reduce available jobs through encouraging
substitution of energy use for labour use.
The argument that nuclear energy
is needed for the third world is even less convincing. Nuclear energy is both
politically and economically inappropriate for the third world, since it requires

massive amounts of capital, require• number• of imported acientiata and en2ineera.


~cr eate s negl igibl e loca l employment, and depen
ds for its feas ibili ty upon
large ly non- exist ent utili ty syste ms - e.g. estab
lishe d elec trici ty
trans miss ion syste ms and back- up faci litie s, and suffi
cien t elec trica l
appli ance s to plug into the syste m. Poli tical ly it
incre ases forei gn
depen dence , adds to cent ralis ed entre nche d power and
reduc es the chanc e for
chang e in the oppr essiv e poli tical struc tures which
are a large part of the
probl em.
The fact that nucle ar energ y is not in the inter ests
of the peop le
of the third world does not of cours e mean that it
is not in the inter ests of,
and wante d (ofte n for milit ary purpo ses) by, their
ruler s, the west ernis ed and
often milit ary elite s in whose inter ests the econo
mies of these coun tries are
usua lly organ ised. But that does not make the pove
rty argum ent anyth ing othe r
than what it is: a fraud .
There are well- know n energ y-con servi ng alter nativ es
and the prac tical optio n of deve lopin g furth er alter
nativ e energ y sourc es,
alter nativ es some of which offe r far bette r prosp ects
for helpi ng the poor ,
both in the third world and in indu stria l coun tries
: coal and othe r foss il fuels ,
geoth erma l, and a range of solar optio ns (incl udin
g as well as narro wly sola r
sourc es, wind , wate r and tidal powe r).
Anot her majo r argum ent advan ced to show conf lict,
the Ligh ts-go ingout argum ent, pppe als to a set of supp osedl y over ridin
g and comp eting oblig ation s
to futur e peop le. We have , it is said, a duty to
pass on the immensely
valua ble thing s and insti tutio ns which our cultu re
has devel oP,ed . Unle ss our
high- techn ology , high- energ y indu stria l socie ty is
conti nued and foste red, our
valua ble insti tutio ns and tradi tions will fall into
decay or be swep t away.
The argum ent is esse ntial ly that witho ut nucle ar powe
r, witho ut the conti nued
level of mate rial weal th it alone is assumed to make
poss ible, the light s of
our civil izati on will go out.
Futu re peop le will be the loser s.
The argum ent does raise impo rtant ques tions abou t
what is valua ble in
our socie ty and what char acte risti cs are nece ssary
for a good socie ty. But for
the most part these large ques tions can be by-p assed
. The reaso n is that the
argum ent adop ts an extre mely uncr itica l attit ude to
prese nt high- techn ology
soci eties , appa rentl y assum ing that they are unifo
rmly and uniqu ely valu able.
It assum es that techn olog ical socie ty is unmo difia
ble, thaic anno t be chang ed in
the direc tion of energ y cons ervat ion or alter nativ
e.(pe rhap s high techn ology )
energ y sourc es witho ut colla pse.
These assum ption s are all hard to acce pt. The assum
ption that
techn olog ical soci ety's energ y patte rns are unmo difia
ble is espe ciall y so;
after all, it has survi ved even ts such as world wars
which requ ired majo r
socia l and techn olog ical restr uctu ring and consu mptio
n modi ficat ion. If
west ern soci ety's demands for energ y were (con trary
to the evide nce) total ly
unmo difia ble witho ut colla pse, not only would it be
comm itted to a progr am
of incre asing destr uctio n, but much of ita cultu re
would be of dubio us value to

future people, who would very likely, as a consequence of this destruction , lack
the resource base which the argument assumes to be essential in the case of
contemporar y society.
The uniformity assumption should certainly be challenged. Since hightechnology societies appear not to be uniformly valuable, the central
question is, what is necessary to maintain what is valuable in such a society?
While it may be easy to argue that high energy consumption centrally controlled
is necessary to maintain the political and economic status quo of such a
society, it is not so easy to argue that it is essential to maintain what is
valuable, and it is what is valuable, presumably ,that we have a duty to pass on to
the future.
The evidence from history is that no very high level of material affluence
or energy consumption is needed to maintain what is valuable.
There 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 even
if a radical change in these directions is independen tly desirable, it is
unnecessary to presuppose such a change in order to see that the assumptions of
the Lights-goin g-out argument are wrong. The consumption of less energy than at
present need involve no reduction of well-being: and certainly a large increase
over present levels of consumption assumed in the usual economic case for nuclear
energy, is quite unnecessary .

