Part One of the CCNR Final Submission to the
Ontario Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning
1) Introduction: What underlies the Nuclear Debate
2) The Metaphor of the Machine
3) The Metaphor of the Ecosystem
4) The Ecosystem versus The Machine
5) The Crux of the Issue
1) Introduction: What underlies the Nuclear Debate
It is obvious that the debate over nuclear power cuts very deeply, reflecting widely divergent points of view.
On the one hand, the proponents of nuclear power see it as a technology which is both inevitable and admirable, and they regard those who oppose it as uninformed, overly fearful, or retrograde. They see nuclear power as being entirely comparable to other technologies, and they feel quite comfortable in comparing the risks from nuclear power with other risks to which society is already subjected. They have a supreme confidence in the ability of science and technology to solve any problems that might arise. They have a great respect for the mechanistic laws of cause and effect, and believe that it is along our present trajectory that we as a society must continue, while other societies which are less technologically advanced must follow in our wake. They cannot see any force which is likely to deflect us from our present trajectory safely onto another trajectory.
Critics of nuclear power, on the other hand, tend to see the future as a multi-branching tree of possibilities, full of choices. They consider that the greatest responsibility which we as individuals have in our society is to participate in the task of choosing a direction for the future. They feel that, if badly abused, nuclear power could cast a very dark cloud over all of those possible futures by bringing about extensive radioactive contamination of the earth. This could occur as a result of accident, stupidity, incompetence, carelessness, corruption, malice, greed, or some combination of these. In addition, nuclear power could be instrumental in brutally and irreversibly cutting off those futures altogether, if it is diverted to warlike purposes. Obviously, such powerful instruments are not to be treated lightly. Knowing the dangers, we do not normally stock loaded guns or high explosives in our homes.
Most nuclear critics believe that nuclear power should be considered as a last resort. We must do everything in our power to seek out safer and more sustainable patterns of producing and using energy. If that necessitates achieving a steady state society which will continue to grow in quality rather than quantity, so much the better. Perhaps it is time to stop growing and start blossoming. The necessary changes can be brought about by cooperation, will power, determination, and leadership, involving the general public as well as the professionals in our society.
It is impossible to understand the nuclear debate without understanding the different world views which underlie the two sides of that debate. World views cannot be captured in graphs or charts, any more than mathematical axioms can be logically deduced. Different world views correspond to different visions of reality -- or, if you like, different axiomatic systems which lead to mutually contradictory conclusions, even though each seems logical, consistent, and coherent in itself. All of the great and monumental turning points in the evolution of scientific thought have involved a choice between world views -- the old gives way to the new, and what was once considered as unshakable dogma becomes just another useful insight that has since been superseded by more profound insights.
Different world views cannot be expressed except in terms of myths or metaphors. At the risk of oversimplifying, I will attempt to describe two world views which are both very prevalent in our society at the present time, and which I feel have a major bearing on the nuclear debate.
2) The Metaphor of the Machine
One of the most powerful metaphors in modern technological society is the metaphor of the machine. A well designed machine is a beautiful thing: faithful, reliable, and obedient, performing difficult tasks without complaint. It is ethically neutral and free of emotions. Although it embodies a high degree of intelligent planning, it does not require extraordinary intelligence to use a machine for good or for ill. The machine will not balk; it will do as it is directed to do.
The usefulness of machines is obvious to every one, and there are very few in our society who would wish to do without them.
Medieval clockworks were the first fully automatic machines, and they still remain a source of delight and wonder. They are models of ingenuity and models of efficiency. During the industrial revolution, factory assembly-lines were established in conscious imitation of the principles of such machines, whereby workers were expected to act like pieces of clockwork, doing repetitive and mindless tasks in the interests of efficient mass production. The result was a tremendous increase in productivity and material wealth, coupled with a growing sense of alienation -- a feeling of being caught up like a small and helpless cog in a vast impersonal machine. Those at the top, of course, were free from such feelings of alienation. They were the ones who ran the machine.
The concept of alienation was introduced by Karl Marx, who pointed out that factory workers are alienated from the product of their labour. In particular, they have no control over what is being produced or to what uses the product may be put.
