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Nuclear waste: science and ethics

The applications of nuclear science and technology raise many ethical questions. One of the most complex issues is deciding about the management and disposal of radioactive waste.

What will future generations think of our decisions? What would a fair decision be?

The Greek goddess Themis who symbolises justice wears a blindfold. Her blindfold may be seen in the nuclear waste debate as symbolising also our inability of knowing exactly how the future will unfold.

Nuclear waste disposal. What is our responsibility to future generations?

  • Ensure that people will not be affected by nuclear waste in the future or give them the chance to decide for themselves? Science explores both options, but cannot help us choose. It will always be an ethical choice.

    We can only do our best to make the right choice, in a democratic manner. Taking into account all views and opinions. Our next task is to try to explain to the people of the future why we thought this was the best we could do.

    This option does not seem very concrete, but at the same time it is the best way not to shift our responsibility to the future.

  • Several camps are emerging here. Some scientists are currently researching technologies that reduce the lifetime of radioactive waste. Other scientists and philosophers believe that we do not yet know enough and that we should wait for better ideas.

    There is also an opposing view that we should not postpone things since we are ourselves responsible for the problems we cause.

    So the choice for this option is not so obvious.

     

    Think again?

  • Scientists today have technical solutions to dispose of waste safely and permanently for the future. However, there are no guarantees that nothing will go wrong. Think of materials that unexpectedly start behaving differently, or the disposal being unintentionally damaged by future industrial activities.

    There are also scientists who believe that there are other and better solutions than the final disposal of all nuclear waste.

    So the choice for this answer is not so obvious.

    Think again?

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