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Chernobyl Disaster and Engineering Ethics

This paper examines the Chernobyl disaster ethical issues. Specifically, it analyses the engineering ethics, what went wrong, and how to avoid similar disasters in the future.

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Abstract

This Chernobyl ethics case study reflects events that occurred on the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The disaster of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant was the largest nuclear power accident in the history of the world. Discarded from the destroyed reactor to the atmosphere, nuclear fuel fission products were separated by air over considerable areas determining their contamination within the borders of Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. The effects of contamination affected people, flora, and fauna, causing plenty of incurable diseases and even deaths.

Thousands of people were relocated over the exclusion zone. Engineers, who made a mistake in the design of the nuclear reactor, were recognized guilty in the accident. In this regard, the paper examines engineering ethical issues in Chernobyl disaster, resulting in the necessity of increasing engineers’ awareness of their essential mission, in particular, the improvement of humans’ lives.

Chernobyl Disaster

April 26, 1986, the fourth unit of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant located on the territory of Ukraine was destroyed. It was the demolition of the explosive nature when the reactor was completely destroyed, releasing enormous quantities of radioactive substances in the environment. The accident is regarded as the largest of its kind in the history of nuclear energy, both in the estimated number of dead and injured people and economic damage. Chernobyl was the most powerful NPP in the USSR.

There were various explanations of the Chernobyl accident. However, only two of them stand out as the most scientific and reasonable. The essence of the first states that the staff of the fourth block of Chernobyl flagrantly violated regulations of the process of preparing and carrying out the electrical test. In other words, rules for the safe operation of the reactor were violated. The second note negligence in the management of the reactor plant and lack of understanding of personnel features of technological processes in a nuclear reactor.

The second state commission consisting mainly of the working staff, gave another explanation of reasons caused the Chernobyl accident. It determined that the fourth reactor had some structural deficiencies that led to the reactor explosion. Therefore, scientists and engineers who have created and designed the reactor graphite and propellants are to blame for the accident.

As a matter of fact, the consequences and ramifications of the accident were terrifying. The Chernobyl incident resulted in approximately 30 kilometers of the exclusion zone, where hundreds of small settlements were destroyed and buried by heavy machinery (Yablokov, Nesterenko, & Nesterenko, 2010). Some territories of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine had undergone the pollution. Affecting the human organism, caused radiation contamination leading to different diseases, including cancer, cataracts, cardiovascular diseases, and even death (Cardis & Hatch, 2011).

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It is also should be noted that the UN report on Chernobyl disaster consequences states that the effect of radiation on human health was less than expected, and the relocation of residents from the 30 kilometers zone has brought more harm than good. It destroyed the local communities, families leading to unemployment and depression. Severe stress, the effects of which cannot be accurately assessed, influenced all the relocated people. Before the accident, the city’s population comprised 43 thousand people. Currently, the city is home only to the staff of institutions and enterprises of the exclusion zone operating on a rotational basis.

In this regard, it becomes obvious that the professional ethics of engineering and other technical professions should involve the pursuit of high quality of work. Creating objects of material culture, the engineer cannot work without the spiritual culture. The development of modern techno sphere makes engineering ethics very important and in demand. The case with Chernobyl makes it clear that the engineer should possess ethics to avoid any similar situations in the perspective.

Chernobyl Ethical Issues Analysis

Nowadays one might observe the ethnic pluralism that traced a steady increase of the attention to the professionalism and competence problems of the modern society. Ethical dominants followed by specialists are directly dependent on the risks faced by humanity. Hence, the relevance of discussing engineering ethics in the modern world has never been greater.

The disaster of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant was the largest nuclear power accident in the history of the world. Discarded from the destroyed reactor to the atmosphere, nuclear fuel fission products were separated by air over considerable areas determining their contamination within the borders of Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. Thousands of people were relocated over the exclusion zone. Engineers, who made a mistake in the design of the nuclear reactor, were recognized guilty in the accident as they violated the code of ethics, particularly, the morality the engineering profession resulting in harm to society.

The Chernobyl disaster changed the scientific view of the world. Consequently, problems of technological risks were discussed not only by scientists but also by the general public. The very way of discussion of safety problems concerning nuclear reactors is changed.

The responsibility of politicians, engineers, designers, and operators as well as scientists became to be taken into account. It was stated that none of the social, economic, technical, and scientific interests can justify the harm to humans and the environment (Harris, Pritchard, Rabins, James, & Englehardt, 2013). The growth of technical and technological capacities of humanity creates the entirely new ethical situation that requires not only evaluation of the exploitation of techniques but also the possibility to anticipate disasters, prevent, or, at least, minimize it.

