The NSDA September/October Lincoln-Douglas Debate is: “Resolved: Countries ought to prohibit the production of nuclear power.”

Nuclear power concerns include:
The pronunciation problem…  see this short Ask the Editor video for guidance.

Safety concerns from Hollywood’s Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon, and Michael Douglas in The China Syndrome (1979). The movie premiered just twelve days before the Three Mile Island nuclear accident.

Safety concerns from three real world nuclear power accidents:

  • Three Mile Island (1979, U.S.)
  • Chernobyl (1986, Ukraine, USSR)
  • Fukushima (2011, Japan)

Total deaths from these and other nuclear accidents are hard to measure. Online sources say 56 direct deaths from Chernobyl accident and “no confirmed casualties” from Fukushima, nor direct deaths from Three Mile Island. The debate over increased mortality from radiation exposure caused by these accidents is complex. Radiation exposure risk, like poisons, is a matter of dosage. Exposure to small amounts of radiation doesn’t seem to be harmful.

Jon Basil Utley, in his July 6, 2014 article, “Raising the EPA Radiation Limit Will Save Thousands of Lives and Billions of Dollars,” reports:

The Government Accounting Office (GAO) has recently insisted that the EPA establish realistic limits in accordance with the latest science. …

… After the catastrophic meltdown at the Japanese nuclear power plant in 2011, some 130,000 people were forcibly removed from their homes in accordance with strict radiation standards. This resulted in the unnecessary and unfortunate deaths of some 1600 elderly and ill persons. Yet no residents died—or even became ill—from the radiation. Even so, Japan closed down 48 nuclear plants and Germany announced it would close all of its plants. The cost to their citizenry in higher electricity prices—and higher carbon emissions—is staggering.

All energy production is dangerous, as is walking, swimming, driving, rock climbing, and jumping out of airplanes even with a parachute.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) lists fatalities per year in the coal mining industry. From 1960 to 1982 fatalities fell gradually from 325 per year to 122 per year. Annual fatalities continued to fall most years, dropping below 50 in 1993, then to 20 and below since 2011.

Oil and gas workers also face risks, with 142 deaths in 2014. Fatal oil and gas injuries listed in this 2015 article (Oil And Gas Worker Deaths Rise In 2014) were at 98 or higher almost every year since 2004.

Critics of nuclear power can counter that risks from a potential nuclear accident are far higher than alternative energy sources, and can argue that we’ve been lucky to avoid bigger nuclear disasters so far.

Related concerns are the complexity and age of U.S. and other nuclear power installations: The average age of U.S. commercial reactors is about 35 years. Most people understand that driving a 35-year-old car is risky because key component are worn out or wearing out. And both cars and nuclear plants designed and built decades ago lack today’s safer designs and features.

Additional nuclear power concerns include political, engineering, and economic problems with transporting and storing nuclear waste. However coal production also involves storing waste. This 2009 Economist article discusses problems with coal ash waste from coal-powered energy production:

A worrying loophole in America’s rules was revealed in December of last year when a collapsed dyke sent a billion gallons of toxic sludge pouring into 300 acres of rural Tennessee. The sludge, a mixture of water and ash from a coal-fired power plant, contained significant amounts of poisonous heavy metals. Officials say the local drinking water is still safe, although the spill has killed fish in nearby rivers. The utility concerned, the Tennessee Valley Authority, says it is spending $1m a day on the clean-up.

That coal-ash pond in Tennessee is just one of about 1,300 similar repositories across America. The EPA believes that lax disposal of coal ash has led to the contamination of groundwater in 24 states. But under pressure from utilities it had previously dropped plans to classify coal ash as hazardous waste.

So all energy production (including installation and operation of onshore and offshore wind mills plus molten salt and rooftop solar power) involves costs and risks. Lincoln-Douglas debaters calling for prohibiting nuclear power are calling for increasing energy production from fossil and renewable fuel sources.

Interestingly too, this 2007 Scientific American article claims Coal Ash Is More Radioactive Than Nuclear Waste

… the waste produced by coal plants is actually more radioactive than that generated by their nuclear counterparts. In fact, the fly ash emitted by a power plant—a by-product from burning coal for electricity—carries into the surrounding environment 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy.

Though the notes above and sources quoted are critical of coal as an energy source, modern coal-power plants pollute far less than in the past. A recent Wall Street Journal article reports General Electric is investing billions in new cleaner coal power production (GE Wants to Bring More Life to Coal, August 17, 2016).

