Essay — Resolved: Countries ought to prohibit the production of nuclear power.

Resolved: Countries ought to prohibit the production of nuclear power. 


The general nuclear power good-bad debate is a great one.  There are many interesting and well-defended arguments on both sides. This resolution, however, is really not so good.


Because no one advocates banning nuclear power.  Sure, many individuals and institutions oppose its expansion. Others prefer that it be phased out as traditional renewable energy resources become more widely available and cost competitive. Some people think it’s very dangerous.

But I can’t find a single piece of evidence from any reputable source (or really any source) that says it should be banned. 

The Basic Problem with Banning Nuclear Power

The basic problem with banning nuclear power is that it would substantially undermine, if not completely eviscerate, the world economy.


To begin with, nuclear power would eliminate 11% of the world’s electricity supply[1].  That’s a lot.

But even if you don’t’ think it’s a lot, consider that 20% of US electricity and nearly 80% of France’s electricity is generated from nuclear power[2]. Sixteen countries depend on nuclear power for at least a quarter of their electricity[3]. That’s a lot of electricity to suddenly lose, especially when you consider that nearly all businesses depend on electricity to function.

Some will argue that traditional renewable energy resources could replace nuclear power, but it would take at least 25 years for renewable energy to even replace existing nuclear power

Our Energy Policy Organization, July 1-6, 2016, Nuclear Energy: Overview,  DOA: 8-10-16

For those who hope that renewables can quickly fill the gap left by closed nuclear  energy facilities, NEI points out that wind and solar lack the scale and reliability of  nuclear power plants that usually run 24/7 except when they are in  refueling outages “Renewable sources are intermittent and do not have the same value to the grid as  dispatchable baseload resources like nuclear plants. And renewables do not have the  scale necessary to replace existing nuclear plants,” NEI say NEI’s comments also point to analysis by the independent market monitor for the New England and New York independent system operators (ISO) demonstrating that  preserving existing nuclear power plants has a lower carbon abatement cost than  renewables sources like wind and solar. “Looking to the future, the Energy Information  Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook expects nuclear energy to produce 789 billion  kWh in 2040. By then, EIA forecasts wind and solar will produce 818 billion kWh. So it  will take the next 25 years for wind and solar to catch up to where nuclear energy is  today,” NEI says.

So, if nuclear power was banned, in at least the short-term there would be a massive energy shortage.  Renewable energy would not be able to cover the difference, meaning that we would turn to natural gas and coal to make up the existing difference.

Our Energy Policy Organization, July 1-6, 2016, Nuclear Energy: Overview,

Recent closures of nuclear power plants hit the bottom line of those who can afford  it least: households and businesses. After the shutdown of the San Onofre Nuclear  Generating Station in 2013, California consumers paid $350 million more for electricity  the following year  “Sooner or later, that nuclear capacity must be replaced and, when it is replaced with  new  gas fired combined cycle capacity, consumers will pay more on a  levelized [lifecycle] cost basis,” NEI warns

This would massively increase demand for both energy sources.  And what happens when demand for a product goes up, especially suddenly? The price skyrockets, as limited supplies go to the highest bidder/purchaser, threatening the economy.

Bezdek and Wendling, Energy Consultants at Management Information Services, April 2004 (Public Utilities Fortnightly)

The Economy and Demand Destruction

The energy crises of the 1970s demonstrated the harmful impact on jobs and the economy that natural gas shortages can have. The U.S. economy suffered through recessions, widespread unemployment, inflation, and record-high interest rates. In the winter of 1975-76, unemployment resulting from gas curtailments in hard-hit regions ran as high as 100,000 for periods lasting from 20 to 90 days.   These effects were especially serious for the poor and for the nation’s minorities. More recently, the winter of 2002-2003 brought higher natural gas bills to many consumers, and low-income families were especially hard hit. As Paul Cicio, director of the Industrial Energy Consumers Association, notes: “The economic welfare of our economy, the competitiveness of our industries, the affordability of natural gas for all consumers are at risk. We cannot afford another natural gas crisis. Every U.S. energy crisis in the last 30 years has been followed by an economic recession, and the 2000-2001 price spike was no exception. The energy crisis devastated industrial consumers. When natural gas prices reached $4/MMBtu, manufacturing began to reduce

Just think about it:  When energy prices rise, every consumer has to pay more for energy, reducing demand for every day goods, such as clothes, vacations, electronics, and even food. And what happens to the cost of producing those goods?  Those costs increase because energy is an essential element in the production of every good. This would trigger massive inflation in the economy, making it even more difficult for consumers to purchase goods.

A spike in natural gas prices would threaten many industries, including the chemical industry, the steel industry, and all manufacturing industries that depend on energy inputs for production.