The term "alienation" was subsequently taken up by sociologists to describe a very pervasive feeling in modern society -- a feeling of helplessness, of not having control over one's own destiny, of being an alien in one's own homeland. Such feelings can and often do breed cynicism, irresponsibility, and despair. If a Detroit factory worker is manufacturing cars one day, and tanks the next, without having any say in the decision, then how can he accept moral responsibility for his actions?
Since the industrial revolution, we have become increasingly obsessed with the concept of the machine, and we have gradually come to view society itself in machine-like terms. We talk about political machines, and speak in terms of "tuning up the economy". Impersonal bureaucracies, run with machine-like precision, often undermine our feelings of personal responsibility -- "Don't blame me, I only work here; I don't make the rules, I only follow them." Our educational system has become more of an assembly line procedure in the industrial era, with bells ringing and registration computerized. Students move through the educational system in a predetermined manner while teachers, like intellectual assembly line workers, do their respective jobs -- this one teaches mathematics, that one teaches science, the next one teaches literature -- and somehow, at the end of the line, the student is supposed to come out as a finished product, suitably graded as to quality. (This is not, of course, how conditions actually are -- but it is an ideal which many educational planners have striven for in the past, and it is the stereotype against which many students and educators continue to rebel.)
There is no need to multiply examples. The influence of the machine in shaping our thinking is obvious. Whenever we are faced with a complex social task that needs to be done, we almost automatically begin to think in machine-like terms and try to organize our actions in a manner which mimics the efficiency of a machine. Manufacturing, Agriculture, Business, and even Scientific Research have been profoundly influenced by such subliminal influences. It is not uncommon nowadays for a scientist to find himself working on a problem for which he does not know either the origin or the significance. It is a problem which was culled from the scientific literature, and like a very highly specialized intellectual worker, the researcher takes the problem, processes it, provides at least a partial answer, and then puts the result back into the literature so that someone else may make use of it. It is difficult indeed for scientists operating under such assembly line conditions, to accept moral responsibility for the destructive uses to which the fruits of scientific labour may be put.
Modern society is faced with a moral dilemma of monumental proportions. In order to get things done in an efficient manner, the metaphor of the machine is invoked, and the appropriate machinery is put in place. However, the resulting social machinery is proving to be so vast and so pervasive that it creates an atmosphere which is perceived by many as impersonal, oppressive, unfeeling, and inhuman. This breeds an almost universal sense of alienation and makes it difficult for people to develop and exercise their own sense of purpose and moral responsibility. In recent times, such feelings have been exacerbated by the apprehension that the machine is out of control and headed for self destruction.
A very large part of Ontario Hydro's public relations problem has to do with the tension that exists between those who are dutifully building the Hydro machinery and those who are afraid of being swallowed up by that machinery.
3) The Metaphor of the Ecosystem
With the rise of the environmental movement in the late 60's and early 70's, a new metaphor was introduced into the public consciousness -- the metaphor of the ecosystem. Infinitely more complicated than any man-made machine, a living ecological system is a marvelously well-organized interactive system which is self-regulating, resilient, and irreplaceable. It represents the culmination of billions of years of evolution.
The environmental movement has had an influence on our society which is far greater than one would have expected, considering its lack of organization, its lack of resources, its lack of political and economic clout, and its lack of leadership. It has been a genuinely spontaneous movement, springing up everywhere like the grass, and striking responsive chords in people's consciousness in a manner which is more reminiscent of the way in which early Christianity spread -- by word of mouth, rather than by political maneuvering.
Part of the reason for the vitality of this movement may lie in the fact that it has introduced a powerful new image into people's minds: the image of the ecosystem. Here is another way of organizing complexity, that is not machine-like. Here is another model which may be emulated. This image, the image of the ecosystem, has indeed become a new metaphor, which may succeed in transforming our society as thoroughly as the metaphor of the machine has done in the past.
4) The Ecosystem versus The MachineAn ecosystem behaves very differently from a machine.
(a) "Input-Output" versus "Cycles"
A machine is characterized by input-output relationships, while an ecosystem is characterized by cycles.
In natural systems, there is no such thing as a waste product, for what is not utilized by one species is a precious resource for another. Everything is used and reused. Textbooks of ecology are full of descriptions of the oxygen cycle, the carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle, the hydrological cycle, and so forth.
