Nuclear Energy and Environmental Justice

Kristin Shrader-Frechette

in What Will Work

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199794638
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919277 | DOI:

Series: Environmental Ethics and Science Policy Series

 Nuclear Energy and Environmental Justice

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Chapter 5 shows that, even when accidents are ignored, fission causes many serious pollution-induced health effects. In addition, atomic energy is responsible for significant environmental injustice, that is, for disproportionately-higher pollution effects on the weakest, most vulnerable people—children, blue-collar workers, minorities, and members of future generations. The chapter addresses these concerns by arguing for 4 main claims. First, the nuclear fuel cycle imposes unjust and uncompensated radiation burdens on indigenous people and minorities, who are often forced to work for low pay in dangerous uranium mines and processing centers. Second, US commercial reactors are disproportionately sited in the poorest part of the US, the Southeast, and in communities having statistically significantly more people living below the poverty line, unfairly subjecting them to the serious health effects of radiation. Third, even normally operating reactors cause radiation-induced diseases and fatalities. Fourth, the chapter shows that radiation standards themselves are environmentally unjust because they protect some US children almost 200 times less well than adults, and they protect blue-collar radiation workers 50 times less well than members of the public. Children living near normally operating nuclear plants also show statistically significant increases in cancer, especially radiation-related cancers like leukemia, and these cancers decrease in proportion to distance away from the reactor. Likewise, because regulations allow nuclear workers to receive 50 times the annual-radiation dose of the public, they are at especially high risk. Using data from the US National Academy of Sciences and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the chapter shows that among every 80 workers who receive the annual allowable occupational-radiation dose, that radiation can annually cause 1 fatal, otherwise-avoidable, premature cancer. Moreover, the chapter shows that, because contemporary radiation-protection regulations do not satisfy disclosure and voluntariness requirements, radiation workers cannot give free informed consent to these much-higher occupational risks. Finally, the chapter reveals that, because US radiation standards, for permanent, future, nuclear-waste management, are more than 4 times less protective than for current people, they subject future people to massive environmental injustices.

Keywords: cancers; environmental injustice; indigenous people; leukemia; minorities; pollution; poverty line; US radiation standards; vulnerable people

Chapter.  12888 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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