Is nuclear power fair for future generations?

May 5, 2011

The recent nuclear accident in Fukushima Daiichi in Japan has brought the nuclear debate to the forefront of controversy. While Japan is trying to avert further disaster, many nations are reconsidering the future of nuclear power in their regions. A study by Behnam Taebi from the Delft University of Technology, published online in the Springer journal Philosophy & Technology, reflects on the various possible nuclear power production methods from an ethical perspective: If we intend to continue with nuclear power production, which technology is most morally desirable?

On the one hand, has serious disadvantages: accident risks (the unfolding disaster in speaks for itself), security concerns in relation to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the problem of long-lived waste. On the other hand, nuclear power technologies can produce large amounts of energy from small amounts of fuel, while emitting very low amounts of greenhouse gases. They reduce countries' reliance on fossil fuel for their energy provision. So nuclear power has increasingly attracted attention in recent years especially in conjunction with the growing worldwide demand for energy and the mounting climate change concerns.

Including the state of the art in technology in his philosophical analysis, the author combines philosophical discussions on justice between generations and technological realities of nuclear power production. In an attempt to assist the public and political decision-makers in understanding what is at stake when they opt for a specific kind of nuclear production method, and making technically and ethically informed choices, the author compares different nuclear energy production methods on the basis of moral arguments.

Dr. Taebi said, "Discussions on nuclear power usually end up in a yes/no dichotomy. Meanwhile the production of nuclear power is rapidly growing. Before we can reflect on the desirability of nuclear power, we should first distinguish between its production methods and their divergent ethical issues. We must then clearly state, if we want to continue on the nuclear path, which technology we deem desirable from a moral perspective. Then we can compare nuclear with other energy systems. The state of the art in nuclear technology provides us with many more complicated moral dilemmas than people sometimes think."

The article is part of a special issue of the Springer journal & Technology, dedicated to energy technologies, and risks and causality theories. It includes an editorial on metatechnological approaches to risks in the energy industry and commentaries on attitudes toward nuclear radiation and on the emotional debates surrounding nuclear energy.

Explore further: U.S. eyeing return to nuclear energy

More information: Taebi, B. (2011). The Morally Desirable Option for Nuclear Power Production. Philosophy & Technology. DOI 10.1007/s13347-011-0022-y

Related Stories

U.S. eyeing return to nuclear energy

December 25, 2006

Thanks mainly to Bush administration policy, the United States could soon find itself re-embracing the use of nuclear power.

Nuclear cannibals

March 4, 2008

Nuclear energy production must increase by more than 10 percent each year from 2010 to 2050 to meet all future energy demands and replace fossil fuels, but this is an unsustainable prospect. According to a report published ...

Nuclear power vital to cutting CO2 emissions: report

June 16, 2010

Roughly a quarter of global electricity could be generated by nuclear power by 2050, requiring a tripling in nuclear generating capacity but making a major contribution to reduced CO2 emissions, a report said Wednesday.

U. S. envisions a new generation of nuclear weapons

March 19, 2007

Almost 62 years after detonation of the first atomic bombs, the United States is considering controversial proposals to produce a new generation of nuclear weapons and revamp its nuclear weapons complex, according to an article ...

Values predict attitudes toward nuclear power

March 25, 2009

Concerns about climate change and energy independence have led to renewed calls for the resurgence of nuclear power. Therefore, it is important to understand the level of and bases for public attitudes, both supporting and ...

Recommended for you

New method analyzes corn kernel characteristics

November 17, 2017

An ear of corn averages about 800 kernels. A traditional field method to estimate the number of kernels on the ear is to manually count the number of rows and multiply by the number of kernels in one length of the ear. With ...

Optically tunable microwave antennas for 5G applications

November 16, 2017

Multiband tunable antennas are a critical part of many communication and radar systems. New research by engineers at the University of Bristol has shown significant advances in antennas by using optically induced plasmas ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2 / 5 (1) May 05, 2011
Nothing in life is "fair".

It is't fair that some people make 10 million per year, while others make minimum wage.

It isn't fair that modern medicine exists, while in the past children died before 5 years of age half the time.

Generational fairness is really not possible. The invention of technology means we all have a certain advantage over previous generations, but it comes at a cost of stress and social discontinuities in our civilization.

Future generations will have, eventually, 100% wind, solar, and other renewables energies, supplemented by Nuclear when needed.

They will have better computer technology, better materials technology, better healthcare, and probably an army of labor robots doing most, if not all, of the actual physical work.

I don't think they'll have much room to complain...
4 / 5 (1) May 05, 2011
I don't think they'll have much room to complain...

Yes, because they'll not have much uncontaminated room to live in.

Your comparisons aren't apt because those kinds of unfairness can be remedied by those future generations themselves.

Leaving heaps of garbage behind for others to deal with isn't very ethical. You wouldn't do that on vacation, and you would certainly object if someone would do that who visits you.

So how is nuclear waste different? We leave and let others clean it up / grow sick because of it.

Meanwhile the production of nuclear power is rapidly growing.

It is?

Quote from wikipedia:
"Annual generation of nuclear power has been on a slight downward trend since 2007, decreasing 1.8% in 2009 to 2558 TWh with nuclear power meeting 1314% of the world's electricity demand"
5 / 5 (1) May 05, 2011
Nuclear power will never meet the requirements of being safe due to human error, equipment failure, acts of nature, and terrorism. Anybody that does not see this should study the subject more. There are 440 plants worldwide that were made to only last 25 years. Most of them are about 25 years old and are being allowed to continue operating. Meltdowns are going to be a common occurrence until they are all shut down for good. Solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, conservation, and energy efficiency can now fill the nuclear gap.
not rated yet May 07, 2011
Newscience: OTOH, the Japanese failures occurred at reactors that are 40 years old, both technologically and physically and as the result of a side effect of one of the 4 most powerful earthquakes in recorded history. NOT human error in the direct sense.
Do you understand that there are nuclear reactors in Japan that were actually closer to the epicenter of the quake than the ones that failed?
Nukes will be with us for hundreds of years and perhaps thousands, until the development of even better technology becomes the mainstay.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.