However, our social planning is dominated by input-output modes of thought rather than cyclic modes of thought. We input vast quantities of raw materials and energy into our industrial system, and although the immediate output is consumer goods, the net output is mountains of garbage and staggering quantities of pollution. We input students into our educational system, and we output armies of engineers, scientists, economists, doctors, lawyers -- and school dropouts who are frequently maladapted to society, adding to the level of unemployment and social disillusionment.
An increasing number of Canadians, inspired by the metaphor of the ecosystem, wish to restructure our society so that recycling, reusing, repairing, and thereby reducing our demands for energy and raw materials will become a fundamental part of our way of life. This view has received its most definitive statement to date in the recent Science Council Report entitled, "Canada as a Conserver Society".
The nuclear industry is the only industry in the history of civilization that has actually created "wastes" at the atomic level. Nuclear power plants actually do produce large quantities of highly radiotoxic elements which do not exist in nature to any appreciable degree, and which cannot be neutralized or rendered harmless by any method known to us. The wastes from most other industries are, at least in principle, reusable -- either directly, or after chemical treatment. Not so in the case of nuclear wastes. These are not new chemical compounds, but new elements -- basic building blocks of matter, which, because of their radioactivity, will remain acutely harmful to living things until they decay back into the oblivion from which they came.
How strange it is that we refer to this process as "The Nuclear Fuel Cycle", when the most obvious thing about it is that it is not cyclic. Even if the plutonium that is contained in the wastes were recovered and reused in nuclear reactors, the inevitable effect is to produce still larger inventories of non reusable long-lived radioactive wastes, many of which must be carefully locked away from the world of living things for longer periods of time than human civilization has existed on the face of the earth.
In a very real sense, nuclear power is the ultimate extension of the throw-away society, producing as it does the ultimate waste product.
(b) "Cogs" versus "Operators"
In a machine, there is a sharp distinction between the "cogs" inside the machine (which enable the mechanical system to work) and the "operators" outside the machine, (who push the buttons or pull the levers).
The behaviour of the cogs is utterly determined by the logic of the machine, but this is not the case for the operators, who are free to use the machine for their own purposes.
On the other hand, in an ecosystem, there are no such sharp distinctions; each species has a limited degree of freedom, subject to environmental constraints, and there is no one who is obviously "pulling the levers" in order to make the system work.
Ecosystems cannot be turned on or off at will.
Those who view society in machine-like terms often tend to regard themselves as helpless cogs with no influence or control over the direction in which society is moving. In order to have any control at all, it is necessary to become an operator rather than a cog -- in other words, to become powerful; for it is the powerful people in our society who make the decisions. This perceived dichotomy may be the root cause of alienation; however, such a perception is partly illusory, since those who seem to wield power are also constrained by the requirements of the machine and have far less power than they appear to have. They too may be subject to feelings of helplessness in the face of events which have so much momentum that they seem to be beyond the effective control of anyone. Current efforts to curb inflation or to solve our energy problems are frequently of such a nature.
Those who view society as a kind of ecosystem do not regard themselves as helpless. They take it for granted that they do have an influence on those around them, and they are determined to use what influence they have. Consequently they do not aspire to power -- in the conventional sense. They believe that the decision-making process must become much more open and accessible so that the people can be ensured of control over their own future. From such a perspective, the ideal decision maker is one who sees himself as a servant of society -- one who makes information freely available to the public, stimulates public debate and discussion on alternative courses of action, synthesizes the public response in order to arrive at a consensus, and then coordinates and implements the programs necessary to achieve the desired goals.
The Berger Inquiry into the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, the Bayda Inquiry into Uranium Mining in Saskatchewan, and the Porter Inquiry into Electric Power Planning in Ontario have all been exemplary in their efforts to realize this ambitious objective. They have provided an opportunity for those ordinary citizens who will be affected by a planned technological development to present their views and, hopefully, to exert some degree of influence over the ultimate decision.
The nuclear industry, on the other hand, has not contributed as much as it might have to further this process of public participation. As the Hare Report says, "AECL should actively seek more comment and discussion of their program than they have in recent years. Their program documents and progress reports on waste management should not only be public documents, but they should be sent to interest groups and individuals in an active search for comments." Public confidence in nuclear power can only be diminished by an industry policy of issuing soothing reassurances not backed up with solid scientific and engineering data, while avoiding meaningful open debate.
