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Ethical Analysis of Nuclear Engineering Essay

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Updated: May 5th, 2021

Facts

I am an Engineer in a reactor building company, working in the section of thermal-hydraulic analysis. I recently talked to a colleague (Eric) who informed me that there had been a potentially fatal incident at Toledo plant. Eric is an engineer at Eight Mile Road Hearsay. According to him, there was an increase in pressure in the cooling system of Toledo plant. This led to automatic opening of the relief valve to get rid of extra steam and restore normal pressure. Instead of closing, the relief valve remained open even after pressure in the cooling system had sufficiently reduced. Troubles started when the machine indicated to the operator that the valve had closed when it was still open. As a result – thinking there was sufficient pressure in the cooling system – the operator decided to terminate the High-Pressure Injection. This significantly lowered pressure in the system (Hauser-Katenberg, Katenberg, & Norris 377).

Too low pressure in the cooling system leads to uncovering and overheating of the core to the melting point. When core starts melting, it emits radioactive particles that are very dangerous to all forms of life. To avoid such occurrences in future, I wrote to my boss suggesting that we put in place the measures to ensure all plants with similar designs are operated with caution. I later learned from my boss that my application had been rejected on the grounds that the information I had given was not official. She, therefore, requested that I seek official communication from Hearsay. When I contacted my colleague at Hearsay, he said he could only find time to write an official communication after two months. Therefore, I need to make a decision on what to do next.

Stakeholders, my Duties and the Law

A number of stakeholders will be affected by my decision. My boss and her bosses will be affected because their work depends on my work. Other employees in my company will be affected by any changes that may come as a result of my decision. Employees, owners and communities living around firms that have designs similar to Toledo plant will be directly affected. The Nuclear Regulatory Committee and the entire nuclear industry will also be affected by whatever decision I make (Hauser-Katenberg, Katenberg & Norris 378).

As an engineer, I have a duty to uphold the highest engineering professionalism and code of conduct (Hauser-Katenberg, Katenberg, & Norris 378.) In this case, as a thermal-hydraulic analyst, I have the obligation to ensure that employees and members of the public are protected against any harm that may result from malfunctioning of thermal-hydraulic systems. I also have a duty to protect my employer from losses that may result from faulty functioning or legal suits related to damage. In my line of work, I have a duty to keep my boss informed on matters that may affect the operation of the firm. The law requires that engineers’ decisions be always guided by the need to guarantee public safety. In this regard, I owe this duty to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission which are responsible for the nuclear plants to administered in a manner that protects everyone.

Options

After having consulted with colleagues in my department and the company’s safety officer, I managed to identify some options. The first option is to wait until I receive official communication from Hearsay. Although this is an easy option, it is still dangerous because accidents may not wait. The second option is to resign because I have failed to guarantee safety. But this could only be appropriate if I have exhausted all other options. Apparently, the biggest impediment in this matter is to obtain official communication. In this case, the third option is to find any other person who is privy to the incident at Toledo to provide official communication. My colleague at Hearsay can help me identify the appropriate person for the task. If my seniors were not using the issue of official communication as an excuse not to act, then this option would work if approved by my colleague at Hearsay. My fourth option is to inform the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to compel my bosses to act. But it also seems too early to take such a route. Therefore, the only realistic option at this point is to look for someone who can officially communicate to my company. After the communication is received, I will assess the reaction of my bosses and decide the next course of action.

Justification

Any decision in this matter has to be guided by the need to avert potential accidents (Hattingh & Seeliger 6). It would be unfortunate if we failed to take necessary actions even after having received early warnings. Accidents that can result from this kind of faultiness are potentially fatal. Radioactive emissions resulting from burning core can cause short-term and long-term life-threatening complications to employees. Members of the public who stay in close proximity to such plants may also be at high risk. In addition, there can be heavy losses to shareholders due to plant destruction. Sometimes overheating can cause fire. This can destroy everything including lives of employees and entire plants. Therefore, there is need to do everything possible to avert any accidents that may result from malfunctioning of nuclear plant cooling systems (Hattingh & Seeliger 7).

The option of waiting for two months would be easier and feasible. At the end of the two months, official communication would be availed and necessary actions taken. This would protect employees, communities and the plant owner from possible accidents. I will also perform my work as an employee to ensure my employer is protected against legal suits related to negligence. I will serve my boss by providing the information she needs to perform her duties. The only problem is that accidents may happen when we are still waiting for official communication.

As for another option, my boss may be forced to implement my request if I decide to step down. In this case, my resignation is likely to attract intervention from other stakeholders and lead to implementation of my idea. This would protect employees and communities from health complications and shareholders from financial loss.

The option of reporting the matter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would attract the immediate action to have my idea implemented. The commission has the authority to enforce decisions and machinery to make follow-ups. This option has the ability to yield maximum results (Shuman, Besterfield-Sacre & McGourty 7).

The most realistic option is to look for someone who can officially communicate the matter to my company. It is my duty to serve my boss with the necessary material for the required action to be taken. This would preserve the good working relationship between us. With regard to my duty to protect employees, members of the public and owners of various plants, I need an option that takes the shortest time to put in place necessary measures. The only way I could do this without neglecting the rights of any stakeholder is to look for official communication from other sources and follow the right channel.

Works Cited

Hattingh, Johan, & Leanne Seeliger. Value issues in decision making about nuclear power generation: an ethical analysis. Stellenbosch: University of Stellenbosch. 2002. Print.

Hauser-Katenberg, Gloria, William E. Katenberg, and David Norris. “Towards Emergent Ethical Action and the Culture of Engineering.” J. Science and Engineering Ethics 9.3 (2003): 377-387. Web.

Shuman, Larry J., Mary Besterfield-Sacre, & Jack McGourty. The ABET Professional Skills – Can They Be Taught? Can They Be Assessed? Journal of Engineering Education 94.1 (2005): 7-11. Print.

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