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Nuclear Waste Management Ethical Dilemmas Research Paper

Clearly define the ethical dilemma and the key issues that you see as the most critical to this topic

The management of nuclear waste has elicited much debate in the United States over the past 50 years (Stewart, 2010). As a result of globalization, there has been increased demand for more energy. According to Stewart (2010), nuclear power has in the past been used as a solution for dealing with the high demand. This is because it is more sustainable than the conventional forms as it produces low amounts of greenhouse gases.

However, the creation of energy through nuclear reactions leads to the production of radioactive by-products that are dangerous to the environment. Stewart (2010), points out that these materials are potentially hazardous to the ecosystem surrounding the nuclear power plants. In reference to the Nuclear Energy Agency (2012), there has been rigorous debate regarding the ethical issues affecting nuclear waste management. Such debate has been mainly influenced by the social, cultural and professional backgrounds of the participants. Therefore, it is important to determine the interest of the different researchers when assessing such issues. This paper focuses on the ethical dilemmas that affect nuclear waste management and the role of different interest groups on determining proper management.

In Reference to an article by Xiang and Zhou (2011), one must focus on the pros and cons of using nuclear energy when determining the ethical dilemmas in nuclear waste management. One major ethical issue in nuclear waste management is the impact that it has on the environment. On the positive side, nuclear energy is known to be the most sustainable form of energy. Moreover, there has been an increase in demand for the elimination of fossil fuel sources of energy due to the detrimental effects that they have on the environment.

Therefore, nuclear energy is usually the more feasible alternative. On the other hand, the production of nuclear energy involves the mining of raw materials that are radioactive in nature and they pose health hazards. Shrader-Frechette (2005), notes that the disposal of the by-products from nuclear power plants can cause damage to the local residents living around the plant and the environment. The catastrophic nature of nuclear accidents is another ethical dilemma that faces geologists; there have been several nuclear disasters in the past that had detrimental effects on people and the environment. One such disaster noted by Xiang and Zhou (2011) was the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 in Europe that was caused by the release of large radioactive gases and particles to the environment. These kinds of disasters are often due to the susceptibility of the nuclear plants to malfunctions.

Such calamities can lead to mutation, and in worst cases cause deaths in humans and other living creatures. Taebi et al. (2012), indicates that geologists are often faced with the predicament of disclosing the risk and benefits of the nuclear plants to the residents surrounding the plants. Interest groups and governments tend to downplay the potential risks associated with the management of nuclear waste. The provision of impartial and precise information to the public is crucial in addressing their concerns. Transportation of the nuclear waste presents another ethical challenge to geologists. Many nuclear scientists have reported that the transportation of nuclear waste is more risky than the storage ( Kessides, 2012). If these wastes have to be transported, it is important to determine whether the personnel involved in their transportation are adequately trained.

Describe the 2 sides, their perspectives and differences

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) of 1982 was introduced to provide guidelines for the disposal of nuclear waste in the United States ( Holt, 2013). The NWPA was further amended in 1987 after the congress identified the Yucca Mountain as a potential disposal plant. The Yucca Mountain nuclear project in Nevada has elicited a lot of debate on the management of nuclear waste. The state of Nevada has been against the project. Holt identifies various reasons why the State of Nevada has been against the nuclear waste management plant; there are likelihoods of volcanic eruptions in the future, the people of Nevada are likely to interfere with the project, the possibility of technical errors, and the probability of excessive water penetration to the plant.

In an article by Weeks (2011), the Congress is another interested party in the Yucca Mountain nuclear plant. Based on their view, the Yucca mountain project was approved by the NWPA as a repository site and should remain so. Moreover, the introduction of the nuclear plant ended the political conflicts that caused bys debates to license nuclear management plants. Another argument for retaining the project is that the Department of Energy has in the past invested in rigorous research to determine the safety of the project and halting the project would lead to loss of time and energy.

The refusal by the federal government to seek approval from the congress and its failure to provide enough evidence that the Yucca Mountain project was technically unsuitable is another reason for the congressional stand. There are several arguments that have been put forward by the congress and the Department of Energy regarding the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste plant; the interim storages on the nuclear plants sites can only last for so long and the waste has to be disposed, the area surrounding Yucca Mountain is fairly remote, and the land is owned by the State ( Hill, 2010).

What are the consequences, both positive and negative to both sides?

Alan (2005), notes that in addition to the health risks that such a nuclear waste management plant poses to the citizens, it is also likely to affect the tourism industry in Nevada. The only positive consequence with regard to the development of the nuclear waste plant is that the government can continue producing more sustainable nuclear energy. However, the aforementioned risks to the people of Nevada would still occur if the Yucca Mountain project was to be revived. Weeks (2011), also notes that despite the debate, none of the interest groups has put forth better solutions for the management of nuclear waste in America. In addition, the future effects of such waste management plants to the citizens of Nevada remain unknown.