It is disturbing to realize that the nuclear industry has been withholding important information from the public domain for no good reason. It is equally disturbing to witness the insensitivity which is sometimes displayed towards those who dare to raise sincere and thoughtful questions or to voice their own personal objections to nuclear power. It is disturbing to observe how reluctant the industry is to volunteer information -- even to a body such as the Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning -- which might not fully support the public relations image of nuclear power as a virtually perfect, trouble-free industry. Most disturbing of all is the industry's willingness to give categorical reassurances which are not well founded. In the long run, such behaviour on the part of the industry does nothing to instill public confidence.
If nuclear energy cannot function except under a cloak of secrecy or a glossy public relations facade, that is in itself a good argument against nuclear energy. If nuclear scientists are the only people who can understand why nuclear energy is "acceptably safe", that is in itself an indictment of the technology. For democracy cannot function in an informational vacuum, and responsible choices cannot be made if the basis for those choices is unknown.
(c) "Entropy" versus "Evolution"
Machines are dominated by the law of entropy, which means that they are inclined to break down if not carefully maintained; whereas ecosystems are dominated by the law of evolution, which means that they are self-regulating and are capable of spontaneously developing into more highly articulated, richer systems over a period of time.
In lay terms, the law of entropy indicates that closed systems will always tend to transition from more organized states to less organized states. No doubt the law of entropy applies to living systems as well as to non-living systems. However, the law of evolution is neither derivable from nor reducible to the law of entropy, and it seems to overwhelm the law of entropy in living systems, just as electrostatic attraction overshadows the gravitational force in keeping electrons in their orbits around the nucleus of a Bohr atom. The development of a human infant from a zygote in nine months seems just as miraculous as the evolution of dinosaurs from mono-cellular creatures in the ocean depths over a period of a billion years or so, and in both cases the overall effect seems to be in absolute defiance of the law of entropy as it is usually understood. One could argue that such living systems are not really closed systems; but that merely reiterates the distinction made under point (b) above: that machines are inevitably closed systems (with an inside and an outside, separating the cogs from the operators), while ecosystems are always open, never closed, for total enclosure means death. A very fundamental distinction.
The metaphor of the machine tends to produce systems which are over-regulated and over-administered. An excellent illustration is provided by modern agricultural practices, which have concentrated on monoculture crops and intensive livestock production (e.g. feedlots and battery hen-houses). In both cases, the emphasis on mass production of a single item has led to highly unstable ecosystems which are really modeled on the input-output 1ogic of a machine. These systems can only be maintained by the massive use of chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics), and when compared with traditional agricultural methods, typically require up to fifteen times the energy input in order to obtain three times the agricultural output. Meanwhile, these modern methods create mammoth waste problems where none existed before (since the wastes were previously recycled in order to preserve the fertility of the soil).
It has been observed that a highly electrified society is susceptible to massive dislocation due to large scale blackouts which could have devastating effects. Those who advocate the use of nuclear electricity as a substitute for dwindling supplies of fluid fossil fuels are simultaneously advocating a highly entropic society, comparable in many respects to monoculture agriculture. Such a system requires a high degree of maintenance and regulation, in which social disruption on any significant scale cannot be tolerated. In times of social upheaval, such a society is extremely vulnerable.
During the last Great Depression, over 40 percent of Canada's population lived in farming communities, so that most of the people in the cities had friends or relatives who lived on farms and were therefore capable of growing food. Today, only about 5 percent of Canada's population is engaged in agriculture, and most agricultural enterprises are highly dependent on electricity and other forms of energy inputs. The effects of such a depression could be far more devastating today because the degree of self-reliance among the population has been sharply reduced. In a highly electrified society, the disruptive effects of such an economic collapse would be more immediately felt and far more drastic. The same observation applies to other forms of social disruption, whether caused by war, terrorism, or natural disasters.
One of the appealing aspects of Amory Lovins' "Soft Energy Path" scenario is that it deploys renewable technologies which provide a much higher degree of self-reliance and resiliency, because of their decentralized nature and their diversity.
(d) "Uniformity" versus "Diversity"
In a machine, uniformity -- and centralized control -- is the rule.
