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Ethics of Nuclear Energy in Times of Climate Change: Escaping the Collective Action Problem

Friederich, Simon and Boudry, Maarten (2021) Ethics of Nuclear Energy in Times of Climate Change: Escaping the Collective Action Problem. [Preprint]

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Abstract

In recent years, there has been an intense public debate about whether and, if so, to what extent investments in nuclear energy should be part of strategies to mitigate climate change. Here we address this question from an ethical perspective, evaluating different strategies of energy system development in terms of three ethical criteria, which will differentially appeal to proponents of different normative ethical frameworks. Starting from a standard analysis of climate change as arising from an intergenerational collective action problem, we evaluate whether contributions from nuclear energy to future zero-emissions energy systems can be expected to increase the economic competitiveness and technical feasibility of such systems when compared with fossil fuel-based ones. For many socio-economic and geographic contexts, our review of the energy system modelling literature suggests the answer to this question is “yes”. We conclude that, from the point of view of climate change mitigation, investments in nuclear energy as part of a broader energy portfolio will be ethically required in these contexts to minimize the risks of decarbonization failure, and thus the tail risks of catastrophic global warming. Finally, we consider which other aspects of nuclear energy deployment, apart from climate change, have the potential to overturn the ultimate ethical verdict on investments in nuclear energy. We suggest that considerations of its possible effects -- whether beneficial or adverse -- on the proliferation of nuclear weapons are the most plausible candidates.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Friederich, Simonemail@simonfriederich.eu
Boudry, Maartenmaartenboudry@gmail.com
Keywords: nuclear energy; climate change; collective action; fossil fuels; deep decarbonization
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Economics
General Issues > Ethical Issues
General Issues > Technology
Depositing User: Maarten Maarten Boudry
Date Deposited: 09 Oct 2021 00:13
Last Modified: 09 Oct 2021 00:13
Item ID: 19656
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Economics
General Issues > Ethical Issues
General Issues > Technology
Date: 2021
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/19656

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