What the nuclear strategy is really designed to do
then is not to prevent the lights going out in western civilisatio n, but to
enable the lights to go on burning all the time - to maintain and even increase
the wattage output of the Energy Extravagan za.
In fact there is good reason to think that, far from~hig h energy
consumption society fostering what is valuable, it will, especially if energy
is obtained by means of nuclear fission,be positively inimical to it. A society
which has become heavily dependent upon a highly centralised , controlled and
garrisoned, capital- and expertise-i ntensive e~ergy source, must be one which is
highly susceptible to entrenchmen t of power, and one in which the forces which
control this energy source, whether capitalist or bureaucrati c, can exert
enormous power over the political system and over people's lives, even more
then they do at present. Such a society would almost inevitably tend to
become authoritati an and increasingl y anti-democ ratic, as an outcome, among
other things, of its response to the threat posed by dissident groups in the
nuclear situation.
Nuclear development may thus help in passing on to future generations
some of the worst aspects of our society - the consumerism , alienation, destruction
of nature, and latent authoritaria nism - while many valuable aspects, such as
the degree of political freedom and those opportuniti es for personal and
collective autonomy which exist, would be loat or diminished:

political fr eedqp

for example, is a high price to pay for consumerism and.#ener gy extravagenc e.
Again, as in the case of the poverty arguments, clear alternative s,
a lternative social and political choices, which do not involve such
unacceptabl e consequence s, are available. The alternative to _the high
technology- nuclear 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, better,the development of alternative technologie s 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
Li ghts-going -out~umen t, as a moral conflict argument, accordingly fails.
Thus the fttrther escape route, the appeal to conflict, is, like the
appeal t ~ futurity, closed. If tbea we apply, as we have argued we should, the
~ 1, t.
same standards ef ■eral1t¥ to the future as we ought to acknowledge for the
;present, the conclusion that large-scale nuclear development is a crime against
the future is inevitable.

Closed also, in the much same way, are the escape
routes to other arguments (from reactor meltdown, radiation emissions, etc.)
for concluding that nuclear development is unacceptab le. In sum, nuclear
development is morally unacceptabl e on several grounds.

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 associated phenomena such as

acid rain and atmospheric heating, not to mention the despoliatio n caused by
extensive strip mining, all of which will result from its use in meeting very
high projected consumption figures. Such an option would,more over, also violate
the Transfer-li miting principle: for 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 replacemen t.
To these main conventiona l options a third is often added which
emphasizes softer and more benign technologie s, such as those of solar energy and
hydroelec tricity. Such softer options - if suitably combined with energy
conservatio n measures (for there are solar ways, as well as nuclear ways, of
energy extravaganc e and of producing unnecessary trivia which answer to no
genuine needs) - can avoid the ethical objections to nuclear power. The deeper
choice is not however technolo~ic al,
nor merel~Jindi vidua1}' 6fifrtocial, and
involves the restructuri ng of production away from energy intensive uses and,


at a more basic level, a change to nonconsum eristic, less consumptive lifestyles and social arrangem~n ts} 7 Thes.e iore fundamental choices between social
+"f? "'- •• t tt ti, fll ~ ~ t- e ,, ., , ~ f'I t- t e rna t 1v e s,""convent i ona 1 technologic a~ly-orient ed discussion of energy options, ~
teod• to e&acur•. It ie not juet • utter of decidina in which way to meet the