Each little cog is precision tooled to precise specifications, so that each cog of a given type is interchangeable with any other cog of the same type. If one cog doesn't perform as it should, it is quickly discarded and another cog is inserted in its place.
Before the rise of the trade union movement, this is exactly how unskilled workers were treated by unscrupulous factory owners. In today's business world, many people -- even those at senior management levels -- suffer from a chronic sense of insecurity based on the same gut feeling: that they are regarded as being entirely replaceable. It often seems as if our senior citizens are treated as the worn-out cogs of our society, relegated to obscurity. In a similar vein, our nuclear scientists and technologists are obviously disturbed at the thought that they too might become superfluous if, as Hannes Alfven has said, "nuclear energy is an obsolete technology which should be phased out as quickly as possible." Such a feeling is an understandable extension of the machine analogy, and yet it is regrettable. From a broader perspective, it is clear that people of their intelligence and ability will always be in demand; there is little doubt that they could make an outstanding contribution in many different fields of endeavour. Such talents are easily recycled.
The uniformity demanded by the machine implies a degree of centralization -- for someone must surely set the standards of uniformity and see that they are met. The degree of centralization depends upon the scope of the enterprise. In the case of nuclear power, the huge sums of money required to build the plants, the highly specialized skills needed to operate the technology safely, the tight political control needed to provide the necessary safeguards, the enormous electrical capacity demanded by the economies of scale, all combine to make this technology one of the most powerful centralizing forces in modern society. Exported to developing countries, nuclear power will act to accelerate certain centripetal tendencies in those countries which are already the subject of much concern:
In an ecosystem, however, diversity is the rule, and that diversity requires a considerable degree of decentralization.
- It will tend to concentrate political and economic power even further in the hands of a small, wealthy, powerful elite;
- It will act as a magnet, pulling people into the cities at an even faster rate so that they can be closer to the source of power, since only a trickle of that energy finds its way into the remote villages;
- It will become a ready target for acts of war or sabotage, because of its central importance to the society which comes to depend upon it -- for, by a curious paradox, the point of greatest strength is also the point of greatest vulnerability.
Billions of years ago, somewhere in the oceans of the world, a brilliant chemical discovery was made. No one knows how this breakthrough was achieved. Through a remarkably complex process known as photosynthesis, microscopic organisms learned how to harness the energy of the sun in order to manufacture vast quantities of sugars, starches, carbohydrates, proteins, and oxygen.
Though modern science does not fully understand the phenomenon of photosynthesis, it is the basis for almost all life on earth today. As time passed, the earth was covered with a green blanket of living solar collectors, gathering up the sun's energy and using it to provide the food and oxygen necessary to support the trillions of insects, fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals which came to populate the globe. Even today, the amount of energy captured and stored in wild vegetation each year is more than eighty times greater than all of the energy which is used by all of the human societies throughout the world. Even in our most industrialized nations, solar energy contributes more to the national economy -- through agriculture and forestry alone -- than any other single energy source.
Natural ecosystems, harnessing solar energy on a highly decentralized basis, are extraordinarily diverse. Diversity of species is accompanied with a great diversity of individuals within each species. This diversity is essential to the long term health of the ecosystem, because it is the cutting edge of evolution. Conditions on the planet change, and when one species becomes maladapted, another is ready to take its place. New strains of insects and microroganisms (bacteria and viruses) appear, which may be immune to the effects of DDT, antibiotics or vaccines. Total ecological collapse is certainly a possibility, but the adaptive potential of a living system is enormous, and the resiliency of ecosystems is awe-inspiring. Damage a machine, and it will either cease to function altogether, or it will continue to function in an erratic fashion, or it will continue on exactly as before. It will not repair or improve itself. Damage an ecosystem, however, and it will often respond in surprising and unexpected ways.