Many more impacts to high natural gas prices are included in the August nuclear power update.

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Simply put, banning nuclear power would be an economic disaster.

Other Problems with Banning Nuclear Power 

I think that an economic melt-down is the biggest problem likely to be trigger by banning nuclear power, but there are many others.

Climate Change. There are a couple of reasons that banning nuclear power would aggravate climate change.

One, as just discussed, at least in the interim (a 25 year interim), energy sources like coal and natural gas will need to replace nuclear power. These energy sources, particularly coal, emit more CO2, increasing climate change.

Ronald Bailey, January 29, 2016, Reason, Advanced nuclear power resurgence in the US, DOA: 8-10-16

Naturally, the NRC’s representatives pleaded that it was all that the agency could do to oversee the safety of the country’s current fleet of reactors, many of which will be coming up for their second relicense renewals soon. If the NRC does not authorize them to operate for an additional 20 years, they may have to be replaced with new power plants that burn carbon-emitting fossil fuels

Two, to keep warming from increasing, the world needs to stabilize CO2 emissions at 450 parts per million[4].  We simply cannot ban nuclear power and meet our climate targets[5].

There is good evidence that this can only be accomplished with an increase in the use of nuclear power.  As discussed in the counterplan section, Negative teams (where counterplans are permitted) can counterplan to increase the use of nuclear power, including a particular type of nuclear power.  This would be impossible in a world where nuclear energy was banned.

And negative teams can also read specific impact evidence to warming beyond two degrees[6], which will preempt any “warming inevitable” arguments Pro teams wish to make.

I obviously don’t have the space to re-has the entire warming debate here, but you can access a comprehensive evidence set in all of the files below.

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Small Modular Reactors (SMRS) good. In the status quo, at least the US is committed to building SMRs[7].  These SMRs could lead a global nuclear renassaince that could reduce global warming[8], prevent grid disruptions that threaten military readiness[9], provide a constant and reliable source of power to the military[10], prevent blackouts[11], provide water supplies to drought-affected areas[12], and supports a hydrogen fuel cell transition[13].

There is extensive evidence about the value of SMRs in the August 2016 file.

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Russia’s Economy.  Russia is the largest exporter of nuclear technology in the world, generating more than a $100 billion in revenue for its economy[14].  Loss of these export markets could threaten its economy.

Middle East economy/electricity supply/water desalinization.  There is very good evidence that nuclear power is needed in the Middle East to provide an adequate supply of electricity needed to support essential air conditioning and desalinization necessary to ensure an adequate supply of water.

Sameh Aboul-Enein (et al), Adjunct Professor,  American University in Cairo, Egypt, January 2016, Valdai Discussion Club, January 2016, Prospects for Nuclear Power in the Middle East: Russia’s Interests,  DOA: 8-10-16

As a result, the Middle Eastern governments  are looking for ways to meet the growing  energy demand of their economies and populations. Building nuclear power plants is seen  as one of the available options Diversification of energy sources  In the Middle East, reliable access to electricity is crucial not only to keep homes  lit and electric appliances working. It also  means access air conditioning and to fresh  water since many countries rely on energy-hungry desalination plants for their water  supply. In Saudi Arabia, half of all electricity  generated in the country is used to run  air conditioners; in the scorching summer  months, when temperatures reach 50 °C,  that proportion is even higher. The region  is home to about 4% of the planet’s population, but it has only 1% of the global supply of  fresh water As a result, about 50% of the global water desalination capacity is situated in the Middle East. Electricity blackouts  can there fore wreak havoc not only to the  region’s industry but to its life support  systems as well. This has obvious implications for the public perceptions of the energy security problem and its possible solutions in  the Middle East.

Development.  The spread of nuclear energy is important to help countries in Africa develop[15].

The scarcity of water risks war throughout the Middle East[16].

US-China relations good. US Cooperation on nuclear energy with China improves relations with China[17].

Nuclear weapons proliferation good.  Nuclear power is needed to produce nuclear weapons.

Sameh Aboul-Enein (et al), Adjunct Professor,  American University in Cairo, Egypt, January 2016 Valdai Discussion Club, January 2016, Prospects for Nuclear Power in the Middle East: Russia’s Interests,  DOA: 8-10-16

Yet another incentive for nuclear energy  development that may well feature prominently in Middle Eastern countries’ domestic  debate is the desire to acquire a scientific, technological, and then industrial nuclear  capability that could later be used for weapons purposes, if a political decision is made to that effect.

Crafty negative teams may wish to argue that it is good for countries to develop nuclear weapons because such weapons have the capacity to induce caution in leaders and reduce the risk of war[18].

Although this position seems counterintuitive, there is a lot of literature that defends it, and given the structure of L-D debate, teams have plenty of time to defend it after the short 2AC.

