Resolved: Countries ought to prohibit the production of nuclear power.
Our debate season, kicks-off in October with a series of novice tournaments. Our varsity debaters will not formally debate until November so the focus now is on getting first-timers up to speed or at least some reasonable level of debate competitence, such as knowing the format and being able to make it past the first set of pre-written speeches. To be sure it is intimidating for novices, since, unlike baseball or soccer or running, kids do not grow-up learning the skills needed to debate. But the transformation they make in a few short months is remarkable once they begin to learn. This topic is attractive if for nothing else it is short; just nine simple words. But that does not necessarily mean it is a good topic. Our analysis will atttempt to find suitable positions for debate and hopefully the topic will not prove to be too one-sided. In Lincoln-Douglas Aff is advocating that countries prohibit production of nuclear power. In order to justify this position, Aff must explain why nuclear power should be prohibited and usually the reason will be due to certain harms which arise from the production of nuclear power. The harms are not revealed by the resolution so it will be the Affirmative debater's task to uncover the harms through research and evidence. Of course, once the harms are discovered, Aff must go a little farther. It stands to reason, the Neg will claim countries ought NOT prohibit nuclear power and so the Neg must research and uncover benefits to nuclear power production which justifies its continued use. Therefore, anticipating, that Neg will claim benefits, Aff must be prepared to explain to a neutral listener, why the harms substantially outweigh the benefits which Neg may claim. Neg will be tasked with refuting the Aff claims either by showing the harms are not significant or low-risk or that the benefits swamp the Aff claims of harms. That's it. Simple, right?
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Basically everyone will understand that countries means nations under the control of sovereign governments. That is not disputed. We do note, however, the use of the word countries means debaters should not only consider the impact on a single nation such as the United States. The resolution should be interpreted as applicable to all nations around the world; both resource rich and those resource poor.
Every year Lincoln Douglas resolutions use the word 'ought', and for practical purposes it is interpreted to mean 'should' but I argue the word 'ought' carries substantially more weight than 'should'. For one reason, 'should' is not absolute. It hints there is a strong suggestion something 'should' be done but there may be certain conditions under which the choice is optional. 'Ought', suggests a certain obligatory position. Countries are obliged to do something and some will argue the obligation is rooted in a moral rationale. Countries 'ought' (are obligated) to do something because it is the right (moral) thing to do.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, this means to order something to not be done, to disallow or prevent something from being done. There is an authoritative implication to the terminology 'to prohibit'. A sense the thing is prevented by an act of law, with subsequent punishment if the prohibition is violated.
This word describes an action which Merriam Webster defines as the process of making or growing something for sale or use.
The West Dictionary of American Law, 2005 defines nuclear power as "a form of energy produced by an atomic reaction, capable of producing an alternative source of electrical power to that supplied by coal, gas, or oil." I like this definition because it tells us that nuclear power is a source of electrical energy production which is alternative to coal, gas or oil production of electric power. But this form of production requires a mechanism known as a nuclear reaction. Now of course, if one does not know or understand what nuclear reaction is and how it is used to produce electric power, then the debater is encouraged to research more deeply.
Based on the definitions laid out above, we can interpret this resolution to mean, nations should take actions to forbid or prevent the manufacture of electrical power by means of nuclear reaction. To be sure, most educated adults will have a basic understanding of what is nuclear power and why it is significant. Most will understand that a nuclear reaction involves the splitting of the atomic nuclei of heavy atoms and many will understand the inherent risks which this kind of nuclear reaction creates. In addition to the release of a vast amount of thermal energy, the reaction releases sub-atomic particles which are dangerous to living cells. Therefore, the reaction must be controlled and contained to prevent harm to living things. Thus, the Aff isolates potential benefits which Neg may claim, namely nuclear power is an alternative to the use of diminishing resources such as coal, gas or oil. But Aff understands that the use of nuclear reactions to produce electricity carries a risk of significant harm to living things. However, please understand that this initial discovery of harms and benefits is merely a first step of discovery every debater must undertake. The most successful debaters will take this research much, much deeper and perhaps learn there is another significant harm to nuclear power production. When the atomic nuclei of the source material is spent, the material that remains continues to radiate subatomic particles for many, many years and so this waste product and everything it has touched must be disposed of in a way which prevents possible future harm to living things.
However, as the debater continues to research, she will learn the use of nuclear (or atomic) power is seen as a viable alternative to fossil fuels which can produce significant quantities of electrical energy in a world where electrical energy demands increase every year. And for a nation which does not possess coal, gas or oil resources, the use of nuclear power may mean the difference between some degree of economic autonomy or being wholly dependent upon other nations for resources.
So, in a nutshell, we can identify a few significant harms. The generation of nuclear power requires significant safety precautions to contain the thermal reaction and prevent the release of particles (radioactive) materials into the environment. Additionally, the waste products of nuclear power continue to be harmful for centuries and so additional precautions must be employed to prevent their release into the environment far into the future. The difficulty of containment is seen in three significant cases. In 1979, an accident at the Three Mile Island facility in eastern Pennsylvania resulted in the release of radioactive gases, forcing a total shutdown of the facility. In 1986, an explosion and meltdown of the core in the Chernobyl power plant in the Ukraine resulted in a significant release of radioactive material into the atmosphere and the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of residents near the plant. In 2011, a tsunami struck Japan and damaged five reactors in Fukushima resulting in core meltdown and release of radioactive materials. Of course there are many more incidents for the debater to discover. Nevertheless, the benefits of nuclear power are profound for many nations with limited resources. Electrical energy production can be extremely costly using conventional means. for this reason, nuclear power is currently used in may places around the world. Which means, in the Affirmative debater's world, those plants would be shutdown.
We will explore these issues in more detail in the Aff and Neg positions in the coming days.
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