The United Nations has adopted a definition of development, which is "a process designed to meet basic human needs first, beginning with the neediest". Human needs are very diverse, and can often be met in diverse ways, using technologies which are scaled down to human dimensions. Windmills can be used to pump water, to generate electricity, or to compress air for running machinery. Solar energy can be used to dry crops, to heat water, or to bake bread. Methane digesters can provide inexpensive, clean-burning fuel. Energy-efficient design can help people in developing countries to wring more benefit from each unit of energy that they use, so that less of the heat goes up the chimney and more goes into useful work. Run-of-the-river generators can supply electricity for village-scale needs, and even pedal power can be used to charge batteries that will suffice to operate electronic equipment. In many countries of the world, such a decentralized and diversified approach to energy problems will be less disruptive of traditional cultural patterns, more beneficial and more encouraging to those who are most in need, and infinitely more conducive to a feeling of self-sufficiency and self-determination, than the introduction of large, impersonal, centralized technologies such as nuclear power, which may not even be sustainable in the long run.
Surely it is the height of folly for we in the Western World, fully aware of the limits to growth, the fragility of the global ecosystem before the onslaught of modern technology, and the finiteness of the earth's resources, to be avidly encouraging other societies to follow in our footsteps, while we continue to accelerate our own wasteful, destructive, and unsustainable patterns of growth. The consumer society -- it is an empty promise which we are offering, for if present trends continue unabated, there will be little to inherit but a wasteland. Selling nuclear reactors to countries which cannot even afford to make a decent down payment, saddling them with the heavy debt that such investments entail, and leaving them to face the problems of repair and maintenance, decommissioning, and radioactive waste management for millennia, may not be doing them a favour. How many countries have already been hooked on energy-intensive agricultural methods imported from the West, only to find that they cannot afford the energy inputs which are needed to make the system work?
Is it possible for us to change our way of thinking? Can we learn to develop technologies which unobtrusively adapt themselves to the human needs they are meant to serve, or must we continue to adapt society to fit the technological imperative that is created by large-scale, centralized developments such as nuclear power? If we must choose, where should our priorities lie? Where do we place our ultimate value? In particular, what degree of individual self-sufficiency, what degree of social stability, what degree of personal choice do we wish to enjoy? How much do we value our diversity, and what are we prepared to do to preserve it?
(e) "Inevitability" versus "Adaptability"
Mechanical systems are deterministic and lacking in freedom: once a machine is set in motion, it follows an inevitable line of logic which was programmed from the outset. Ecosystems are self-determining and adaptive -- harmonious. highly structured, and orderly overall, but unpredictable, spontaneous, and sudden in the detailed workings.
Those who view the world in machine-like terms tend to be fatalistic, and to regard the future as an inevitable extrapolation of the past.
"We are swept along by the irresistible momentum of events, and trend inevitably becomes destiny. We must accept our fate and make the best of it, secure in the belief that if we do not go forward, we can only go backward.The metaphor of the ecosystem breeds a less fatalistic frame of mind. The law of evolution has always been, adapt or perish -- but there are many ways of adapting, and for creatures with a cerebral cortex as well as a degree of spirituality, adaptation involves conscious choice based on value judgments.
"Nuclear power is here now, and it will not go away. We have to learn to live with it, to use it for our advantage, and to deal with the problems which it raises in the most thorough and conscientious manner possible.
"We cannot continue along our present course without ever-increasing amounts of energy and if we fail to supply that energy, total economic collapse may be the penalty. Such a prospect is far more fearful than any of the bogeys which are raised about nuclear energy to frighten people."
"And so it is that nuclear power will expand and multiply, and fill the earth with nuclear reactors. Reprocessing will become an essential part of the civilian nuclear program, making available large quantities of fissile materials in a separated or semi-separated state. The threat of nuclear war will increase, as more and more nations and subnational groups acquire a credible nuclear capability.
"Security will be inexorably tightened in order to prevent these things from happening, but they will happen nevertheless. More and more people will require security clearance as threats of violence are made against nuclear facilities by dissident groups. Civil liberties may have to be infringed if a credible threat actually materializes.
"No doubt accidents will occur -- radioactive spills, malfunctioning reactors, explosions in reprocessing plants, seepage of radioactive wastes from burial grounds or repositories, perhaps even a few meltdowns -- and we will have to accept these things and learn to live with them. After all, fire can be very destructive indeed, and yet we have learned to live with it."
