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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.