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-Ethics of nuclear power

The unethical nature of nuclear power, nuclear weapons, and the entire nuclear fuel cycle is becoming more obvious, as its history unfolds. On grounds of nuclear weapons spread, unsolved wastes problem, health and environment, effects on indigenous and poor peoples, injustice to today’s and future generations – and even the sheer financial costs for now and the future – it is clear that “atoms for peace” is a false and unethical enterprise.

Given the mounting negative evidence about the nuclear industry, it is concerning that so many world political, scientific and economic leaders continue to promote the industry. Sir Mark Oliphant, (below) one of the founders of the atomic bomb, was one who had the courage to change his mind, and to speak out against nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

Why is it so rare for ‘important’ people to face up to the evil nature of the whole nuclear fuel cycle? It’s not just money. Is it that so much of their reputation, their work has already been invested in nuclear? just too much effort to change track

Like Shakespeare’s Macbeth, who said For mine own good,
All causes shall give way: I am in blood
Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o’er”

Rather than pause to think about the whole picture, they concentrate on their own important actions. Again like Macbeth ” Strange things I have in head, that will to hand; Which must be acted ere they may be scann’d.”

(Image from MACBETH IS A BAD, BAD MAN design by Dave Shanker&Danilo Groppa, Charles W. Flanagan High School, Macbeth – Webquest)

Ethics and the nuclear industry.  This is an oxymoron, perhaps. Ethics is all about good and evil. But not necessarily good and evil people. Well intentioned people can do evil things, often in their belief that the final result is worth the evil done on the way.

Anyway, ETHICS is very much out of fashion these days. Even opponents of nuclear power and nuclear weapons will base their arguments on economics – on high  financial costs. It’s just not fashionable to talk about right and wrong, about good actions versus evil ones.

Nuclear power proponents speak from their value systems, and may indeed be well-intentioned persons. Values such as providing huge amounts of energy, promoting economic growth, providing national defense, can make nuclear power and nuclear weapons look ethical.

But are nuclear power and nuclear weapons, in the long run, good or evil?

Let’s look at some ethical issues of the nuclear industry


Moral/Ethical Considerations: Nuclear Weapons – At What Price?Pax Christi International The possession of nuclear weapons, their development, modernization and testing have been – and certainly are now – immoral and ethically untenable. ……………………At stake is the survival of humanity and most likely of the earth. Peace, sustainable human development and the integrity of creation must be given priority over an arms industry that monopolizes capital and perpetuates profound insecurity. The sacredness of human life and the rest of creation make the development, maintenance, threats to use and use of nuclear weapons a deep affront to morality. The human community is obliged to redirect of our pursuit of security. No one will be secure until we all are secure. Pax Christi…….


Lobbyists may well believe that the greater good will be served by developing the nuclear industry. Seen in this light, then it is OK to promote some convenient lies. But is it ethical?

Two big lies are now being sold to the public:
1. that nuclear power is the solution to global warming.
2. that the nuclear energy industry has no connection with nuclear weapons.

Clearly the nuclear fuel cycle, in its entirety, is a huge producer of greenhouse gases. And, clearly, even if thousands of nuclear plants were to be built, and really did reduce greenhouse gas emissions, this would take decades, and be too late to prevent climate change.

The history of nuclear weapons – all originated from a  nuclear reactor

RADIOACTIVE WASTES The ethics of this issue is mind-boggling. Nuclear proponents either ignore the subject altogether, or pronounce their fervent faith that “a solution will be found”.

There is a happy, and quite confusing distinction made between “high level” and “low level” radioactive wastes – as if perhaps, the “low level” wastes are no problem.

There’s also an interesting way in which nuclear reactor, nuclear weapons, wastes are discussed seriously, while mountains of uranium radioactive tailings wastes are ignored.  This is probably because uranium mining goes on usually in rural and remote areas, with indigenous populations.  Ethically, apparently poor or indigenous peoples don’t matter.

The staggeringly unethical aspect of nuclear wastes is that the problem is to be left for future humans. Equally staggering – with no solution for these mounting toxic wastes, so many leaders, so many “experts” are content to keep on making the stuff!