5) The Crux of the IssueThe greatest threat to the world today is the threat of nuclear annihilation. To accept proliferation of nuclear weapons as inevitable is to accept nuclear warfare as inevitable, at least under existing world circumstances. Until the advent of nuclear weapons, it was literally impossible to imagine a scenario in which humankind could successfully annihilate itself, and carry most higher forms of life to oblivion in the process. Nuclear warfare is capable, in principle, of destroying the very ecosystem of which we are part. The crew of spaceship earth cannot afford to start blasting each other with high explosives, or they will simply destroy the spaceship's life support systems upon which they all depend.
The first point of agreement should be to surrender the weapons and lock them up. Issuing each crew member a fully automatic blaster and relying on a policy of mutual deterrence to keep the peace is less likely to succeed, especially if paranoia, aggressiveness, and brutality are among the traits that are observed among some of the crew members.
As Sir Brian Flowers has concluded: "the spread of nuclear power will inevitably facilitate the spread of the ability to make nuclear weapons and, we fear, the construction of these weapons. In reality, total agreement on a comprehensive international control system for the products of civilian nuclear power that are relevant to the construction of nuclear weapons would be possible only in a climate of general disarmament, and the prospects for this are receding rather than improving.... The proliferation problem is very serious and it will not go away by refusing to acknowledge it." (p. 76 para. l67)
And, as Justice Fox of Australia has observed, "The nuclear power industry is unwittingly contributing to the threat of nuclear war. This is the most serious hazard associated with the industry."
And, as the prestigious American FORD/MITRE Report has pointed out, "The following measures would have major non-proliferation significance:
For these and other reasons, nuclear power is viewed by an increasing number of people as maladaptive for survival. With our present understanding, any large-scale commitment to nuclear power will almost certainly involve reprocessing. The problem of containing radionuclides in the reprocessing operation requires an unprecedented degree of control within the plant, and the problem of safeguarding the fissile material may demand an unprecedented degree of control within society. Yet in spite of the monumental risks that will be entailed by such developments, there is no reasonable assurance that such a society will be sustainable. In the event of economic collapse or social disruption, it may be difficult if not impossible to safely manage the very large quantities of dangerous materials which are involved in such a vision of the future.
- A clear decision to defer plutonium reprocessing and recycle.
- De-emphasis of the breeder program with deferral of the early date of commercialization.
- Reduced priority for nuclear power in energy research and planning, in a framework giving equal weight to coal in the short term and alternative replenishable energy sources over the longer term.
- Avoidance of promotion of nuclear power both at home and abroad.... " (page 299)
Nuclear power is with us now, but it may not be with us forever. Until the people of Ontario have had an opportunity to understand the full implications of a nuclear electric society, there should be no substantial expansion of the nuclear power industry in Ontario, so that we may preserve the option of phasing out this technology before it becomes irreversibly established. The issues involved in the nuclear debate are transcendental -- or, as Alvin Weinberg has said, "transscientific" -- in scope; such issues should not be decided simply on the basis of short-term economic or political considerations or routine planning procedures. We urge the Government of Ontario to establish a public education program, using every means at its disposal, to alert the people of Ontario to the grave issues which are at stake in deciding Ontario's energy future, and to encourage the widest possible range of participation in the decision-making process.
It is sometimes said that you cannot turn the clock back, or undo what has been done -- meaning that you cannot hope to halt nuclear development now that it has acquired such a firm foothold in the world. I disagree with this fatalistic view. Prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War, American abolitionists -- even in the Northern United States -- were regarded as "lunatic fringe" individuals who couldn't face up to reality. It was argued by many that slavery was an economic necessity, and not intrinsically an evil thing, since it was claimed that many slave owners were good to their slaves and even beloved by them. Many of the arguments that are now advanced to support the view that nuclear energy is here to stay are reminiscent of the anti-abolitionist arguments of those bygone days. Yet slavery has been abolished in America, and few people regret it.
The arguments in favor of nuclear power are based on the principle of inertia. We are told that we have to build reactors because we have no choice. Energy demands are rising rapidly and there is nothing we can do about it except to meet the demand. Besides, stopping nuclear power will not automatically eliminate nuclear weapons, so we may as well continue to spread the technology around the world. The nuclear industry employs some 17,000 people (exclusive of mining) in Canada, and they need work. Having poured billions of dollars of federal subsidies and public investments into nuclear research and development, we can't afford to phase out nuclear power.
