Savulescu (2001) writes:

"Or consider the Nuclear Accident. A poor country does not have enough power to provide power to its citizens during an extremely cold winter. The government decides to open an old and unsafe nuclear reactor. Ample light and heating are then available. Citizens stay up later and enjoy their lives much more. Several months later, the nuclear reactor melts down and large amounts of radiation are released into the environment. The only effect is that a large number of children are subsequently born with predispositions to early childhood malignancy. The supply of heating and light has changed the lifestyle of this population. As a result of this change in lifestyle, people have conceived children at different times than they would have if there had been no heat or light, and their parents went to bed earlier. Thus, the children born after the nuclear accident would not have existed if the government had not switched to nuclear power. They have not been harmed by the switch to nuclear power and the subsequent accident (unless their lives are so bad they are worse than death). If we object to the Nuclear Accident (which most of us would), then we must appeal to some form of harmless wrong-doing. That is, we must claim that a wrong was done, but no one was harmed." (p. 417-18)

Aren't the children who were born after the switch to nuclear power and subsequent accident harmed since they are more likely to be predisposed to diseases/non-diseases than if they were not born at that time? Isn't the Nuclear Accident a causal source for harm, i.e. the elevated number of genetic predispositions to diseases/non-diseases? Although the parents may not understand the implications of nuclear reactors, they unwillingly harm the children they bring into the world after the Nuclear Accident.

Please let me know where I am going wrong because there is certainly something simple that I am missing.

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    Commented Apr 7, 2020 at 17:05

1 Answer 1


There are two worlds here for consideration:

World 1: A world in which the government does reinstate its old nuclear powerplant.

World 2: A world in which the government does not reinstate its old nuclear powerplant.

In World 1, a population of children exists, and this population does not exist in World 2. This leads to the author's notion, "that unless their lives are so bad they are worse than death," no harm has been committed. The notion can be justified by the fact that life is obviously better than death, so if the children are alive, then they are in a state that is better than death; and this is a good existence.

In short, the nuclear accident was caused by the government's bad action or negligence, but concerning the population of children--this population was brought into existence by that bad action, and is in a better state than if the government had not made that decision (the children exist, and are presumably in a better state than death; but maybe this doesn't apply to every child in fact.) And if this doesn't apply to every child, then you make several valid points.

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