unexamined goals nuclear development aspires to meet, but also a matter of
examining the goals themselves. That is, we are not merely faced with the
question of comparing different technologie s for meeting some fixed or given
demand or level of consumption , and of trying to see how best to meet these;
we are also faced, and primarily, with the matter of examining those alleged
needs and the cost of a society that creates them.
It is doubtful that any technology, however benign in principle, will be

likely to leave a tolerable world for the future if it is expected to meet
unbounded and uncontrolle d energy consumption and demands. Even more benign
technologie s may well be used in a way which creates costs for future people and
,~hich are.....,
__, likely to result in a deteriorate d world being handed on to
them. In short, even more benign technologie s may lead to violation of the
Transmissio n ~equirem ent. Consider, to illustrate, the effect on the world's
forests, commonly counted as a solar resource, should they be extensively used
for production of methanol or of electricity by woodchippin g. While few would
object to the use of genuine waste material for energy production, the
unrestricte d exploitatio n of forests - whether it goes under the name of
"solar energy" or not - to meet ever increasing energy demands could well be
the final indignity for the world's already hard-presse d natural forests.
The effects of such additional demands on the maintenance of the forests
are often dismissed by the simple expedient of waving around the label
"renewable resources". Many forests are in principle renewable, it is a true,
given a certain (low) rate and kind of exploitatio n, but in fact there are now
very few forestry operations anywh~re in the world where the forests are treated
as completely renewable in the sense of the renewal of all their values. In
many regions too the rate of exploitatio n which would enable renewal has already
been exceeded, so that a total decline is widely thought to be imminent. It
certainly has begun in many regions, and many forest types, especially rainforest types,are now, and rapidly, being lost for the future;s The addition of
a major further and not readily !imitable demand pressure
for energy on top

the present demands is one which anyone with both a realistic appreciatio n
of the conduct of forestry operations and a concern for the long-term
conservatio n of the forests and remaining natural conununities must regard with
alarm. The result of massive deforestati on for energy purposes, resembling
the deforestati on of much of Europe at the beginning of the Industrial
Revolution, again for energy purposes, could be extensive and devastating erosion
in steeper lands and tropical areas, desertifica tion in more arid regions,
possible climatic change, and massive impoverishm ent of natural ecosys~ems,
including enormous loss of natural species. Some of us do not want to pass on,
and by the Transmissio n principles we are not entitled to pass on, a deforested
world to the future, any more than we want to pass on one poisoned by nuclear


produ cts or pollu ted by coal prod ucts. In abor t,
as the fores t situa tion
illus trate s, a mere switc h to
more benig n techn olog ies - impo rtant thoug h this
is - witho ut any more basic struc tural and soci al
chang e1 is inade quate .
The deep er socia l optio n invol ves chall engin g and ·begi
nning to alter
a socia l .stru cture which prom ote, consu meris m, consu
mptio n far beyond genu ine needs
and an economic struc ture which enco urage s incre asing
use of high ly ener gy-in tensi ~e_
modes of prod uctio n. The socia l chang e optio n tends
to be obscu red in most
dis cussi ons of energ y optio ns and of how to meet energ
y ~eed s, in part becau se
it does ques tion unde rlyin g value s of curre nt socia
l arran geme nts. The
conv entip nal discu ssion proce eds by takin g alleg ed
demand (ofte n conf lated with
e ::s<.)..,..J1.~
f,. ~ants or need s) as unch allen geab le, and the
issue to be one ,',If which techn ology
can be most prof itabl y employed to meet.llhetft. This
effec tivel y prese nts a
"'"tt--~ ~ cJL.t ~ J.. ....~4'-- l~..,, wL., c
v .~ ~.:i.4~ - <e ---4(\ 1 >-..~ wt:S,;....,..1~ ,.s l r N Cl'-'~ r
false choic e. M\-d is the reett l-~-ef -t-ald'--:rigC. needs
CQRt ext