Taken individually, these arguments sound plausible enough. But looked at holistically, they are all self-fulfilling prophecies which do not address the larger issues. In essence, what is being said is this: we started the nuclear enterprise many years ago, it has developed a momentum of its own, and we see no reason to stop it. A perfect mechanistic analysis. But what are the implications for the living systems with which the nuclear machinery must interact? What effects will it have on world peace? on civil liberties? on self-reliance? on politics? Will it lead us to a peaceful and sustainable society, or will it not? Might it contaminate our global ecosystems? Could it bring about a greater degree of alienation in our society? Will it help us to achieve social justice in the world? Is there a master plan, and if so, how does nuclear power fit into that master plan?
When viewed from this perspective, nuclear power seems to be a technology which is lacking an appropriate context. It demands a peaceful world, but the world is not as peaceful as we might like. It demands a highly centralized society, subjected to various types of controls, which many people do not desire. It demands a degree of vigilance which is unparalleled, a degree of dedication which is unprecedented, a degree of planning which is unheard of, and a degree of security which is little more than an ambitious hope. Such a technology will inevitably attempt to create the environment which it demands, and in so doing it will have far-reaching implications on all our lives. But will it work? And if it does work, will we find ourselves in the kind of society that we wanted to inhabit?
Ecosystem considerations are essentially holistic. And when we look at the problem in those terms, it seems obvious that our first priority must be to develop a more sustainable society. Energy conservation and energy efficiency, properly speaking, are important steps in that direction; not only do they enable us to obtain more benefit from each unit of energy, but they educate us as to the uses to which we are putting that energy. It makes us think about our values, it makes us choose, it makes us realize what is important and what is not.
Energy conservation and energy efficiency can only be implemented effectively in a decentralized, diversified manner -- a task to which our existing institutions are not particularly well adapted. To be successful as an energy strategy, energy conservation and energy efficiency must have the enthusiastic and active support of the people. This can only come about through a process of education, dialogue, reflection, opportunity, example and action. The emphasis has to be on the positive; the task of building an energy efficient society will create employment of various types, and many opportunities for small business; it will cost less money, certainly in the early stages at least, than comparable investments in energy supply systems to produce the same net benefit; it will provide quick and permanent relief to some of our energy problems, thereby making our energy supply problems much more tractable. And, perhaps most importantly, it will draw people together in a sense of common purpose.
A moratorium on nuclear power expansion in Ontario would seem to be well-advised. A carefully administered program of energy conservation, coupled with industrial cogeneration and renewable sources of energy, could fill the energy gap during the moratorium period, as indicated in studies such as the one by Peter Middleton and Associates, entitled "Alternatives to Ontario Hydro's Generation Program". During the moratorium period, care can be taken to ensure that the nuclear industry remains viable. A great deal of necessary research and development into unsolved problems such as the dismantling of radioactive structures (defunct reactors) and the long-term management of radioactive waste will occupy a good deal of the scientific and engineering skills of the industry.
In the manufacturing sector, much of the slack can be taken up in alternative ways -- for example, small turbines manufactured for cogeneration facilities should more than compensate for the large turbines that will not be needed for nuclear plants. Meanwhile, a public inquiry into nuclear energy can be launched at the national level, to investigate the implications of a nuclear future for Canada so that at the end of the moratorium period people will be better informed on the subject and more able to make a rational choice. Here in Ontario, an ambitious education program can be undertaken, using all the means at the Government's disposal to enlist support from every sector of society in an undertaking which will be mutually beneficial for all concerned.
If nuclear energy is allowed to proceed with its expansion plans, very little will have changed. People will go on as before, Ontario Hydro will continue to grow, and reprocessing will become increasingly inevitable. Our society will become more highly electrified, capital will be unavailable for many smaller investments, people will be uneasy, unemployment and inflation will continue to soar, and whatever resiliency our society has left will continue to be eroded.
If nuclear power is halted, even temporarily, it may act as the signal that many people have been waiting for. A signal to become involved in the process of social transition from a consumer society towards a conserver society; a signal to put aside those feelings of alienation and helplessness, and to start working for a better and more sustainable society.
Locked into an inertial system, is it any wonder that people feel passive?
The arguments in favor of a nuclear moratorium
coupled with a national inquiry into nuclear energy
are contained in the CCNR submission entitled
"TIME TO STOP AND THINK".
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