Wired magazine’s March 25, 2014 cover story, Renewables Aren’t Enough. Clean Coal Is the Future makes the case for technology innovations to supply inexpensive yet clean power from coal. Charles Mann argues that coal is as key an energy source today as in the 19th Century:

Because most Americans rarely see coal, they tend to picture it as a relic of the 19th century, black stuff piled up in Victorian alleys. In fact, a lump of coal is a thoroughly ubiquitous 21st-century artifact, as much an emblem of our time as the iPhone. Today coal produces more than 40 percent of the world’s electricity, a foundation of modern life. And that percentage is going up: In the past decade, coal added more to the global energy supply than any other source.

And Mann notes that coal is key to China’s ongoing industrialization:

Nowhere is the preeminence of coal more apparent than in the planet’s fastest-growing, most populous region: Asia, especially China. In the past few decades, China has lifted several hundred million people out of destitution—arguably history’s biggest, fastest rise in human well-being. That advance couldn’t have happened without industrialization, and that industrialization couldn’t have happened without coal. More than three-quarters of China’s electricity comes from coal, including the power for the giant electronic plants where iPhones are assembled.

We should look also to  the billions in the developing world working for a more prosperous future. The mortality rates attributed to coal and other fossil fuel exploration, mining, drilling, transporting, and processing are tiny compared to the mortality rates attributed to not having access to electricity. The World Health Organization (WHO), February, 2016, reports:

Around 3 billion people cook and heat their homes using open fires and simple stoves burning biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste) and coal.


Over 4 million people die prematurely from illness attributable to the household air pollution from cooking with solid fuels.

Nuclear power and fossil fuel power production do involve risks: radiation exposure and particulate matter pollution, plus risks from waste storage. But these risks are much lower than the risks to children face living in homes without electricity and relying for cooking and heat on wood, dung, and coal stoves.

Bjorn Lomborg, in Why Africa Needs Fossil Fuels (January 22, 2016), notes:

More than 600 million people in Africa have no access to electricity at all. …  All this is not because Africa is green, but because it is poor. Some 2% of the continent’s energy needs are met by hydro-electricity, and 78% by humanity’s oldest “renewable” fuel: wood. This leads to heavy deforestation and lethal indoor air pollution, which kills 1.3 million people each year.

Apart from the deaths caused by lack of access to electricity is the burden lower-income women across the world bear without enough electricity for washing machines. Swedish statistician Hans Rosling explains in his famous TED video: The magic washing machine (now viewed over 2 million times).


Many advocates for nuclear power were mainly concerned about U.S. dependence on oil imports from the Middle East, Venezuela, Nigeria, and other unstable regions and countries. However, the astonishing production increases in recent years from Canadian oil sands and U.S. shale oil and gas fields have made US and Canada major oil exporters.

Here is the U.S. Energy Information Agency August, 2016 Drilling Productivity Report For key tight oil and shale gas regions (pdf)

So where can affirmative debaters look for values supporting ending nuclear power production? One possibility: the U.S. has strongly opposed Iran’s efforts to it develop and generate nuclear power. The concern follows the dual use of technologies that enable refining high-grade uranium fuel supplies.  These technologies and knowhow can also provide uranium for nuclear weapons. That seems are reasonable concern, and probably the strongest among the various issues with nuclear power production and waste storage.

Also, a search of the NCPA website for “nuclear power” returns  various studies and Debate Central evidence files.

The Wall Street Journal’s Aug. 11, 2016 front-page story How the China Shock, Deep and Swift, Spurred the Rise of Trump tries to explain the “Rise of Trump” and the popularity of candidates attacks on trade with China and Mexico. The article blames reduced trade barriers, especially with China, for millions of lost American manufacturing jobs.

HICKORY, N.C.—In the late 1990s, this furniture-making hub seemed sheltered from the disruptive forces of globalization. Laid-off steelworkers from West Virginia, Tennessee and beyond streamed here for new jobs building beds, tables and chairs for American homes. The unemployment rate fell below 2%.

Then came a flood of inexpensive furniture from China driving Hickory furniture firms out of business and unemployment up to 15% by 2010. The WSJ authors, Bob Davis and Jon Hilsenrath, write:

What happened with Chinese imports is an example of how much of the conventional wisdom about economics that held sway in the late 1990s, including the role of trade, technology and central banking, has since slowly unraveled.

The aftershocks are sowing deep-seated political discontent this election year. Disillusionment with globalization has fed one of the most unconventional political seasons in modern history, with Bernie Sanders and especially Donald Trump tapping into potent anti-free-trade sentiment.

