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Case Summary

The case is focused on the controversy surrounding the possible construction of two nuclear reactors in Saskatchewan. The study argues that the province will face mounting energy shortages very soon if no alternative to traditional sources of energy – such as oil, gas and coal – is discovered. Besides mitigating energy shortages, nuclear reactors can be used in hydrogen production. Hydrogen is widely regarded as one of the cleanest and most energy efficient fuels of Earth. The case clearly establishes the set of problems that would be addressed by the proposed solution.

Saskatchewan currently relies heavily on gas and coal for electricity production: 62% of it comes from burning fossil fuels. As a consequence, Saskatchewan is responsible for nine per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions with only three per cent of the country’s population. Moreover, during the past decade, Saskatchewan recorded the second-highest increase in energy consumption in Canada after Alberta, and this trend is likely to continue. One option is to explore clean coal as a source of electricity production in the long term perspective.

However, at the current level of technology development, and taking into consideration the high costs of clean coal processes, this option does not seem viable, especially in the light of a realistic scenario under which the province will face electricity shortages already by 2010. Other options are integrated gasification combined cycle, natural gas combined cycle, polygeneration, purchasing electricity from independent power producers or importing it, hydropower and nuclear power.

Saskatchewan’s electricity demand is projected to increase to 4,000 Megawatts by 2025. In 2007, the province produced 2,969 Megawatts, and its peak current production capacity is 3,668 Megawatts. Aging assets of the province’s energy company put an additional pressure on electricity production and distribution. The proposal on the table from Bruce Power is the construction of two 1,000 megawatt nuclear reactors. Nuclear facilities can also produce hydrogen during off-peak periods, a method of storing energy.

Furthermore, it is proposed to create an energy hub that would integrate different methods of electricity production, with a primary focus on clean energy sources such as wind and solar power. Nuclear power and hydrogen can also be regarded as clean energy sources, the study argues. Saskatchewan is a suitable place for the development of nuclear energy: it is a leader in uranium mining, accounting for around a third of the global uranium supply.

In case nuclear power serves as an engine for Saskatchewan’s entry into the hydrogen age, the benefits will be as follows: (i) climate change would be mitigated and environmental instabilities reduced; (ii) the concentration air pollutants that pose danger for human health and reduce agricultural yields (such as particulate matter, NOx, SOx and CO) would decrease; (iii) global dependence on oil would be diminished, and accompanying political, economic and social tensions produced by this dependence would also ease; (iv) a dependable, efficient and clean energy system would be established, able to readily use renewable resources and store energy from intermittent resources such as wind and solar power; (v) development of new energy services would stimulate Canada’s economic growth and technological progress; (vi) the country would get an opportunity to export both its hydrogen technologies and energy in the form of value-added energy carriers – hydrogen and electricity; (viii) control over energy systems would be retained and their efficiency, reliability and social effects would be higher, due to the increase in domestic production of electricity as opposed to importing it; and (ix) sustainable development would be promoted. Thus, it is clear that the proposal for Bruce Power has a potential for bringing a variety of benefits for the population of Saskatchewan and Canada in general. However, this proposal would come at a cost. Although the study argues that nuclear power should be considered a clean source of energy, there are dangers associated with it.

Catastrophes at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island cast doubt over the desirability of construction of new nuclear power plants. Thus, the proposal from Bruce Power will be assessed from two conflicting ethical perspectives, namely deontology and utilitarianism. Ethical Perspective: Deontology Deontology puts morality over the consequences of an action. Kant’s Categorical Imperative is one of the best known examples of deontological thinking, since it establishes a universal moral standard for all the human beings in all situations. Deontology relies on underlying moral principles that make an action permissible or not permissible. It does not focus on the consequences of an action – decisions should be guided by moral principles that are absolute, not relative.

