Is it ethical to use nuclear power?

Our ethical columnist on what E=mc2 really means.

Ethan Greenhart

Topics Politics

Dear Ethan,

I have always been against nuclear power in the past. There is always a danger of some terrible accident, like Chernobyl, and the waste is extremely dangerous and difficult to deal with. However, given our current climate emergency, surely it is time to consider using nuclear power to reduce our carbon footprint?


Wendy Power

Dear Wendy,

I was so shocked by your question I spat camomile tea all over the screen of my solar-powered computer. Nuclear power embodies everything that is wrong with our society and with the way human beings treat nature.

For many people, nuclear power is a problem because it leads to nuclear weapons and possibly nuclear holocaust. But we humans are far too selfish to do the honourable thing and deliberately wipe ourselves off the face of the planet. In any event, we don’t need missiles to deliver a holocaust; humanity is already enacting many, many holocausts on the planet, as I’ve pointed out in this column before.

Not enough people realise that nuclear power is a problem in itself. Nuclear fission, the basis of nuclear power, is humanity interfering with the very make-up of the universe, converting matter into energy. This is to physics what genetic modification is to biology, an unnecessary and dangerous interference with the natural order. Splitting atoms is completely unacceptable – what Gaia has joined, let no man put asunder!

As you rightly note, nuclear power plants produced tonnes and tonnes of deadly waste. We manage to take a poisonous substance (uranium) and turn it into many times more poisonous waste. It is simply madness! When Einstein said ‘E=mc2‘ he meant that a little bit of mass could be turned into a lot of energy. But what his equation really stands for is ‘Environmental destruction equals man’s callousness squared’.

But the question we should all really be asking is this: why do we always need more power? In fact, why do we need power at all? Let us pause for a moment to consider when man’s destructiveness went from being a local problem to a global one: the electrification of society. As soon as ‘power’ stopped being provided by a well-fed ox or a gushing stream turning a wheel, and came to mean flicking a switch, our relationship with nature changed from friends to enemies. It is no accident that ‘power’ in a technological sense – the ability to make machines work – uses the same word as ‘power’ in a political sense – brutal dictatorship. Not so much an ecological footprint as a jackboot.

We should be inspired by those who are prepared to put aside this addiction to electricity. Think of the Amish, who have happily survived without recourse to such things. Some would say they live in a time-warp; I say they live in something approaching Paradise.

In Britain today, many more people are realising that they can get by with far less power. For example, Carbon Rationing Action Groups (CRAGs) are springing up all over the country, providing practical ideas on how to reduce power consumption. If you must watch television (my stomach is unsettled by the very thought), try turning the brightness right down. If you keep the curtains shut, you don’t need so much heating – just open them enough to let a little light through (and eat plenty of carrots – yum, yum!). Hot showers waste water and electricity – wash outside in lovely fresh rainwater instead – it’s very bracing!

One CRAG member told the BBC: ‘It’s not draconian, you’re not leading the life of a monk, it’s just stuff that’s really easy to do.’ But why not live like a monk (without the ridiculous religious ideas, of course)? We need fewer consumer gadgets and a lot more silent contemplation in the dark!

Still, perhaps nuclear power could have one benefit. Many people have noted how Chernobyl has flourished with flora and fauna since the ‘accident’ (how can it be an ‘accident’ when it is inevitable?) meant humans have deserted the area. How wonderful would it be if we could have a similar situation on the whole planet? If we built a lot more nuclear power stations, we could have a lot more ‘accidents’, couldn’t we? It’s an interesting thought…

Ethan Greenhart is here to answer all your questions about ethical living in the twenty-first century. Read his earlier columns here. Email him at {encode=”” title=””}.

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Topics Politics


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