Sociological implications of an ongoing structural disaster

Shifting the focus from front-end problems of nuclear power generation to backend ones such as HLW disposal issues leads to four sociological points about an ongoing structural disaster:

  • 1 Adherence to erroneous precedents carries over and reproduces problems, and can be seen in the way of thinking and the patterns of behavior in HLW disposal in Japan before and after the Fukushima accident. As this is one of the elements that characterize structural disaster, as shown in Chapter 1, in this sense, HLW disposal issues can be regarded as an ongoing structural disaster.
  • 2 The complexity of the science-technology-society interface and the interdependence of its units has amplified type-two underdetermination, which in turn enlarged its intricate interaction with type-one underdetermination in HLW disposal in Japan before and after the Fukushima accident. As this is another element that characterizes structural disaster, in this sense, HLW disposal issues can be regarded as an ongoing structural disaster.
  • 3 Conversely, what is specific to HLW disposal as an ongoing structural disaster is the emergence of infinite responsibility. As a result, to fix type-two underdetermination in HLW disposal issues, paramount importance should be given to a social arrangement that makes infinite responsibility finite and converts a social decision-making process into one in which the allocation of responsibility is logical. The complicated configurations of heterogeneous sectors and actors involved in the issues given by the sector model could be more instrumental than models that are optimized to achieve the consensus of an abstract “citizen” in serving as a common basis for allocating due social responsibilities.
  • 4 Particularly in Japan, commensuration by money for compensation in HLW disposal has a path-dependent tendency in fixing type-two underdetermination. It is important to clarify the working mechanism of such a path- dependent tendency and find a new one toward the structural reform of social decision-making, particularly now that there are unsolved difficulties such as those manifested in the failure of the Toyocho case. In such a situation, a complicated collaboration between the subsectors of different sectors could be formed, necessitating a prudent cross-examination to distinguish the choreographed citizen subsector (embodying the will of stakeholders) from the endogenous one as a realistic basis for social decision-making.

Policy and participation have become coupled in the current science-technology- society interface (Juraku, Suzuki, and Sakura 2007), and this coupling is closely associated with problems epitomized by “expert regress” and the “monotoni- cally increased theory of participation” (Collins and Evans 2002). This chapter analyzes a still-perplexing situation where the problem of knowledge distribution cannot be self-contained within the sphere of knowledge, because it is inextricably related to the allocation of responsibility under type-two underdetermination, as exemplified by the siting of HLW disposal facilities. A similar situation can be found in environmental regulations and guidelines for bioethics, among others.

As such, it is pertinent to elaborate the sociological implications of the above conclusions via the arguments for users’ responsibility for electricity consumption in the context of HLW disposal. The arguments for users’ responsibility vindicate the responsibility of the users for HLW disposal, on the grounds that HLW is a necessary result of this use of electricity. One typical expression of these arguments can be found in a reply from METI to the nine public comments collected by the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy (2006), which were solicited between June 19, 2006, and July 18, 2006. One comment urged METI to change the “current generation” as a whole, which was supposed to be responsible for future generations regarding HLW disposal, to “those scientists, businesspersons, and politicians who have promoted nuclear power generation.” To this, METI replied as follows: “Current electricity production is made mainly by hydro, thermal, and nuclear technologies, all of which require measures for environment preservation. Therefore those who use electricity are obliged to take responsibility for taking such measures.”

There are two keywords that have been mobilized to maintain such arguments for users’ responsibility for electricity consumption: NIMBY and responsibility for future generations. The term NIMBY is misused in this context, as it literally means a double standard of behavior, such as arguing for the safety of HLW disposal while rejecting the siting of its disposal facilities in the areas in which the arguers live.27 Because users of electricity are simply consumers who do not necessarily overlap those who argue for the safety of HLW disposal, the usage of the term in this context is not accurate. As there is no double standard of behavior involved, the above arguments are difficult to distinguish from such households that urge the dumping of less waste and consuming fewer goods and/or services. While one might argue that the supply and consumption of electricity are public goods and/or services, the dictum of the household falls under private goods and/or services. It does not necessarily follow, then, that Japanese citizens are obliged to tolerate HLW facilities siting in exchange for consuming electricity under the Electric Utility Industry Law and other ordinances.