so that

d'etnamt=-n--bek-i ftt-a- &&&, i-a.J-


the.--ao,Q,:l:-a-1- ·etrt:t et·ttr-e,--wMeh-p-tt&titte-ee--the-,
,:nead&---i&- •&im-i-l&r-l-y-·

t aken as unch allen geab le and unch angea ble. The poin
t is read ily illus trate d.
I t is commonly argue d by repre senta tives of such
indu strie s as trans porta tion
and petro leum , as for exam ple by McGrowth of the XS
Consumption Co., that
peop le want deep freez ers, air cond ition s, power gadg
ets, •••• It would be
auth orita rian to preve nt them from satis fyin g these
want s. Such an argum ent
from creat ed wants
conv enien tly ignor es the socia l framew-0rk in which
\ " N ~c..;'2,... f -t1,.Q. ~ft:. plA,.i--1~<'
needs and wan~ arise or are produ ced. 'I:..+To
pe~ n~ . th ~ dat.e i;m-~
~:::,... t >-.irl "'(At.J c" .... c..!,,..~, (IC . ~N t\ f1..,e_ ~~ '
f''-'l ~~t'. ...~ tN tu 9A-( C2..... o!&n,-J
ma"n¥- sueh-warrt s· a c rhe "'fl"'~Trnrk- ieve-1-- ia.:.
no,.t....,.,.•how e\t~t o., assum e .,tha.t, ...-t,h&y-.
~ c l-«:i , c...12.o
,J'!:', ~-ft. -.<./ t..-f 4'}. c.. ,._
1.1 ..+ e.


~ -.,~ft~
.....__ ~-~; ,.; ;~

2 ~eval.-<a--e--~

l ~'

tdal _w;g_ ;!_nf, _!!_at

~hing as ·-tndi~ .tl!u arcir o-i-e ~••t~ i.nat io.n -at.._jl_ll...
~ t
1Te--- ao£ ial framework as a majo r facto r in deter mini
ng~c e~tai n kinds
.,,....,.....,.... ,••
of choic es, such as those -.. ·fo.t_ _~rav el, and k.inds ---~ f
. ,...:1-nf-r·a struc ture, and to see
appa rentl y indiv idua l choic es ~~:i°~') .n :,.'8uch':·;;~; ers
as being chan nelle d and
direc ted by a soci al fr,amework deter mine d large ly
"' 1n ·· th&.-. .inter ests of corp orate
and priva te prpf~-t" -~nd adva ntage .
The soci al chang e optio n ia a hard optio n, inso far
as it will be diffi cult
to imple ment poli tical ly; but it ia ultim ately the
only way of avoid ing the
passi ng on of serio us costs to futur e peop le. And
there are othe r sorts of
reaso ns than such ethic al ones for takin g it: it
is the main , indee d the only
sort of optio n,ope n to those who adop t what is now
calle d a deep ecolo gical
persp ectiv e, as cont raste d with _a shall ow ecolo gical
outlo ok which regar ds
the natu ral world and its nonhuinan deniz ens as not
worth while in them selve s but
only of value in as much as ther answ er back to human
inter ests. The .deep
ecolo gical persp ectiv e is an integ ral part of the
Alte rnati ve Ecol ogica l
Parad igm and is incom patib le wi;~h cent ral these s of
the Dominant Soci al Parad igm
(whic h is esse ntial ly the ideol pgy of claa aica l and
neoc lassi cal econo mics)



,.....,,, ,......... ,....


