George Mason University

Nuclear Energy and its Ethics
HNRS 360-005
for FALL 2023
Professor of record: Dr. Harold A. Geller

@AstroBioProf on Twitter (now "X") :: Original HomePage at GMU

Please be on alert for changes that may occur throughout the semester.

This course addresses the science, technology, and ethical issues associated with the use of nuclear energy. This includes the nuclear generation of electrical energy, as well as nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are among the most dangerous military threats facing humanity. Nuclear power plant waste is considered one of the most fearsome long-term risks to life on Earth. Students will learn about nuclear energy using multiple modalities including case studies. Students will address several ethical challenges posed by nuclear energy depending upon their own preferences determined in class. This may include strategic military policy; nuclear reactors and how it may mitigate climate change; as well as the measures utilized to prevent nuclear terrorism. Student groups will focus on a case study and produce a lengthy report and presentation for the entire class.

For each ethical challenge posed by a nuclear energy issue, you will be presented questions which you will then strive to answer, based on your: (a) analytical metric; (b) fact-finding results; and (c) application of the metric to the facts. You must clearly define a standard by which you plan to analyze the question.

We will work together to set out, clarify, and understand the decision principles with which we will analyze ethical questions. We will work within the ethical principles established for professional engineers. This includes: holding paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public; performing services only in areas of competence; issuing public statements only in an objective and truthful manner; acting for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees; avoiding deceptive acts; conducting themselves honorably, responsibly, ethically, and lawfully, so as to enhance the honor, reputation, and usefulness of the profession.

As GMU returns to in-person activities this fall, we must recognize the new challenges this return brings. Our success as a community relies on all of us committing to expectations outlined in the AU Forward Fall 2022 Health and Safety Plan as well as striving to maintain an inclusive learning environment.
Face coverings: In accordance with current GMU policy. If you are experiencing possible COVID-19 symptoms, do not come to class; instead, get a COVID test, contact the student health services, and stay in your room.

MID-SEMESTER EXAMINATION will take place on Thursday 5 October 2023

Term papers will be turned in by Tuesday 5 December 2023

There is NO IN-CLASS FINAL examination.

Grading Policy and Textbook

22 August 2023 24 August 2023
29 August 2023 31 August 2023
5 September 2023 7 September 2023
12 September 2023


Daniel H.
Xander B.
Brandon T.

What are the different methods of nuclear energy and what are he efficiency levels?

TEAM BRAVO Joe K. Jake S. Carolyn V. Question: Strategies to improve the public perception on nuclear energy.
TEAM CHARLIE Sean R-M. Suchita H. Rorrik H. Question: Do the risks and costs of nuclear power plants outweigh the benefits of moving fossil fuels?
TEAM DELTA Madeline M. William W. Christina A. Question: Climate change is a growing problem that needs addressing. Is nuclear energy a potential solutioin o producing energy in a more climate friendly way?
TEAM ECHO Hannah L. Jessica N. Alaa G. Question: What are the different ethical arguments within current philisophical ideologies (utilitarianism [an ethical theory that holds that an action is right if it tends to promote happiness and wrong if it tends to produce sadness], deontology [ethical theory that uses rules to distingjuish right from wrong]) that can be used on nuclear energy today?
TEAM FOXTROT Dean H. Question: What can nuclear power power?
TEAM GOLF Katie R. Suzanne B. Sophia E. Question: What are the geopolitical implications of nuclear energy (climate change, nuclear war, etc.)?
TEAM HOTEL Reilly R. Jane E. Emma M. Question: Analysis of previous accidents involving nuclear energy and provisions taken for preventative action.
TEAM INDIA Deondra C. Daniela J. Sebastian R. Question: Fukushima radioactive waste disposal: an analysis of its process and global consequence
14 September 2023
19 September 2023 -------

Abstract and Outline for

Abstract (Arthur,Bob,Claire,Dawn/250 words)

We address the feasibility of having a safe and reliable nuclear power plant generating approximately one gigawatt of electrical power. We present two case studies of successfully implemented nuclear power plants and two case studies of nuclear power plants that failed to provide sustained output. The first case study presents the nuclear power plant at Fukushima, Japan. We review its design and its subsequent failure following the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Next, we present the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, USA. We review its design and its subsequent catastrophic failure in 1979. We next present the design and implementation of the Able nuclear power plant in Kahoolawe, Hawaii, USA. Its 30 years of successful operations is reviewed. The final case study is of the nuclear power plant at Cannes, France. It has been in operations for over 40 years without any significant incidents. We conclude our effort by comparing and contrasting the successful and failed nuclear power plants. We offer our conclusions as to how a nuclear power plant can be implemented successfully. As part of our concluding remarks we offer a guideline to insuring the safe operating and implementing of a one-gigawatt nuclear facility with emergency management procedures in place for natural and manmade disasters. We also offer contingency plans that must be in place for the retrieval and removal of nuclear waste. We recommend nuclear waste be collected and removed to a central location for long-term burial at a federally protected waste facility.

Outline and Assignments

Title Page


References (Arthur, Bob, Claire, Dawn/ at least 12 peer-reviewed papers + others)

21 September 2023
26 September 2023 - Term paper abstract and outline (group) DUE THIS DATE 28 September 2023
3 October 2023 5 October 2023
10 October 2023 12 October 2023 - Term paper references in APA format (group) DUE THIS DATE
17 October 2023 19 October 2023
24 October 2023 26 October 2023
31 October 2023 2 November 2023
7 November 2023 9 November 2023
14 November 2023 16 November 2023
21 November 2023
23 November 2023
28 November 2023
30 November 2023

Tuesday 5 December 2023

Wednesday 6 December 2023

Thursday 7 December 2023

Have a great winter break !!!