, Volume 24, Issue 2, pp 169-192,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 03 May 2011

The Morally Desirable Option for Nuclear Power Production

Abstract

This paper reflects on the various possible nuclear power production methods from an ethical perspective. The production and consumption of nuclear power give rise to the problem of intergenerational justice; in other words, we are depleting a nonrenewable resource in the form of uranium while the radiotoxic waste that is generated carries very long-term potential burdens. I argue that the morally desirable option should therefore be to seek to safeguard the interests of future generations. The present generation has at least two duties with regard to posterity: (1) not to jeopardize the safety and security of future generations or impose any harm upon them and (2) to sustain future well-being insofar as that is possible with the available energy resources. These duties are presented as pluralist prima facie duties (or duty-imposing reasons) thus implying that they could well be overruled by morally more compelling duties. If we are unable to fulfill both these prima facie duties simultaneously, it should be particularly the duty not to impose harm on posterity that should be the leading incentive behind nuclear power production. This supports the arguments in favor of the introduction of a new fuel cycle (partitioning and transmutation) that can substantially reduce the waste lifetime and therefore also potential future burdens. However, the further development and application of this scientifically proven but not yet industrialized fuel cycle give rise to additional burdens for contemporaries. This paper examines the extent of the moral stringency of the no harm duty sought for situations in which future interest should guide us in our choosing of a certain technology.