• c..-,.t. ... ,

and its vari ants (rou ghly , what are calle d Stat
e Soci alism , and Dem ocrat ic
\/,-tu JtN,k
Soci alism ).19 It is inco mpa tible with &w&h
a&Fhmptiafts as •h•• the n~tu ral
l( N ~0.S k.Mlt- JL,..
°'M.A ~ " " Co.. I ~ ~
envir onme nt '" "' va'1u,e .9nly as a reso urce , ~b
y And la~ hos tile /\~. .>
~ vM~ ~ .s -to ' t«. A~ ~~
o :r
9'\ d 11\.J , ~ -tt. «... o-t\
~ u~
le ee11 tnlla hle :f:n ht1 11a
~a, e 1 a,ul uhAl ~
· r t h e • mina tion- over wkt ,~ '-'4..
natu re themes ~th e Dominant Parad igm and its
vari ants .
The conf lict betw een Alte rnat ive and Dominant Para
digm s, which is fast
incr easi ng, exte nds of cour se far beyond attit udes
to the natu ral worl d, sinc e
core valu es of the Dominant Par,~digm such as the
meri ts of unimpeded economic
growth and mate rial prog ress ar ~ at stak e; the
conf lict invo lves fund amen tal
diffe renc es over the whole fron t of econ omic al,
poli tica l and soci al arra ngem ents.
The conf lict unde rlies much of ;the nucl ear deba
te, inso far as it is not
spec ifica lly limi ted to questio1~s of tech nolo gica
l fixe s, but take s up the
basi c ethi cal issu es and the so ~ial ques tions to
which they lead .20 The
ethi cal requ irem ents alrea dy de1fended and appl ied
brin g us out, when follo wed
throu gh, on the Alte rnat ive sid1~ of the parad igm
conf lict, and acco rdin gly
lead to the diff icul t soci al ch1nge optio n.
The soci al chan ges that the deep alte rnat ive requ
ires will be stron gly
resis ted beca use they mean chan ges in curr ent soci
al orga nisa tion and power
stru ctur e. To the exte nt that the optio n repr esen
ts some kind of thre at to
part s of pres ent poli tica l and economic arran gem
ents, it is not surp risin g that
offi cial ener gy ppti on disc ussi on proc eeds by misr
epre sent ing and ofte n
obsc uring it. But diff icul t as it is to suita bly
alte r "the syste m,"
espe ciall y one with such far-r each ing effe cts on
the prev ailin g power stru ctur e,
it is impe rativ e to try: we are all on the nucl
ear train .


This paper is a condens ation of an early version of our 'Nuclea r
power - ethical , social, and politic al dimensi ons' (ESP for short, availab le
from the authors ), which in turn grew out of Routley (i.e. the work so referred

to in the referenc e list). For help with the condens ation we are very
conside rably indebted to the e~itors .
In the condens ation, we simplify the structu re of the argument and
suppres s underly ing politic al ~1nd ideolog ical dimensi ons (for example , the
large measure of respons ibilit~r of the USA for spreadin g nuclear reactor s around
the world, and thereby in enhancin g the chances of nuclear disaste rs, includin g
nuclear war).

We also considet ·ably reduce a heavy load of footnote s and
referenc es designed and needed to help make good many of our claims. · Further ,
in order to contain referenc es to a modest length, referenc e to primary
sources has often been replaced by referenc e through seconda ry sources . Little
difficu lty should be encount ered however in tracing fuller referenc es through
seconda ry sources or in filling out much importa nt backgrou nd materia l from

work cited herein. For example , virtual ly all the data cited in section s I and VII
is referenc ed in Routley . At worst ESP can always be consulte d.

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 unneces sary to know much about the nuclear fuel cycle
in order to conside r ethical and social dimensio ns of nuclear power, it
helps to know a little. The b~~sics are presente d in many texts, e.g. Nader

& Abbotts , Gyorgy.

Of course


order to assess fully reports as to such
importa nt backgrou nd and stage~,s etting matters as the likeliho od of a
core meltdown of
(lightw ater)1 reactor s, much more informa tion is require d.
For many assessm ent purpose s h~,wever, some knowledge of economic fallacie s
and decision theory is at least as importa nt aa knowledge of nuclear
technolo gy.

Natural ly the effect on humans is not the only factor that has
to be taken into account in arrivln g at moral assessm ents. Nuclear radiatio n,
unlike most ethical theorie s. does not confine its scope to human life and
welfare . But since the ham nuclear developm ent may afflict on nonhuman life, for example , can hardly improve its case, it suffice s if the case
against it can be made out solely in term• of its effects on human life in the
convent ional way.

