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Faculty Forum Papers

November 1975 - The Nuclear Issue and "Professionalism"
James R. Pease
Department of Geography

October 15, 1975

    Bernard Spinrad's plea in the October Faculty Forum to trust the "professionals", or, more precisely, those "professionals" who are ardent advocates of nuclear energy, is disturbing in its technocratic arrogance.

    He says, "Hardly any of the leading opponents of nuclear power have even given serious attention to the study of nuclear engineering. By professional standards, they are shockingly ignorant." This sweeping indictment of nuclear critics as uniformed, misguided demagogues is a deplorable tactic to discredit those with whom he disagrees. First, the implicit assumption that only nuclear engineers have credible opinions on nuclear is absurd. Secondly, the leadership for the nuclear critics is derived from the scientific community. On August 6, 1975, more than 2,000 members of the nations' technical and scientific community signed a declaration on nuclear power and submitted it to the President and to Congress. The declaration was prepared under the auspices of the Union of Concerned Scientists, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Spokesman for the declaration is Dr. Henry Kendall, Professor of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In releasing the declaration, he said:

"We wish to make plain, both to our nation's decision-makers and to the public at large, the profound and widely shared anxiety in the scientific community about hazards associated with present Administration and industry plans to build large numbers of large nuclear power plants in our midst and, additionally, to export reactors to nations abroad."
    Professor Spinrad goes on to say, "In the nuclear profession we have not bothered to answer them in detail because all this seemed clear to us," and "I still don't think that we should have to respond to garbage…"

    This kind of "professional" statement is analogous to an argument that foreign policy should be determined by the generals and land use planning should be done solely by the planners.

    It seems to me that the economic, social, environmental, and engineering issues related to a national commitment to nuclear power are among the most complex and profound of any facing our nation today. We need reasoned debate and a mutual willingness to learn. Puffery and arrogance in the same of professionalism lends sound, not light, to the debate.