Even assuming that the people of Japan are obliged to accept the siting of HLW disposal facilities in areas where they reside in exchange for using electricity, it still does not guarantee that living without using electricity guarantees no responsibility for HLW disposal. Personal preference for living with or without electricity is one thing, and how to deal with HLW disposal is quite another, the latter belonging to the public sphere for which the social system as a whole should be responsible, independent of personal preference. Despite this, if there are arguments that attempt to confuse the two in the public sphere, it would be highly advisable to suspect the possibility that such arguments intend to guide someone to a predetermined way from the beginning.

Using the terminologies of the sector model, there is no difference between the governmental, industrial, academic, and citizen sectors in terms of their consumption of electricity. In contrast, a sharp difference between the sectors is inherent in the design of an electricity supply system - with the nuclear fuel cycle - made up of fossil fuels, natural gas, and nuclear energy in Japan. The governmental and industrial sectors (and the academic sector to a lesser extent) have been key players in the design of such a system, as shown in Chapter 3; however, the citizen sector has consistently played no role in such design processes, resulting in consumers not being given any resources related to or authority over the system design. To be more specific, the governmental, industrial, and academic sectors have been the stakeholders and agents concerned with technological development, production of due laws and ordinances, organizational developments, budget creation, human resources allocation, and the promotion of related industries, while the citizen sector has been consistently seen as a third party or bystanders. In this respect, there has been a sharp asymmetry between the governmental, industrial, and academic sectors and the citizen sector.

In addition, the governmental, industrial, and academic sectors have been the stakeholders requesting the citizen sector to accept the siting of HLW disposal facilities, while the citizen sector has been the only agents concerned who have been asked to accept and tolerate the siting. This reveals another asymmetry specific to HLW disposal as an ongoing structural disaster; therefore, from the viewpoint of the sector model developed in Chapter 2, the problem is that the infinite responsibility for HLW disposal is imposed on the citizen sector alone without social arrangements for making infinite responsibility finite and allocating social responsibility for disposal within social system as whole. The governmental, industrial, and academic sectors have been the direct stakeholders in designing the electricity production and supply system necessitating HLW, yet they have thus far evaded the infinite responsibility caused by HLW disposal, which reflects an unbalanced state in terms of the allocation of social responsibility.

The other key tenet to maintaining users’ responsibility for electricity consumption is the responsibility for future generations, as exemplified in this statement by METI (2007: 1): “The current generation benefits from nuclear power generation in using electricity and therefore we owe the responsibility for disposing HLW produced from nuclear power generation.” The similarity of logical structure here to the arguments developed by the other keyword (NIMBY, mentioned above) is evident in that the responsibility for HLW disposal is also derived from the consumption of electricity' generated by nuclear power over a very long time horizon, leading from the current generation to future generations. This looks like the argument for the allocation of responsibility' for HLW disposal among multiple generations, but from the viewpoint of the sector model, several modifications should be carefully made.

First, as mentioned above, since HLW disposal entails infinite responsibility and no single generation can assume infinite responsibility', the arguments are illogical without specifying the way to transform infinite responsibility into finite so that it could be socially allocated. Second, despite the necessity of devising social arrangements for transforming infinite responsibility into finite, there has been an extreme imbalance in which the citizen sector alone has been urged to accept and tolerate such “self-responsibility” for electricity consumption. This is tantamount to ignoring the responsibility' inherent in the governmental, industrial, and academic sectors’ design of the electricity production and supply system, which inevitably results in HLW. From the viewpoint of the sector model, it is desirable to make visible the responsibility' for system design and actualize the fair allocation of social responsibility for such activity.

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