Faculty Forum Papers
November 1975 - Nuclear Power without questions? Some questions
John E. Morris
October 16, 1975
Dr. Spinrad's appeal (Fac. Forum, Oct. '75) that was leave decisions
about nuclear power to the nuclear engineering profession raises a deeper question, which I really
would not have imagined would come up at an academic institution. Should such decisions be made by
an appeal to authority rather than by a debate on the facts? Perhaps ecologists should make all
decisions about environmental issues, dentists should write our laws about fluoridation of water
supplies, physicians should decide about euthanasia, the military should decide whether we make
war. As an embryologist perhaps my opinions about whether abortion is murder should have more
weight than those of the philosopher or lawyer.
I appreciate and respect the fact that nuclear engineers know more about the
design of nuclear facilities than most of us, but does it follow that they should make decisions
about something that may directly affect my life and that of my children? Does Dr. Spinrad's
special training really validate his judgment that all people opposing nuclear power are "ignorant"
and that their writings all are "distortions of logic" and "garbage"? To be sure, even some nuclear
physicists (and maybe some nuclear engineers too, Dr. Spinrad?) have been detractors. I do not
consider myself as an opponent of nuclear power; perhaps I can be convinced as well as Dr. Spinrad
that it is the most desirable method. But while Dr. Spinrad is concerned that petitions being
circulated to the public in Oregon "are slowing down or stopping... nuclear plants in the state",
could it be a healthy sign that the public is finally perhaps going to have a chance to review the
facts in the matter?
The problem of how to generate electricity is obviously no longer one solely of engineering, but because
of the sheer magnitude of the demands on our resources and the potential for impact on our environment
the question is of concern to everyone and should be dealt with by an informed electorate. Hydroelectricity,
fossil fuel, nuclear, or any other means of generating electricity on a mammoth scale is going to have both
advantages and disadvantages. The correct choices can only be made when all the fact are known. We all
have read of de facto nuclear accidents, physiological damage by radiation, and problems of nuclear wasted
disposal. If Dr. Spinrad has considered all of the relevant facts in becoming convinced that "nuclear
power is the most desirable method for generating electricity which is now available to us", then he should
not fear opposition; for in the end those facts will convince the rest of us, too.