Framing Ethical Acceptability: A Problem with Nuclear Waste in Canada

Science and Engineering Ethics 18 (2):301-313 (2012)
Abstract
Ethical frameworks are often used in professional fields as a means of providing explicit ethical guidance for individuals and institutions when confronted with ethically important decisions. The notion of an ethical framework has received little critical attention, however, and the concept subsequently lends itself easily to misuse and ambiguous application. This is the case with the ‘ethical framework’ offered by Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), the crown-corporation which owns and is responsible for the long-term management of Canada’s high-level nuclear fuel waste. It makes a very specific claim, namely that it is managing Canada’s long-lived radioactive nuclear fuel waste in an ethically responsible manner. According to this organization, what it means to behave in an ethically responsible manner is to act and develop policy in accordance with its ethical framework. What, then, is its ethical framework, and can it be satisfied? In this paper I will show that the NWMO’s ethical and social framework is deeply flawed in two respects: (a) it fails to meet the minimum requirements of a code of ethic or ethical framework by offering only questions, and no principles or rules of conduct; and (b) if posed as principles or rules of conduct, some of its questions are unsatisfiable. In particular, I will show that one of its claims, namely that it seek informed consent from individuals exposed to risk of harm from nuclear waste, cannot be satisfied as formulated. The result is that the NWMO’s ethical framework is not, at present, ethically acceptable
Keywords Philosophy  Ethics  Policy  Nuclear waste  Informed consent  Ethical acceptability  Ethical framework
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