Nuclear weapons modernization.  Similarly, teams may wish to argue that nuclear energy production is needed to modernize the US nuclear arsenal and that a modernized nuclear arsenal is needed for deterrence.

Counterplan Options

Counterplans are not permitted in L-D in all circuits, but they are popular at least on the national circuit and in the Northeast.  Given this and that they have a lot of utility on this topic, I will discuss them.

Uniqueness counterplan – increase nuclear power.  This counterplan would undertake a number of policy measures, including subsidies, reduced regulatory restraints, and policy measures to promote non-fossil fuel based energy sources in order to stimulate nuclear energy development[19].

This counterplan probably only has strategic utility of you are going for the Warming Bad argument on the Negative, but it is essential because there is a lot of really good evidence that claims that nuclear power will not develop fast enough in the status quo to solve climate change[20].

Without this counterplan I don’t think the Negative can beat this argument (which also means the climate change disadvantage isn’t a winner in a region where you can’t read a counterplan).

“PIC(Plan Inclusive Counterplan)” – Increase a particular type of nuclear power. One strategic counterplan is to ban all nuclear power except for one type – for example, SMRs. This counterplan could include measures to increase support for SMRs[21].  This counterplan is highly useful because it would mean the only relevant arguments in the debate are about SMRs (or whatever type of reactor the Negative chooses to defend).

“PIC” – Use nuclear power only for X.  Since the Affirmative has to defend an outright ban, I think the Negative can defend anything short of a ban. This is an example:

Counterplan – Allow nuclear power to be used if and only if it is used to supply energy for electric ambulances when no other source of power is available. Net benefit – We save a few lives.  I’m not sure what the 2AC says against this.

Transitions Counterplan. I think the most strategic counterplan against a ban on nuclear power (unless you really just want to argue nuclear power is good) is to support a transition away from nuclear power without banning it.  For example, Negative debaters could reduce financial support for nuclear power and increase financial support for renewables.  As renewables grew, financial support for nuclear could decline even farther. Moreover, the Negative could add a counterplan plank that would prohibit the development of new nuclear reactors and not recomission reactors once their licenses expired.  This would get us away from nuclear power without creating a ban that would likely destroy the economy.

Answering Affirmative Advantages

To win that a disadvantage outweighs the case (or whatever is left of the case after the counterplan), Negative teams will have to answer Affirmative advantages.

Popular advantages include radiation, accidents[22], melt-downs[23], and problems with nuclear waste. Nuclear plants are terrorist targets, and the spread of nuclear technology makes nuclear proliferation more likely.

Nuclear proliferation arguable increases nuclear war risks.

One problem with the general radiation argument is that nuclear is still safer than coal.

Frank von Hippel, April 1, 2016, Scientific American, Chernobyl didn’t kill nuclear power, DOA: 8-10-16

Despite the projected cancer deaths from Chernobyl and the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan, however, nuclear power still appears safer than coal, measured in terms of average deaths per unit of electric energy generated. According to a 2010 study by the National Research Council, if the U.S.’s then 104 nuclear reactors had been replaced in 2005 with coal plants, the increased air pollution would have caused thousands of additional premature deaths annually.

And even the cancer impact to Chernobyl isn’t that big.

Progress is being made on nuclear waste[24] and there really isn’t that much of it[25].

Frank von Hippel, April 1, 2016, Scientific American, Chernobyl didn’t kill nuclear power, DOA: 8-10-16

But the full story is more complex. The effects of Chernobyl on people, though significant, were not devastating. Beyond the evacuation area, it is estimated that the radiation will cause tens of thousands cases of cancer across Europe over 80 years. That may sound like a large number, but it is a mostly undetectable addition to the background cancer rate. One exception is thyroid cancer, caused by the ingestion of radioactive iodides: there have been visible epidemics—only 1 to 2 percent fatal, fortunately—in the most affected regions of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.

Being Affirmative

As should be obvious, I think it will be difficult to be Affirmative. Not only will it be difficult to defend a ban on nuclear energy, but it will be even hard to do this on the Affirmative side because of the structure of the debate.

To compensate, I suggest choosing one of the following approaches.

Pick a couple countries.  Since the resolution says countries, I’d pick two that you can defend shouldn’t have nuclear power and argue that they shouldn’t have it. For example, I think it would easy to defend that Iran and Saudi Arabia should not have nuclear power because it risks nuclear proliferation and then read proliferation impacts that are specific to those countries.

If the Negative claims this is unfair, argue that it would be even more unfair for the Affirmative to have to defend banning all nuclear power because there isn’t a single proponent of banning nuclear power.