Are there “big players” involved, like industries or political groups? How is their influence being exerted and on what side

The Obama administration has also been against the Yucca Mountain project claiming that the federal government should develop alternative solutions for the disposal of nuclear waste. In 2013, the federal government decided to halt the funding to the nuclear management plant in a report submitted to congress. On the other hand, the congressional stand seems to be supported by the NWPA and other stakeholders in the nuclear power production industry (Weeks, 2011).

Larger concerns not well represented by these two sides

Although both sides have addressed their concerns over the Yucca Mountain waste management plant, they have not assessed the alternative options for the disposal of such materials (Weeks, 2011). As long as nuclear energy continues to be produced, there has to be development of alternative solutions to the management of the nuclear waste.

Solutions by the scientific community and their pros and cons

After the Obama administration refused to continue the funding of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project, the Blue Ribbon Commission on American Nuclear Future (BRC) was established to research on the future options for waste management (Banks & Wallace, 2013). The BRC report stated that the American government had failed in developing feasible solutions for the disposal of nuclear waste. One of the solutions that have been identified by Holt (2013) is the incorporation of private players in the DOE; this would ensure that more effective solutions are developed. There are other solutions that have been put forward with regard to future management of nuclear waste; reprocessing of spent fuel and use of Dry Cask Storage

Examine the positives and negatives for both the problem and the suggested solutions

According to Hill (2010), the use of Dry Cask Storage has been an alternative option to the Yucca Mountain plant. This method allows for the storage of spent fuel for at least one year and hence provides a temporary solution. The second option is the reprocessing of the spent fuel as suggested in a review by Weeks (2011). However, environmentalists have in the past been opposed to the idea since most of the reprocessed products can be used in the development of nuclear weapons.

Favored solution

Since the impact of reprocessing the spent fuel has in the past been under scrutiny from researchers, the use of the Dry Cask storage system seems to be a better option. It could be improved through the development of additional Dry Casks containers that would provide an effective solution before the development of better waste management methods. Therefore, the DOE should ensure that such containers are sufficient enough to store the available spent fuel from nuclear power plants.


Alan,M. (2005). The Social and Ethical Aspects of Nuclear Waste. Electronic Green Journal, 1(21), 1-8. Web.

Banks, G. D., & Wallace, M. (2013). Finding a Solution to America’s Nuclear Waste Problem. Web.

Hill, D. R. (2010). The NWPA and the Realities of Our Current Situation. Environmental Law and Policy Annual Review, 40(8), 10795-10799. Web.

Holt, M. (2013). Civilian Nuclear Waste Disposal. Washington D.C: Congressional Research Service. Web.

Kessides, I. N. (2012). The Future of the Nuclear Industry Reconsidered: Risks, Uncertainties, and Continued Promise. Energy Policy, 48(9), 185–208. Web.

Nuclear Energy Agency. (2012). Radioactive Waste Management. Web.

Shrader-Frechette, K. (2005). Mortgaging the Future: Dumping Ethics with Nuclear Waste. Science and Engineering Ethic, 11(4), 1-3. Web.

Stewart, R. B. (2010). Solving the U.S. Nuclear Waste Dilemma. Environmental Law and Policy Annual Review, 40(8), 10783-10790. Web.

Taebi, B., Roeser, S., & Poel, I. v. (2012). The Ethics of Nuclear Power: Social Experiments, Intergenerational Justice and Emotions. Energy Policy, 51(12), 202–206. Web.

Weeks, J. (2011). Managing Nuclear Waste: Should Spent Fuel be Stored at Yucca Mountain? CQ Researcher, 21(4), 73-96. Web.

Xiang, H., & Zhu, Y. (2011). The Ethics Issues of Nuclear Energy: Hard Lessons Learned from Chernobyl and Fukushima. Online Journal of Health Ethics, 7(2), 1-10. Web.

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NicoMinoru. "Nuclear Waste Management Ethical Dilemmas." IvyPanda, 22 May 2020,

1. NicoMinoru. "Nuclear Waste Management Ethical Dilemmas." IvyPanda (blog), May 22, 2020.


NicoMinoru. "Nuclear Waste Management Ethical Dilemmas." IvyPanda (blog), May 22, 2020.


NicoMinoru. 2020. "Nuclear Waste Management Ethical Dilemmas." IvyPanda (blog), May 22, 2020.


NicoMinoru. (2020) 'Nuclear Waste Management Ethical Dilemmas'. IvyPanda, 22 May.

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