It holds that all humans have a sense of moral judgment, since moral agency is a part of human nature. An example of deontological approach to a real-life situation is its negative view of white lies, since lying is morally wrong under any circumstances, and its minor and well-intentioned nature does not justify it. Ethical Perspective: Utilitarianism This ethical school holds that the rightness of an action entirely depends on the value of its consequences, and that the usefulness of such consequences can be rationally estimated. It discards evaluation of intentions that guided the action, social acceptance of the action, or historical and religious perspectives on the action.

This ethical system “would in fact consist of one rule only, the act-utilitarian one: ‘maximize probable benefit’” (Smart & Williams, 1973, p. 12). Utilitarian ethics belongs to the category of consequentialist theories that share the belief that the results of an action determines whether it is right or wrong. Typical utilitarian thinking is that ends justify means. For example, followers of the utilitarian school could argue that the war in Iraq was justified, since in the future twenty five million people will live a freer and better life, and it is more important than deontological claim that nothing can justify killing (Ignatieff, 2003).

Another example of such thinking is so-called Greatest Happiness Principle, which states that each person’s happiness counts for exactly the same as every other’s, and that value of an action is positive if and only if that action increases the total happiness in the world – in other words, it can “produce the greatest balance of pleasure over pain for the largest number of people” (Kemerling, 2002, “The Greatest Happiness Principle”). This form of consequentialism is different from ethical egoism holds that “the only moral principle is to do what is in our best self-interest” (Boss, 2003, p. 229). This principle is the basis for act utilitarian ethics that holds that for a decision to be ethical, it has to maximize general welfare. A moderate version of utilitarian logic could argue that radical actions are justifiable only if gains for the humanity are large and costs, especially in terms of human life and suffering, are low.

Deontologists argue that it if often impossible to rationally estimate future benefits and costs of an action, given the problem of bounded rationality and complexity of systems and processes in the modern world. Chaos theory argues that “social, ecological, and economic systems also tend to be characterized by nonlinear relationships and complex interactions that evolve dynamically over time” (Radzicki, 1990; Butler, 1990; in Levy, 1994). Therefore, deontologists argue, there must be certain a priori value judgment. Application of Ethical Theories: Deontology In the given case, deontology would suggest that the proposal from Bruce Power should not be accepted. In most readings of deontology, human life is the ultimate value.

Although it may be permissible to voluntary give up one’s life for a higher cause, taking the life of another human being is morally wrong, even if it maximizes general welfare in the long run. The second formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative sound as follows: “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means to an end” (Kant, 1993, p. 36). Thus, even if the construction of nuclear reactors might result in tangible benefits for the economic standing of the province and help to meet Saskatchewan’s energy needs, the presence of danger to human life rules out such a possibility.

While followers of utilitarianism might argue that the risks of a nuclear explosion are very small, almost negligible, deontologists would retort that it is impossible to calculate the future usefulness of any action, and furthermore such a calculation defeats the very nature of ethics. So, as long as there is a possible danger of loss of life, action should not be taken, even if economic benefits and benefits to the environment might seemingly outweigh the costs of the action. Even if the proposal has the potential for saving lives in the future, it should not be taken until its absolute safety had been fully ascertained, which is not the case at the moment. Application of Ethical Theories: Utilitarianism

While it is necessary to acknowledge that there were incidents in history when the use of nuclear energy resulted in technological catastrophes that led to loss of life, the risks of such a scenario are very small. Nuclear power is believed to cause less loss of life than other forms of electricity production: “The use of nuclear energy for electricity generation can be considered extremely safe. Every year several thousand people die in coal mines to provide this widely used fuel for electricity. There are also significant health and environmental effects arising from fossil fuel use” (World Nuclear Association, 2008, “Achieving safety: the record so far”, para. 12).

At the same time, the benefits of the proposal, both to the human race and the environment, are immense are readily seen. At the same time, if the proposal is rejected, future costs will be mounting. Saskatchewan’s economic and technological development depends on electricity. The entire infrastructure – including schools, hospitals and the police – relies on stable and affordable energy supply. If the nuclear reactors are not built, the province will have two options: to import oil, gas and/or electricity, or exploit its oil fields more actively. The first scenario will lead to increased dependence on foreign energy resources, which in turn might cause conflicts and tensions among countries and regions.