Have a social justice angle.  On the Affirmative you may want to talk about how nuclear waste is often stored in low income areas, particularly in areas occupied by Native Americans. You could talk about how nuclear testing basically means a nuclear war is occurring on Native lands every day (Kato K).  A strong social justice case can be utilized to make a strong case for a ban and also set-up framework arguments and values arguments that will help you adapt this topic to L-D debate.

Ban a particular reactor.  The Indian Point nuclear reactor is considered the most dangerous reactor in the US.  Affirmative teams many propose banning this reactor.

Try something radical.  You could, for example, claim to destroy the economy and read, “dedev good” in the 1AC.  These impacts to dedev would likely subsume all of the other impacts read in the debate.  For example, destroying the global economy may solve the problem of climate change.  You could combine this with a more radical Heidegarian kritiks of technology.

Read some “nifty” advantages that teams may be unprepared for.  You might argue that banning nuclear power would increase CO2 emissions and argue CO2 is good for crops. You can argue that SO2 reduces climate change.  Or, you may want to argue that global warming is good because it prevents an ice age.

Those are just climate arguments. You could argue that high natural gas prices would benefit natural gas exporters like Russia and Qatar.  You could also argue that banning nuclear power would mean a greater reliance on oil, reversing the downward trend in oil revenues for producers such as Saudi Arabia.

Regardless of the specific strategic approach that you take, I think it is important to build a lot of different scenarios into the 1AC. If you don’t, it will be easy for the Negative to read defense against them and develop their offense in the 2NC.


This is a great topic area but I think the resolution is very poorly worded.  This poor wording creates a number of strategic opportunities for the Negative, but creative Affirmative debaters will be able to keep the Negative on the run and win debates.

[1] World Nuclear Association, April 2016, Plans for New Reactors Worldwide,

[2] NPR, May 16, 2011, A Nuclear Powered World,

[3] World Nuclear Association, February 2015, Nuclear Power in the World Today,

[4] World Nuclear Association, July 2016, World Nuclear Performance Report, 2016,

[5] Jessica Mendoza, June 28, 2016, Christian Science Monitor, Does California shutdown mean the end of nuclear power? Not so fast.

[6] Anthony Rowley, The Business Times Singapore, July 30, 2015

Economist Sachs calls for pro-environment, equitable growth,

[7] Ibid footnote #3

[8] Michael Shellenberger Septemer 11, 2012, “New Nukes: Why We Need Radical Innovation to Make New Nuclear Energy Cheap”, September 11,

[9]  George, Robitaille, March 21, 2012, “Small Modular Reactors: The Army’s Secure Source of Energy?” Strategy Research Project

[10] Marcus King, March 2011, Feasibility of Nuclear Power on U.S. Military Installations, Power on Military Installations D0023932 A5.pdf

[11]Matthew Baker,  “Do Small Modular Reactors Present a Serious Option for the Military’s Energy Needs?” June 22, 2012,

[12] Pfeffer, 2001 “Nuclear Power: An option for the Army’s Future,”

[13] Alt Energy Today, October 25, 2012,

[14] Paul Brown, July 5, 2016, The Future of Nuclear Power is “Challenging,” says WNA Report,

[15] NEI agazine, March 18, 2015, IAEA chief: nuclear is key to Africa’s development,

[16] Rishcard Russeau, April 12, 2015 The Growing Potential for Water Wars,

[17] Wang Hui, China Daily, May 30, 2015

US Congress must renew nuclear cooperation pact,

[18] Stephen Walt, Foreign Policy, November  30, “he mother of all worst-case assumptions about Iran /posts/2012/11/30/the_mother_of_all_worst_case_assumptions_about_iran

[19] Edward O’Kee, August 4, 2016, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, “Market failure” and nuclear power,  Bill Loveless, August 2, 2016, USA Today, Nuclear power gets a boost in New York, DOA: 8-10-16  Our Energy Policy Organization, July 1-6, 2016, Nuclear Energy: Overview,

[20] Steve Kidd, June 11, 2015, Nuclear Myths – is the industry also guilty?, NEI Magazine,

[21] Robert Rosner, Stephen Goldberg, November 2011, Small Modular Reactors –Key To Future Nuclear Power Generation In The U.S.,

Richard Andres and Hanna Breetz, 2011, Small Nuclear Reactors for Military Installations: Capabilities, Costs, and Technological Implications,

[22] Jeffrey Romm, May 13, 2015, Think Progress, Nuclear Power Will Play Only a Modest Role in Stopping Climate Change, Nuclear Agency Says,

[23] Bill Linnel, Morning Sentinel, May 9, 2015, Renewable energy is cheaper, safer and faster than nuclear options,

[24] International Atomic Energy Agency, January 31, 2015, Atoms for Peace in the 21st Century,

[25] Nate Monga, January 30, 2015, The Case for Nuclear Energy, The Catalyst: Colorado College,