INJUSTICE The nuclear industry has a sorry history of its effects on uranium miners, uranium communities,  Pacific islanders, communities near atomic tests, soldiers attending atomic bomb tests.  Very reluctantly, very late, some governments have offered some acknowledgment, some compensation.  But still, most of these victims are ignored. Today, the British government doggedly pursues delaying tactics, so that the affected people, especially soldiers, are dying off before they could make claims.

The injustices of the past are joined today by the injustices continuing in Iraq and Afghanistan, where populations are affected by the radioactive effects of depleted uranium weapons.

In Russia, in remote rural locations, communities suffer the pollution of air and water, as their regions become the dumping ground for nuclear wastes from not only Russia’s reactors and weapons, but also from those of France.

SECRECY Nuclear secrecy becomes, in itself, an ethical issue.  Nuclear waste disposal is a prime example of this. How little information is filtered out to the general public – about the dumping of nuclear wastes in the ocean, even in the Mediterranean. ( The USA gets a lot of bad press about its nuclear wastes – but at least the subject is discussed publicly in USA.)

Secrecy, unfortunately, is a close relative of corruption. China is an interesting example of this, as the issues of nuclear contracts and of nuclear waste disposal have been involved with corrupt officials, even at the highest level of China’s nuclear authority.

THE MEDIA Whether by laziness or intention, mainstream media have a habit of consistently not covering the most worrying aspects of nuclear issues.

An interesting example of this has been the recent scandal in Britain, over the taking of body parts from dead nuclear workers, without the permission of their families.  The mainstream media focused on the privacy aspects of this, and on how the government apologised to the families. OK – but not  mention of the purpose of this research, and its lack on findings. The research was part of the program to discredit claims of harm done from nuclear radiation. The results of the body parts research were covered up, ad the body tissues destroyed – destroying any evidence.

Nuclear Power, The Posterity And Our Stinking Ethics, by Wu Ming

…………….In the past ten years a certain brand of post-Marxist thought has daydreamt about the “immateriality” of production (and work) in the post-fordist economy. These thinkers entirely built their theories upon a simple stratagem: they hid the dust (i.e. the environmental question) under the rug and fostered “from the left” the superstitios belief in limitless “growth” and a potentially infinite social wealth….

…..never before in the history of humankind has a society produced so much matter (garbage, trash, waste, rubbish). Never before has a society destroyed so many resources. Never before have humans “consumed” in such an irresponsible way………… We don’t own the planet: we borrowed it from our posterity…………we will be cursed by the succeeding generations if we aren’t able to reverse, restrict consumption, get rid of polluting productions.

The best example of the way we mortgaged the future is nuclear waste, the most dangerous kind of trash. As yet, there is no way to warn our descendants to keep away from it………….Plutonium has a half life of 25000 years. Two-hundred and fifty centuries. The US government was content with ordering its isolation until 12,000 a.C.
The Environmental Protection Agency immediately wondered how to signal the peril to those who come after us, nay, after the great-grandchildren of our great-grandchildren and so on. The EPA called on archeologists, linguists, futurologists, mathematicians, engineers and artists to form a commission and find a universal warning sign that won’t decay and will still be understood in ten thousand years time.
It is no easy task: it was calculated that, in a time span of maximum 1000 years, any language becomes incomprehensible to the descendants of its speakers. In the present day, with the exception of a few archaeologists and philologists, no Iraqi would understand Accadic, a language spoken in Minor Asia 6000 years ago (it was the language of trade and commerce), and no ordinary person can read cuneiform texts.
The situation doesn’t get any better with symbols and pictograms: they all become unintelligible, or dramatically change their meaning……….
Nuclear power is just one of the problems we’re handing down to our descendants. Whatever its fans may say, it is an unethical technology, a typical product of capitalism, which forces everything into the confines of the present day and never worries about what will come………………

Wu Ming 1 – Nuclear Power, The Posterity and Our Stinking Ethics


Dr John Gofman September 21, 1918 – August 15, 2007), radiation scientist.  Gofman helped produce plutonium (not even a quarter-milligram existed at the time) for the Manhattan Project.  In 1963 the Atomic Energy Commission asked him to establish a Biom edical Research Division at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to evaluate the health effects of all types of nuclear radiation. By 1969, however, the AEC and the “radiation community” were downplaying his warnings about the risks of radiation     “If the public should come to learn the truth about ionizing radiation, nuclear energy and the atomic energy program of DOE is going to be dead. Because the people of this country — and other countries — are not going to tolerate what it implies” –  Gofman  The Health Effects of Radiation: “There is no safe threshold” – John Gofman Interview / Synapse v.38, n.16, 20jun94