The latter scenario will result first of all in environmental degradation. Taking into account that Saskatchewan is already the most polluted region in Canada, such a development is unacceptable. Moreover, oil is a finite resource. The “peak oil” theory suggests that if we imagine global oil production as a curve, “[t]he peak of the curve coincides with the point at which the endowment of oil has been 50 percent depleted. Once the peak is passed, oil production begins to go down while cost begins to go up” (Savinar, 2009, para. 2). According to some estimates, 2005 was the year of peak oil. Thus, the costs of energy derived from oil will only increase in the future.

The government of Saskatchewan will have to raise costs of electricity for enterprises, leading to monopolization as smaller companies are driven out of business and barriers to entry are raised, and consumers, affecting the poor disproportionably since higher energy prices are almost certain to cause an upsurge in food prices. Followers of utilitarian ethics might argue that even loss of life due to a technological catastrophe on the reactor can be justified in the light of considerable benefits in the future. The study attempts to portray the nuclear stage as a transitional stage to clean energy sources, thus all the risks associated with it should be born for the sake of a more sustainable future. Conclusion Different ethical theories focus on the morality of action and emphasize that people should act in a moral fashion, although they offer strikingly different approaches to measuring the morality of an action.

It is especially hard to reconcile the position of followers of consequentialism, which holds that the rightness of an action entirely depends on the value of its consequences, that the usefulness can be rationally estimated, that there are no universal dogmas, and the rightness of every decision is evaluated by looking at its consequences, with the views of adherent of deontology, which argues that there are universal moral principles applicable to all situations, and that rational calculation should not enter the field of ethics. Although every ethical perspective is right (ethical relativism argues that truth and ethical judgment have no objective validity outside of historical and social context), and many real life situations can be resolved successfully using any ethical approach, there is a need to suggest the most workable perspective in the context of the analyzed case study for the purposes of this exercise. However, such a choice may only be made based on one’s personal views and preferences.

Interestingly enough, recent research indicates that biological factors might contribute to the prevalence of utilitarian or deontological moral judgments in one’s behavior: scientists have discovered that damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain responsible for emotions, leads to abnormally utilitarian moral judgment (Koenigs et al. , 2007). In my personal opinion, utilitarian reasoning is more applicable to this situation. Risk is an inherent part of human existing, and the development would be much slower if all forms of risk-taking were ruled out for deontological reasons. The practical issue here is quantification of risk and arrival at a balanced decision on the basis of the fullest information possible. References Boss, J. A.

(2003). Ethics for Life: A Text With Readings. New York: McGraw-Hill. Ignatieff, M. (2003). “I Am Iraq. ” New York Times. Retrieved June 26, 2009, from http://query. nytimes. com/gst/fullpage. html? res=9C02E6DD1531F930A15750C0A9659C8B63&scp=3&sq=deontological&st=nyt Kant, I. (1993). Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals with On a Supposed Right to Lie because of Philanthropic Concerns. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company. Kemerling, G. (2002). “Philosophy Pages. ” Retrieved June 26, 2009, from http://www. philosophypages. com/dy/g9. htm Koenigs, M. , Young, L. , Adolphs, R. , Tranel, D. , Cushman, F. , Hauser, M. , & Damasio, A. (2007).

‘Damage to the prefrontal cortex increases utilitarian moral judgements. ” Nature. Retrieved June 26, 2009, from http://www. nature. com/nature/journal/v446/n7138/full/nature05631. html Levy, D. (1994). “Chaos theory and strategy: theory, application, and managerial implications. ” Strategic Management Journal, 15: 167-178. Savinar, M. (2009). “Life After the Oil Crash. ” Retrieved June 26, 2009, from http://www. lifeaftertheoilcrash. net Smart, J. C. , & Williams, B. (1973). Utilitarianism: For and Against. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. World Nuclear Association. (2008). “Safety of Nuclear Power Reactors. ” Retrieved June 26, 2009, from http://www. world-nuclear. org/info/inf06. html

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