The authors cite recent research on the costs of open trade with China:

David Autor, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist who has studied trade, labor markets and technological change, calls China’s economy a “500-ton boulder perched on a ledge.” At some point, it would tumble and splatter what was below, but “you just didn’t know when,” he says.

International trade has always been hard on domestic firms facing direct competition from overseas. But consumers benefit from wider choices and lower prices. Autor argues that the immense size of China’s emerging economy made these international impacts wider and deeper than imports in past decades from emerging Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea.

China’s middle class is now larger than the entire U.S. population. Taiwan’s 23 million plus South Korea’s 50 million and Japan’s 126 million add to 200 million in these advanced economies. But the bigger story is that these Asian economies, along with Singapore (5.5 million), are more and more integrated with China’s economy. The Economist, in A Bridge over troubled waters (Nov 8th 2014), subtitled “Taiwan, Japan and South Korea employ huge numbers of mainland Chinese,” notes:

At the latest count 88,000 firms from Taiwan employ 15.6m Chinese workers. About 11m are employed at 23,000 Japanese firms or their suppliers. Throw in 2m more workers for South Korean enterprises, and companies from around the troubled East China Sea have approaching 30m Chinese on their payrolls.

Any U.S. policy changes that raise tariffs or otherwise restrict imports from China will hurt to the economies of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. New U.S./China trade restrictions would also hurt U.S. firms. General motors in 2015 sold 3 million cars and trucks in the U.S., but sold 3.6 million in China. Other U.S. firms, from Yum!, Starbuck’s, and McDonalds, to Apple, Intel, and other technology firms, have huge sales in China. Yum! Brands’ Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) has 7,200 restaurants in 1,100 Chinese cities, and Yum!’s Pizza Hut runs 1,600 restaurants in 400 Chinese cities. Yum! expects China’s middle class to grow from 300 million to 600 million and plans to have 20,000 locations in China.

Back to Economic Research and Hickory, North Carolina…

The U.S./China trade debate continues in economic journals, and MIT’s David Autor seems the most highly-respected China trade skeptic. For an overview, see MIT’s March 2016 Press Release: Trading places: Economists take a new look at the evidence that the U.S. has lost millions of jobs to China:

As some economists now recognize, the formal trade relationship between the U.S. and China, established in the 1990s and solidified with a World Trade Organization agreement in 2001, dramatically affected a large number of labor-intensive industries in the U.S. In those fields, jobs moved en masse to China, where workers are available at even lower wages.

Skeptical of Autor’s claims is Phil Levy in Foreign Policy, May 8, 2016, Did China Trade Cost the United States 2.4 Million Jobs?, which begins:

The question of whether trade with China has inflicted lasting harm on the United States is the subject of some much-celebrated research by three distinguished economists: David Autor, David Dorn, and Gordon Hanson. They argue that import growth from China cost the United States about 2.4 million jobs over a dozen years. To give an idea of this work’s reception, economist Tyler Cowen referred to it as “some of the most important work done by economists in the last twenty years.”

Levy’s next paragraph begins: “I strongly disagree.” (See story for why.)

An April 18, 2016 NPR segment, China Killed 1 Million U.S. Jobs, But Don’t Blame Trade Deals, discusses the debate, and quotes Autor:

If you look at NAFTA and trade with Mexico, Autor says, not that many U.S. workers have been harmed. But China, his research shows, is a different story. “China’s rise is really a kind of a world historical event,” Autor says. “This is the largest country in the world. It has caused a wholesale substantial contraction of U.S. manufacturing employment.”

Autor says from 2000 to 2007, trade with China destroyed nearly 1 million U.S. manufacturing jobs. That’s apart from other job losses due to technology and productivity gains and automation.

For more on the role of technology advances causing changes in U.S. manufacturing, see Mercatus Center’s Dan Griswold’s August 1, 2016 Los Angeles Times Op-Ed, Globalization isn’t killing factory jobs. Trade is actually why manufacturing is up 40%:

American factories and American workers are making a greater volume of stuff than ever — high-tech, high-value products that are competitive in markets around the world. In the last 20 years, which include enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement and China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, real, inflation-adjusted U.S. manufacturing output has increased by almost 40%. Annual value added by U.S. factories has reached a record $2.4 trillion.

Griswold explains that manufacturing jobs lost to international trade are much smaller:

According to a recent study by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, productivity growth caused 85% of the job losses in manufacturing from 2000 to 2010, a period that saw 5.6 million factory jobs disappear. In that same period, trade accounted for a mere 13% of job losses.