.For refe ren ce to apd a brie f disc uss ion
of (hu man -ori ente d)
sim ulat ion models see Goodin, p.42 8.


The Opp ortu nity -co st . argument is also
def ecti ve in oth er
resp ects . It pres upp ose s not mer ely
the (mi stak en) red ucti ons invo lved in
con trac tion of the eth ica l domain to
the economic; it also pres upp ose s tha
t the
pro per methods for dec isio n which affe
ct. the futu re, such as tha t of ene rgy
cho ice, app ly disc oun ting . But , as Goo
din arg ues , more app rop riat e dec isio n
rule s do not allo w disc oun ting .

Thi s is one of the reas ons why exp ecte
d uti lity theo ry,
roug hly cos t-be nef it ana lysi s wit h pro
bab ility fril ls, is inad equ ate as a
dec isio n method in such con tex ts.

App aren t exc epti on~ to the prin cip le
such as tax atio n (and
red istr ibu tion of income gen era, lly) van
ish when wea lth is con stru ed (as
it has to be if tax atio n is to be
pro per ly jus tifi ed) as at lea st par tly
a soc ial
ass et unf airl y mon opo lise d by a min orit
y of the pop ulat ion . Examples such
as tha t of mot orin g dan gero usly do not
con stit ute cou nter exa mpl es to the
prin cip le; for one is not mor ally ent
itle d to so mot or.


For det ails , and as to how the off icia
l ana lys~ s become argu men ts
aga inst nuc lear dev elop men t whe.p some
atte mpt is made to tak e the -ign ored
cos ts into acc oun t, see Shr ade r-Fr ech
ette , p. 55 ff.

See Rou tley , p. 160 .


For much furt her disc uss ion of the poi
nts of the prec edin g two par agrap hs, see Shr ade r-F rec het te, p. 35
ff.; and also Nader & Abbott&.


Most of the rea cto rs in the wor ld are
of this typ e;


See Shr ade r-Fr ech ette , cha pter 4.



See Shr ade r-Fr ech ette . A wor thw hile
ini tia l view of the
sho rtco min gs
of the RassmutJsen rep ort may be reac hed
by com bini ng
the crit iqu e in Shr ade r-Fr ech et~e wit
h tha t in Nader & Abb otts .

The re are var iati on$ on Ai and Aii
which mul tipl y cos ts
aga inst numbers such as pro bab ilit ies.
In this way risk s, con stru ed as
pro bab le cos ts, can be take n into acc
oun t in the asse ssm ent. (Al tern ativ
ely .
risk .a may be aaaeaaed thro ugh •~e h fam
ilia r aeth oda •• inau ran ce).

A princ iple varyi ng Aii, and formu lated as follow s:
Aii'. a is ethic ally accep table if {for some b) a inclu des
no more
risks than band bis socia lly accep ted,
was the basic ethic al princ iple in terms of which the Cluff
Lake Board of . Inqui ry recen tly decid ed that nucle ar power
devel opme nt
in Saska tchew an is ethic ally accep table : see Cluff Lake
Board of Inqui ry
Final Repo rt, Department of Envir onme nt, Government of Saska
tchew an, 1978,
p. 305 and p. 288. In this repor t, a is nucle ar power and
b is eithe r
activ ities clear ly accep ted by socie ty as alter nativ e power
sourc es. In
other appli catio ns b has b•en taken as cigar ette smoki ng,
motor ing,
minin g and even the Vietnam ~ar (!).
The point s made in the text do not exhau st the objec tions
princ iples Ai - Aii'. The princ iples are certa inly ethic
ally subst antiv e,
since an ethic al conse quenc e canno t be deduced from nonet
hical prem isses,
but they have an inadm issibl e conve ntion al chara cter. For
look at the
origi n of b
b may be socia lly accep ted thoug h it is no longe r socia
accep table , or thoug h its socia l accep tibili ty is no longe
r so clear cut
and it would not have been socia lly accep ted if as much as
is now known
had been known when it was introd uced. What is requi red
in Aii', for
insta nce, for the argument tQ begin to look convi ncing is
that b is
'ethic ally accep table ' rath, r than 'soci ally accep ted'.
But even
with the amendments the princ iples are inval id, for the reaso
ns given in
the text, and other s.
It is not disco neert ing that princ iples of this type do not
It would be sad to see yet anoth er area lost to the expe
rts, ethic s to
actua ries.