Sir Mark Oliphant, nuclear scientist,   who had been in favour of nuclear energy for generating electricity …” I suddenly realised that anybody who has a nuclear reactor can extract the plutonium from the reactor and make nuclear weapons, so that a country which has a nuclear reactor can, at any moment that it wants to, become a nuclear weapons power. And I, right from the beginning, have been terribly worried by the existence of nuclear weapons and very much against their use.” Mark Oliphant – Wikiquote

Mordechai Vanunu (Hebrew: מרדכי ואנונו‎; born 14 October 1954) is a former Israeli nuclear technician who, citing his opposition to weapons of mass destruction, revealed details of Israel’s nuclear weapons program to the British press in 1986.[1][2] He was subsequently lured to Italy by a female Mossad agent, where he was drugged and kidnapped by Israeli intelligence agents.[1] He was transported to Israel and ultimately convicted in a trial that was held behind closed doors…….Mordechai Vanunu – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Karen  Silkwood (February 19, 1946 – November 13, 1974) was an American labor union activist and chemical technician at the Kerr-McGee plant near Crescent, Oklahoma, United States. Silkwood’s job was making plutonium pellets for nuclear reactor fuel rods. She died under mysterious circumstances after investigating claims of irregularities and wrongdoing at the Kerr-McGee plant.

Thomas Mancuso (1912 – 2004), (epidemiologist)   “He changed the standards for occupational health concerns”, says Peter Infante, a former Director of Standards Review at the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). “He had undying energy to protect blue collar workers at all costs. He didn’t trust the government and with good reason.” ….. In 1965, he was contracted by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) to conduct a study on the effects of low-level radiation on 500 000 workers employed in a nuclear weapons facility. Mancuso decided that to accurately examine cumulative effects, he needed to do a long-term study over the course of the workers’ lives. Thomas F Mancuso : The Lancet

As result, his funding was terminated. Dr. Mancuso continued his data analyses, and eventually published two important papers documenting excess cancer risk at Hanford. But the AEC and then the DOE hounded him, and cut short his career…….Dr. Thomas Mancuso not only cared enough about workers to do that research, but also had the courage to stand up to the powerful forces that wanted to silence him….. Confined Space

Dr Rosalie Bertell “I was a senior cancer research scientist studying the harm done to a large population by unnecessary uses of diagnostic medical X-ray. I became outraged when I found that nuclear power plants were releasing radioactive materials (like X-rays) at this same level routinely, indiscriminately exposing the unsuspecting public. My first experience was a nuclear plant, which wanted to locate its facility next to the Gerber’s Baby Food Farm in Barker, NY. That plant was never built.” (The first time the nuclear industry was denied a location in the U.S.)…The My Hero Project – Dr. Rosalie Bertell
Anti-Nuclear Nun

The people mentioned above are just a few of the remarkable people who have had the courage to place their ethics of truth above their career, and who, with the exception of Mark Oliphant, have been at very least, vilified for their stand, and some have suffered the loss of their careers, or worse.

In the Nuclear Free Movement there are many outspoken and articulate people who have made this goal their major priority. Along with these leader are world-wide, millions of people who continue to make their contribution to the cause of a nuclear free world.

So many organisations – Beyond Nuclear, Sortir du Nucleaire, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons – these are just a few of the groups that are made up of such people, who have an ethic of caring not only about humans of today, in their own country, but of the global victims of nuclear radiation and nuclear weapons, of now, and of generations to come.



  1. […] material science (and metallurgy), chemistry, health physics, reactor principles and reactor ethics. This rigorous training program is even more so for those taking the “officer course.” It […]

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  2. […] have no clue what it is. There is an article clip in that explains this in detail (Wu Ming). Basically, there is almost no visual or written warning that can protect against this […]

    Pingback by Nuclear Power, A New Future or A Dangerous Mistake | nswallen | February 11, 2015 | Reply

  3. I want to cite this article, who is the author?

    Comment by bob joe | September 14, 2016 | Reply

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