The Philosophical Foundation of His Ideological Legitimation3


A. Manifestations of the Ideology of Science in the Nuclear Power Debate



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A. Manifestations of the Ideology of Science in the Nuclear Power Debate

Examples of ideological influences in the presentation of data which have been portrayed as objective, and of conclusions which have been portrayed as scientific are drawn from the nuclear industry. It is not certain, however, whether the form of presentation is attributable to ideology alone. Motivation is difficult to determine. Conscious fraud, manipulation, and deception (PR") could also be involved.

While it is not expected that the nuclear industry would be able to maintain a detached, scientific attitude toward nuclear power when thousands of millions of dollars in profit and investment are involved, resources have nonetheless been restricted to those individuals and organizations with appropriate scientific credentials. Even with such limitations, an ideology of nuclear power has arisen and is evident in the use of scientific nomenclature and methodologies to justify and to disguise the inherent value judgments and questions that scientists working in this area must confront. Some of the ideological components of the nuclear power debate are indicated by: the terminology employed; the use of transient versus steady state models; the hidden values in cost/benefit analysis to assess risk and safeguards; the use of the Mertonian norms of science to legitimate nuclear power; and prescribed "boundaries" of professional and unprofessional concerns. The examples presented here are offered without any attempt to assess the degree to which they are representative, a task which would require a great deal of additional research.
1. Terminology

Terminology in the nuclear power industry is one form of expression of ideology and is indicated by attempts to "neutralize" value laden terms. For instance, the National Reactor Testing Station refers to "power 'excursions'" (NRTS Report PTR-738) (also referred to as "transients" in WASH-1400). Further inquiry discloses that these events could be "catastrophic" (Nuclear Information. 1979:3). Three Mile Island was classified as an "extra-ordinary nuclear occurrence" over the objection of the NRC staff who argued that this classification required an accident several hundred times more severe (Cohen 1976). The major study of the risk of reactor accidents is called "Reactor Safety Study". (It is restricted as well to Light Water Reactors, not breeders, which would have to be introduced were any really substantial amount of energy to be provided by fission). In Munich, the title of the conference unveiling the German version of the Rasmussen report was changed from "Kernenergie und Riziko" to "Kernenergie und Sicherheit" before the conference convened. An explosion is referred to as "rapid disassembly."


2. Transient versus Steady State Models

Nuclear power is commonly advocated as a technological fix on energy supply problems and as progress incarnate. Despite such claims we should recognize that nuclear power contributes a minor amount of energy to the economy. Nuclear energy production figures invariably cite gross amounts, neglecting the fact that more than half of the energy produced by nuclear power is required to sustain the nuclear fuel cycle. It is, moreover, a very recent phenomenon compared to the duration of its effects due to the extraordinary long half lives of some of the radioisotopes produced. Since nuclear power has only been in operation a short time compared to the duration of its effects, many of the consequences are accumulative, requiring transient models. On the other hand, fossil fuels, with which nuclear power is often compared, do have some long term accumulative effects, but they have been in operation long enough that an estimate of health effects based upon an annual rate is not inappropriate.

Despite the inappropriateness of the steady state model for nuclear power, almost every calculation of health effects I have encountered in the professional literature has presented data in the form of annual rates1 (e.g., Cohen 1974; Doderlein 1970; Hoyle 1977). When discounting the effects of long-lived isotopes (in this case Th-230 from milling tailings, with a half-life of 80,000 years) Cohen (1976:61) declared it untenable to consider the lives of future generations to be as valuable as our own, but did not offer a discount rate. Concern for the welfare of others tends to diminish with geographic distance, and even more so with separation in time, but perhaps proposing a specific discount rate would make the value-judgments involved in the debate too obvious and would detract from its appearance of scientific objectivity.

Nevertheless, the American Public Health Association Governing Council has adopted a resolution stating, "The immediate health costs of nuclear power appear to be as low or lower than that of any other near-term fuel cycle" [emphasis added] {APHA 1978:3), and thus basing their estimates on gross energy, not net energy. In addition, attention is usually restricted to the nuclear power plant alone, neglecting the remainder of the fuel cycle in which major hazards occur (e.g., Cohen 1974:35). Comparisons with effects due to energy efficiency or conservation seem to be inconceivable.