As shown by the accident at the Chernobyl, nuclear power technology development does not make people’s lives safer. The accident occurred because of a number of violations of rules of reactor facilities operation. On the fourth power unit, during its output for scheduled maintenance at night, several experiments were conducted involving the study of modes of turbo-generators work. Workers did not provide the appropriate oversight and did not take all the security measures. All in all, it was engineer’s fault, who made a mistake in the design of the reactor.

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It goes without saying that such consequences of nuclear energy as the Chernobyl disaster cannot be predicted. Nevertheless, engineers should try to do it in relation to new projects conducting relevant researches and listening to the views of the opposition (Wilson, 2013).

It is expected that the technical work would always contain a necessary component of the assessment of the technology, and not everything that is technically feasible should be necessarily be created. In the framework of utilitarianism ethical theory, the principal task of the engineer is not only to measure the space but also create the safe environment based on ethical and social responsibility. People are more significant than technology. Therefore, the latter should satisfy requirements of a variety of values, namely, criteria of economy, improvement of living standards, safety, health, environmental quality, and social environment.

Annotated Bibliography

Cardis, E., & Hatch, M. (2011). The Chernobyl Accident – An Epidemiological Perspective. Clinical Oncology, 23(4), 251-260.

“The Chernobyl Accident – An Epidemiological Perspective” by Cardis and Hatch investigates the affect of the catastrophe on the human organism. Authors stated that there is the obvious connection of that affect and risk of thyroid cancer. The ionizing radiation affects people every day by means of plenty of natural sources including cosmic rays and natural radioactive materials occurring in food, drink, and air. It is considered natural radiation. However, due to the high level of radiation, there is the evidence of diseases. The book is useful for the research as it emphasizes the effect of radiation level of Chernobyl incident.

Harris, C. E., Pritchard, M. S., Rabins, M. J., James, R., & Englehardt, E. (2013). Engineering ethics: Concepts and cases (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

The book “Engineering ethics: Concepts and cases” by Harris, Pritchard, Rabins, James, and Englehardt focuses on a system of moral principles that are applied in the practice of engineering. Authors of the book are considered scholars. Therefore, the credibility of the source cannot be argued. Combining theory and practice, the book demonstrates plenty of cases as well as offers a code of ethics and its application in practice. In addition, the book clearly explains the impact of engineering solutions on health, safety, and welfare of society. It was very significant for the research as promoted the comprehension of engineer’s morality.

Wilson, W. R. (2013). Using the Chernobyl Incident to Teach Engineering. Science and Engineering Ethics, 19(2), 625-640.

The article “Using the Chernobyl Incident to Teach Engineering” by Wilson reveals the approach to teaching engineers ethics. It demonstrates the situation when students combined in groups and asked to act and speak like those workers of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, comprehend the issue better and suggest concise and argumentative solutions. The author of the research is a professor of Muskingum University, New Concord, OH, USA. The intended audience of the article is engineering students. This credible source was rather helpful for the provided analysis as it contributed to the creating of possible decisions concerning ethical issues in engineering.

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Yablokov, A. V., Nesterenko, V. B., & Nesterenko, A. V. (2010). Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment. Boston, MA: New York Academy of Sciences.

“Chernobyl: Consequences of the catastrophe for people and the environment” by Yablokov, Nesterenko, and Nesterenko reflects various consequences of the disaster. Authors clearly and successively point out all the ramifications including general morbidity, disability, non-malignant diseases, and other illnesses occurred as a result of the accidence. What is more, the book describes catastrophe consequences for the environment. In particular, it comprises radioactive effect on atmospheric, soil, and water. The book contributed to the understanding the degree of the disaster. It would be interesting and helpful as for students as well as for the average reader.

References

Cardis, E., & Hatch, M. (2011). The Chernobyl Accident – An Epidemiological Perspective. Clinical Oncology, 23(4), 251-260.

Harris, C. E., Pritchard, M. S., Rabins, M. J., James, R., & Englehardt, E. (2013). Engineering ethics: Concepts and cases (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Wilson, W. R. (2013). Using the Chernobyl Incident to Teach Engineering. Science and Engineering Ethics, 19(2), 625-640.

Yablokov, A. V., Nesterenko, V. B., & Nesterenko, A. V. (2010). Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment. Boston, MA: New York Academy of Sciences.

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