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
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
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.