See Shrad er-Fr echet te, p. 15.


Goodin . p. 433.


The argum ent is elabo rated in ESP.


For some of the more philo sophi cally impor tant mate rial on
alter nativ e nonco nsum eristi c
$OCi al arran geme nts and lifes tyles , see
work cited in V. and R. Routl ey, 'Soci al theor ies, self manag
ement and
envir onme ntal probl ems' in M,nni son et al, where a begin ning
ia made
on worki ng out ~
of alter nativ ••• thoaa of a plura listic anarchism.


flA-t fn


l ·.:.


situa tion of the world 's tropi cal rainf orest s is
expla ined in, for insta nce, My~ra; the reaso ns are untan gled
in R. and V.
Routl ey 'World rainf orest destr uctio n - the socia l cause s'
(avai lable from
the autho rs).

For a fulle r accou nt of the Dominant Socia l Parad igm and
rival , the Alter nativ e Envir onme ntal Parad igm, see Cotgr
ovean d Duff, espec ially
the table on p. 341 which encap sulate s '
' the main
assum ption s
of the respe ctive parad igms; compare also Catto n and Dunla
p, espec ially p. 33.
Contemporary varia nts on the Dominant Socia l Parad igm are
consi dered in ESP •

The shallo w/dee p contr ast as appli ed to ecolo gical posit ions,
is an impor tant component of the parad igm conf lict, was introd
uced by Naess .
For furth er expla natio n of the contr ast and of the large r
array of ecolo gical
posit ions into which it fits, see R. and V. Routl ey, 'Huma
n chauv inism and
envir onme ntal ethic s' in Mannison '------'"'et al, and the refer
ences there cited ,
espec ially to Rodman's work.

The more elabo rate afgum ent of ESP sets the nucle ar debat
e in the
conte xt of parad igm confl ict. But it is also argue d that,
even withi n
assum ptions framework of the ~,min ant Socia l Parad igm and
its varia nts,
Ti. Nucle ar develo pmen t is no,~ the ratio nal choic e among
energ y optio ns.
The main argument put up for n\Jcle ar devel opme nt withi n the
framework of
the dominant parad igm is an Ec~,nomic growth argum ent. It
is the follow ing
versi on of the Light s-goin g-ou~; argument (with economic growt
h duly stand ing
in for mate rial wealt h, and fo~r what is valua ble!) :- Nucle
ar power is
neces sary to susta in economic $rowt h. Economic growt h is
desir able (for
all the usual reaso ns, e.g. to incre ase the size of the pie,
to postp one
redis tribu tion probl ems, etc.) . There fore nucle ar power
is desir able.
The first premi ss is part of US energ y polic y (see Shrad
er-Fr echet te, p.111 ),
and the secon d prem iss ia suppl ied by stand ard economics
textb ooks. But both
premi sses are defec tive, the secon d becau se what is valua
ble in economic
growth can be achie ved by (not witho ut growt h but) selec tive
growt h, which jettis ons the heavy socia l and envir onme
ntal costs carri ed
by unqu alifie d economic growt h. More to the point , since
the secon d premi ss
is an assum ption of the Dominant Parad igm, the first premi
ss (or rathe r an
appro priate and less vulne rable restat emen t of it) fails
even by Dominant
Paradigm stand ards. For of cours e nucle ar power is not neces
sary given
that there are other , perha ps costl ier alter nativ es. The
premi ss usual ly
defen doJ is some elabo ration of the prem iae: Nucle ar power
is the
econo mical ly beat way to auata in economic arowth. 'econ omica
lly beat'

be ing fill ed out as 'mo at eff icie nt',
'che ape st', 'hav ing the most favo urab
ben efit -co st rat io', etc~ Unf oitu nate
ly for the argu men t, and for nuc lear
development sche mes , nuc lear power is
none of thes e thin gs dec isiv ely (un
less a
good dea l of economic che atin g - easy
to do - is don e).
Tii .


pro per Dominant Para digm acc oun ting ,
nuc lear cho ices sho uld
gen era l ly be reje cte d, both as priv ate
uti lity inve stm ents and as
pub lic cho ices .