Griswold says half of imports are related to production rather than consumption. Leading U.S. firms employ complex global supply chains to manufacture high-value products that are in turn sold around the world. Plus, Griswold says U.S. jobs in trade industries pay nearly 20% higher wages:

In fact, globalization and trade agreements have made a huge contribution to the ongoing success of American manufacturing. Access to expanding global markets allows U.S. manufacturers to enjoy economies of scale, reducing their per-unit production costs and enhancing their competitiveness. The additional revenue can be reinvested in research and development, leading to new products and expanding market share. This is why U.S. jobs in trade-oriented industries typically pay 18% more than non-trade-connected jobs.

Increasing U.S. manufacturing productivity plays a role in Hickory, NC as well.  Eric Cunningham, irked by the WSJ cover story, counters No, Wall Street Journal, Chinese Imports Didn’t Kill My Hometown (August 16, 2016, The Federalist). Alongside the decline of Hickory’s furniture industry, trade-dependent manufacturing, surged:

At the height of Hickory’s furniture boom in the 1990s, another boom was beginning: technology. The rising popularity of the Internet led to rising demand for access. Even as the dot-com bubble imploded, telecommunications kept flourishing, and Hickory had become a hub for it. By 2000, Hickory produced 40 percent of fiber-optic cable in the world. Rather than being content with furniture and textiles, the region had—wisely, in retrospect—expanded its reach and diversified into fiber optics.

Today, two multinational fiber-optic cable corporations, both reliant on trade and globalization, call Hickory their home: CommScope and Corning Optical Communications. Although Corning is set to move its headquarters to a new building in Charlotte, this won’t affect the hundreds of jobs at their manufacturing plant.

Productivity increases reduced furniture employment, and North Carolina manufacturing has been seen healthy expansion:

In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates that my state’s manufacturing output rose from about $63.5 billion in 1997 to more than $100 billion in 2015, with top industries no longer being textiles or furniture, but computers, chemicals, and food products. 

And Cunningham offers more to suggest the Wall Street Journal‘s reported death of Hickory is greatly exaggerated:

Certainly, manufacturing jobs have declined here (as they have nationally and around the world), but the state’s unemployment rate is now at or below the national average and our labor force participation has bucked the national trend by actually adding 100,000 workers in the last year. Remarkably, the Hickory region now boasts a 4.6 percent unemployment rate—lower than the state unemployment rate of 4.9 percent and lower than in some of the state’s larger cities like Fayetteville and Greensboro.

On the manufacturing and employment side, international trade has winners and losers. On the consumer side though, are mostly winners who gain from access to lower-cost furniture as well as other goods and services. Firms hurt by imports join trade associations and lobby legislators. Political pressure for protectionist policies is explained by Public Choice theory: gains to consumers from trade with China are disbursed but costs are concentrated in specific firms, industries, unions, and trade associations, which actively lobby for higher trade barriers.

High school debate students researching this year’s U.S./China debate topic have an opportunity to gain deeper understanding of key issues surrounding this important and controversial topic, one that’s front and center in national politics.

To prepare for the upcoming CX debate topic, Debate Central has compiled a list of topic overviews that address certain aspects of the resolution. The tenth topic overview explains China’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. Prepare yourself before the season starts by reading our topic overviews which contain historical analysis, arguments, and handy evidence to help you write cases and briefs!

CX Topic for the 2016-2017 year: The United States federal government should substantially increase its economic and/or diplomatic engagement with the People’s Republic of China.

China’s Relationship with Saudi Arabia

To prepare for the upcoming CX debate topic, Debate Central has compiled a list of topic overviews that address certain aspects of the resolution. The ninth topic overview explains China’s relationship with Iran. Prepare yourself before the season starts by reading our topic overviews which contain historical analysis, arguments, and handy evidence to help you write cases and briefs!

CX Topic for the 2016-2017 year: The United States federal government should substantially increase its economic and/or diplomatic engagement with the People’s Republic of China.

China’s Relationship with Iran

To prepare for the upcoming CX debate topic, Debate Central has compiled a list of topic overviews that address certain aspects of the resolution. The eighth topic overview explains China’s various relationships in Oceania, specifically with Australia, New Zealand, Samoa, and Fiji. Prepare yourself before the season starts by reading our topic overviews which contain historical analysis, arguments, and handy evidence to help you write cases and briefs!

CX Topic for the 2016-2017 year: The United States federal government should substantially increase its economic and/or diplomatic engagement with the People’s Republic of China.

China’s Relationships in Oceania

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