In sum, the effect of using an annual rate of fatalities as an index to evaluate the hazards of a mode of energy production, instead of total fatalities per unit of net (not gross) energy produced, while eliminating energy efficiency and conservation as competing alternatives (often neglecting the entire full cycle except the power plant), constitutes an extraordinary value judgment, although the data is presented as objective. The lives of future generations (not to speak of people who would die in subsequent years) are essentially discounted to zero! The fact that it is the annual rates which are being portrayed is often not explicitly stated, or perhaps is indicated only in an obscure footnote.

The value judgments as to whether the current generation is justified in generating and using power, leaving a "legacy of radioactive waste,"2 are implicit when estimates of health effects are presented on an annual basis. Nuclear power appears reasonably safe when the average annual risk to an individual is considered (the manner in which the data is almost invariably presented). It appears extraordinarily dangerous when cumulative effects per unit of energy over an extremely long period are considered (Dittmann 1977), if one can maintain concern about the fate and condition of people who would be so far removed from us in time, if indeed humanity lasts that long.

However, there are no significant discrepancies in these two different ways of reporting essentially the same data. The results are compatible with one another, although they reflect starkly different social values, and provide almost contrary impressions when encountered. The point, of course, is that this is hardly the "objectivity" one is stereotypically led to expect from scientific data. Furthermore, it is often unavoidable. The data must be presented one way or another.. Human values and judgements are necessarily involved and cannot be eliminated. Attempts to portray the results as value-free", neutral", and objective" are misleading, even if the values of the data are agreed (to within experimental accuracy) by consensus in the scientific community.

The debate between Linus Pauling and the nuclear industry revolved about such a controversy. Linus Pauling estimated the absolute number of lives expected to be lost due to nuclear explosions in the atmosphere. The nuclear weapons advocates relatively compared the expected loss of life to other human activity, such as driving automobiles, or smoking. In both cases cost/benefit/risk analysis is required. The U.S. developed under the fortunate geographic circumstance of having protective oceans east and west, and weak and friendly neighbors north and south. Was the loss of life due to nuclear testing worth the loss in national security resulting from making the nation militarily vulnerable to attack (not only attack, but complete annihilation) for the first time in its history by rejecting universal nuclear disarmament and clinging to the nuclear insecurity blanket"? The suspicion is that both portrayals were motivated by hidden agendae". Pauling probably wished to sacrifice neither lives nor security to imperial ambition.


3. Cost-Risk/Benefit Analysis

The cost of safeguards is generally compared to the number of lives saved. The utility of the energy is not questioned. The corollary of this approach is that lives can be sacrificed if the cost of the safeguards is too great (i.e., if the technology is dangerous and the remedy expensive [Cohen 1974]). [This is the approach favored by the pro-business lobbyists and elements in the 1995 U.S. Congress.]

As has been previously noted in cost/benefit analysis, "There is a profound tendency to consider only readily quantifiable20, scientific, and technical aspects, to the neglect of social, humanistic facets, and to reduce the social factors to scientific/technical, economic terms which loses the essence of the human content" (Dixen and Lange 1977). When human values are considered, they tend to be quantified, and the people who hold them are depersonalized. The value of a life to the nuclear industry was assessed, for example, as the loss of pay a worker would suffer as a consequence of not being alive to collect a paycheck. Social costs of illness and death have also been quantified (Bat 1975), however, such "external" costs as government subsidies and uninsured damage are systematically excluded in assessing costs, as is standard practice in capitalist economics.
4. Radiation Health Standards

One might allow that the establishment of radiation health standards would perforce involve significant value judgments, but there are many implicit value judgments beyond the obvious choices between degrees of caution and risk taking. Basic standards are established by deciding the maximum allowable dosage of whole body or per organ radiation. Then an attempt is made to estimate dosage levels resulting from emissions through complex environmental systems. Emission standards are then set so that estimated dosage levels (according to available information) are a conservative fraction of that amount. There is no mention of the amount of energy produced. Consequently, as long as nuclear power provides little energy, as long as the effects are distributed over long periods of time, and are geographically dispersed, it will not be required to meet the same standards as other energy sources in terms of total effects per unit of energy. Nuclear power is thus treated more as a research venture wherein comparisons are made to natural background or other sources of radiation (such as medical x-rays) rather than a commercial energy source.