Nuc lea r dev elop men t is not eco nom ical
ly via ble but has bee n kep t goin g, not
by cle ar economic via bili ty, butr by mas
sive sub sidi zati on of sev era l typ es
(dis cus sed in Shr ade r-Fl ech ette ~, Gyorgy
and Nader & Abb otts ).
Even on var ian ts of ~;he Dominant Para
digm , nuc lear dev elop men t is
not jus tifi ed, as con side rati on of dec
isio n theo ry methods wil l rev eal:
Til i.

rej cted ,

Whatever reas ona ble 4ec iaio n rule is
ado pted , the nuc lear cho ice is

as the argu men ts of Goodin on alte rna
tive dec isio n rule s help to show.
What sus tain s the nuc lear jug ger nau t
is not the Dominant Para digm
~r i ts var ian ts, but con tem pora ry cor
por ate cap ital ism (or its sta te ent erp
image ) and as soc iate d thir d wor ld imp
eria lism , aa the his tor ica l det ails of
nuc lear
<lev elopmen t both in dev elop ed cou ntri
es and in less dev elop ed cou ntri es mak
es pla i .
(for main det ails , see Gyorgy p. 307
ff.) . And the pra ctic es of con tem pora
corp ora te cap ital ism and ass oci ated imp
eria liam are not acc epta ble by the
sta nda rds of eith er of the Paradigms
or the ir var ian t&: they are cer tain
no t eth ica lly acc epta ble.

.• .


Works esp eci ally use ful for fur the
r inv est iga tion of the ica l issu
rais ed by nuc lea r dev elop men t are
ind ica t_ed wit h an ast eri sk (*) .
S. Cot gro ve and A. Duf f, "En viro nme
ntal ism , mid dle -cla ss rad ica lism and
po liti cs' , Soc iolo gic al Review 28(
2) (1980), 333 -51 .
W.R . Cat ton , Jr. , and R. E. Dun lap,
'A new eco log ica l par adig m for pos
exu ber ant soc iolo gy' American Beh avi
ora l Sci ent ist 24 (19 80) .
15- 47.
For Rep ort : Ranger Uranium Env iron
men tal Inq uiry Fir st Rep ort,
Au stra lian Government Pub lish ing Ser
vic e, Can ber ra, 1977.
*R. E. Goodin, "No moral nuk es', Eth
ics 90 (19 80) , 417-49.

*A. Gyorgy and fri' end s,

No Nukes : eve ryo ne's gui de to nuc
lea r pow er,
Sou th End Pre ss, Bos ton , Ma ss., 197

*n .

Mannison, M. McRobbie and R. Rou tley
(ed ito rs) , Env iron men tal Phi los~ phy
RSSS, Au stra lian Nat ion al Un ive rsit
y, 198 0.

N. Myers, The Sin kin g Ark,

Pergamon Pre ss, Oxf ord , 1979.

R. Nader and J. Abb otta , The Menace
of Atomic Ene rgy ,
Me lbou rne, 1977.

Outback Pre ss,

*K. S. Shr ade r-F rec het te, Nuclear
Power and Pub lic Pol icy ,

Rei del , Dor dre cht ,

R. and V. Rou tley , 'Nu clea r energy
and obl igat ion tJ to the fut ure ', Inq

21 (19 78) , 133-79.



Richard Routley and Val Routley, “Box 74, Item 2049: Draft of Nuclear power - some ethical and social dimensions,” Antipodean Antinuclearism, accessed May 27, 2024,

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