In this world of environmental awareness, people are becoming increasingly concerned with efficient, clean energy. Wind and solar power are renewable and clean, but they are far less reliable than fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. Despite the controversy surrounding it, nuclear power is a promising and reliable source of clean energy. However, do the risks of nuclear meltdown and contamination outweigh the benefits? Do the supposed environmental risks make the employment of nuclear power plants immoral?
There are several ways in which we can view this problem. Interestingly, if we look at the issue of nuclear power from a hard-core environmentalist perspective, we may come to different conclusions. On the one hand, an environmentalist may argue that we can best protect the environment by replacing coal-burning plants with nuclear power plants. Nuclear energy does not pollute the environment, and it is extremely safe; the only meltdowns that have occurred were due to human error. On the other hand, some environmentalists may insist that it is immoral to install nuclear power plants because the highly toxic waste from nuclear reactor cores have half-lives of tens to hundreds of thousands of years. Basically, this means that nuclear waste remains radioactive for a very long time and is detrimental to the environment if it is not stored properly. Additionally, there is always the risk of a meltdown, which would cause extreme damage to the environment.
From a Libertarian perspective, nuclear power should be completely moral because it does not infringe on anybody’s personal property rights. In contrast to popular belief, very little radiation is produced from nuclear power plants, so people who live near new plants would not have to relocate.
It is not obvious whether or not Block—who argues that there should be a personal property rights theory for environmental protection—would endorse nuclear power. When we look at the issue empirically, we see that nuclear waste is generally confined without a problem and that meltdowns are almost impossible when a plant is maintained correctly. However, if one believes that nuclear power is a terrible thing, then he or she must consider the effects of both coal and nuclear plants and ask the question, Which is the lesser of the two evils? After the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, many German nuclear power plants were shut down out of fear and replaced with coal-burning plants. Was this the moral decision? Should we be afraid of the chance of something going horribly wrong with a nuclear power plant? Or should we be more fearful of the widespread toll that coal-burning power plants take on environmental aspects such as air quality (which is ruined by burning fossil fuels and which has undoubtedly caused widespread medical issues such as lung disease).
I believe that, in this case, nuclear power plants are a far better option because they do not infringe on our collective personal property rights to breathe clean air, drink clean water, etc. Perhaps there are better options, but until science catches up, nuclear power should be more widely embraced.