5. Mertonian Norms and Nuclear Ideology

In their article "The Norms of Science and the Public Debate on Nuclear Power," Dixen and Lange (1977) compare the Reactor Safety Study [WASH-1400] (also known as the "Rasmussen Report" even though Rasmussen was only the titular head and not the managing director of the study, and was the only person involved in the study who was not in the direct employ of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission), with the Mertonian norms of science: disinterestedness, universalism, communality, and organized skepticism. The report, an in-house AEC project, was portrayed as being an independent scientific evaluation. Much of the data was provided by the industry whose product was being evaluated, as were computer simulation models, and was accepted uncritically with a conspicuous absence of "organized skepticism," and by a research team in institutions which were far from "disinterested." Furthermore, far from being an expression conforming to the norm of "communality," it was initially released without peer review. Ultimately peer review (first by public interest science groups, then by the APS, and finally even by the commissioning agency, the NRC), did make its assessment of "no confidence" in the estimates of absolute probabilities, which is the relevant concern.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, much has been discovered concerning the motivation for the study, which is supposed to be irrelevant to scientific results. Ostensibly, they were unsuccessful in the effort to confidently conclude that the magnitudes of potential catastrophes were tolerable, which was the intended goal.
6. Cases in Point

A. Harold Lewis before the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT).

Harold Lewis, a professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, was invited by the American Association of Physics Teachers to speak about nuclear power. His arguments embodied most of the abuses herein criticized, to wit:

a. Cost/benefit analysis was couched exactly as just criticized, in a form that implies (without explicitly so stating) that risks are justified if it is too expensive to remedy them, an ideological position promoted primarily by Republicans in the U.S. Congress;

b. The lives of future generations were implicitly discounted in the citation

of annual death rates;

c. The cited figures referred only to the power plants, to the neglect of the more severe problems in other parts of the fuel cycle;

d. Comparisons were made to other examples (e.g., implicit subsidies to coal due to externalized health costs of black lung disease);

e. The benefit of additional electrical energy (for which nuclear power was portrayed as the only conceivable significant source) was unquestioned;

f. Energy efficiency, irrational consumption, and conservation were ignored; and

g. Nuclear power was described as "cheap," ex cathedra, without a hint of an attempt to assess real costs, including "external costs."

There was nothing to distinguish this paper in format, title, or presentation from the other less controversial, less value-laden papers primarily directed to pedagogical methodology. The organizer of the conference, seemingly surprised that there would be any concern about such a unilateral presentation, replied that he had been assured by Bob Eisberg, the Chair of the Physics Department, that Lewis would make an "objective' presentation. One wonders whether the ideology of science blinds one to the existence of values when they are implicitly presented in a scientific context, with the further pretense of objectivity.

B. The APS and Nuclear Weapons: The Task Force on Radiation Weapons

and the AAPT/APS Course on the Nuclear Arms Race

In 1977, I was solicited by Kosta Tsipis and C. Sharp Cook of the APS to participate in a study of radiation weapons which, it was admonished, "will have to be rigorously analytical rather than assertive." When I responded that I would gladly participate if the study were not restricted to "instrumental rationality" which is successful in stopping ineffective weapons like the ABM and the B1, but not in stopping dangerous first-strike weapons like MIRVs, MARVs and the Cruise. After this communication, there was no further response.

In a preview of the AAPT/APS course on the Nuclear Arms Race, one of the two organizers presented calculations concerning "electromagnetic pulse" and other nuclear weapons effects. When I suggested that the critical elements in the Nuclear Arms Race were the dynamics of its chronology, the instability of first strike strategy, and the reduced threshold of the "countervailing strategy" (P.D. 59) as a counter-conventional option, and that detailed calculations were not only rather irrelevant to the main issues but were used as an excuse to avoid confronting the issues, the unshakable response was that physicists demanded such an approach in order to feel that they were considering physics, not politics, or some other realm outside of their appropriate professional concerns, and especially so if values (and other nonscientific considerations) were involved. Indeed, during the course, save for an occasional embarrassed and quickly forgotten concern that innovative weapons systems might be destabilizing (and likely to increase the risk of nuclear war), such reflections were considered to be beyond competence, mission, and, most regrettably, not of interest.

The above examples were offered as illustrations of ideology in action. Despite its apparent limitations, I believe the organizers of the conference were well intentioned and performed a valuable public service by providing a state-of-the-art overview of nuclear weapons technology as an important technical foundation for the strategic nuclear war debate.


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