Nuclear power: Friend or foe?
Nuclear power: Friend or foe?

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Nuclear power: Friend or foe?

1 The task

Although the context constantly changes, the arguments on both sides tend to remain consistent though the emphasis on particular aspects varies. The rise or decline of nuclear energy depends, it would seem, not so much on which side wins the argument but, rather, on shifting power relationships. While power is partly shaped by discourse, it is also backed by resources. It is the ability of both sides to mobilise resources (in terms of finance, technology, political and public opinion) that determines outcomes. Nonetheless, discourse matters, too, since it both reflects and inspires the changing relationships of power.

For this online exercise you will immerse yourself in the nuclear debate by tackling both sides in the argument. Try to put yourself, first, in the position of an advocate for nuclear energy, and then adopt the position of an opponent. Which of the arguments in favour of nuclear energy seem most persuasive to you? And which are the most convincing of the arguments against? How would you characterise the contemporary discourse on nuclear energy?

An initial question

I suspect you already have your own views on the nuclear issue; you may even feel quite strongly one way or the other. So, before we begin, you should write down whether you are in favour of or against the further development of nuclear energy and why. If you do not have a view you should identify the issues that you consider important in coming to a judgement on the matter. Keep your notes, since you will need to refer to them later in the course.

The debate in question

Your task for this course will be to research and develop your arguments for and against nuclear energy. You should spend approximately one hour searching online, and approximately one hour compiling your arguments.

Your argument should take the form of a debate on the pros and cons of nuclear energy. You should tackle this at a generic level, not in terms of specific sites or proposals. I will come back to the issue of specific proposals at the end of the course. For the present, the idea is for you to search out the general arguments, set them down and reach a considered judgement based on your understanding and interpretation of the issues. You are setting out to answer the question: do we need nuclear energy?

You may want to construct your arguments under different headings. The following are suggested:

  • safety
  • security
  • economics
  • environment
  • radioactive waste management
  • public acceptability.

Each of these is actively contested so you should be able to find ‘for’ and ‘against’ arguments under each heading. In developing the debate you may wish to focus on one aspect that you consider to be the most important. Alternatively, you may want to construct a debate by referring to a range of relevant aspects.

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