Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 583–595 | Cite as

Nuclear Power is Neither Right Nor Wrong: The Case for a Tertium Datur in the Ethics of Technology

  • Rafaela Hillerbrand
  • Martin PetersonEmail author
Original Paper


The debate over the civilian use of nuclear power is highly polarised. We argue that a reasonable response to this deep disagreement is to maintain that advocates of both camps should modify their positions. According to the analysis we propose, nuclear power is neither entirely right nor entirely wrong, but rather right and wrong to some degree. We are aware that this non-binary analysis of nuclear power is controversial from a theoretical point of view. Utilitarians, Kantians, and other moral theorists make sharp, binary distinctions between right and wrong acts. However, an important argument speaking in favour of our non-binary analysis is that it better reflects our considered intuitions about the ethical trade-offs we face in discussions of nuclear power. The aim of this article is to make this argument sharp by explaining how it can be rendered compatible with, and supported by, the Capability Approach, which is quickly becoming one of the most influential frameworks for thinking about human development.


Nuclear power Sustainability Risk Degree of moral rightness Moral theory 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Technology, Policy and ManagementDelft University of TechnologyDelftThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Section for Philosophy and EthicsEindhoven University of TechnologyEindhovenThe Netherlands

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