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Home arrow Environment arrow Reflections on the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident

GoNERI

In 2007, the proposal prepared by UTNEM professors for a brand-new initiative, titled “Nuclear Education and Research Initiative” (GoNERI),[1] for achieving further integration of engineering and social sciences into their education was successfully awarded a grant under the Global Centers-of-Excellence (COE) program by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), funded by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), Japan. The GoNERI program included various tasks for the purpose of developing an advanced nuclear engineering curriculum. Among them, the task of “integration” was given the highest priority. An official statement of the GoNERI program framed this attempt as “the first systematic education on nuclear energy in the world … incorporating the social, liberal arts and technical subjects as they relate to nuclear utilization.” [3] The UTNEM professors were aware that the faculty and students of UTNEM in many cases did not yet have sufficient command of the fundamentals of the social sciences (their domain, concepts, terminology, methodology, etc.), and that this separated them from social scientific activities even at the time when GoNERI started in 2007 and limited them in collaborating with social scientists and citizens. Consequently, three researchers with different social scientific backgrounds (history of science, risk communication studies, and sociology of science and technology) were invited into GoNERI to pursue this concept, and they began their work to develop an advanced graduate educational program with social scientific literacy.

PAGES

To this end, in partnership with the Nuclear Engineering Department of the University of California, Berkeley (UCBNE), UTNEM engaged in various efforts. Those included a series of bi-weekly seminars and fi work at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), at Carlsbad, New Mexico in January 2009, as well as the Japanese sites of Toyo-Cho and Rokkasho-Mura in July 2008. Of particular importance was a one-day workshop held in Santa Fe, New Mexico, embedded in the fi trip to WIPP. Intensive discussions were conducted to clarify the challenges and to explore approaches and solutions toward better integration [4]. Through these discussions, we came to share the basic understanding that engineers can gain from, and indeed be expected to have, basic literacy in the social sciences as part of their essential competence, not as an “additional” or “optional” skill that might sometimes be admired.[2] In particular, opening up the decision-making process on socio-technical issues (e.g., introducing participatory methods) calls for more insightful, communicative, and open-minded engineers who can interact with other stakeholders, naturally including ordinary citizens. Engineers should be able to more fully understand various subtle, but critically important, societal contexts regarding technology, explain available technical options to stakeholders and society, and proactively take part in public discussion. In this context, rather than inventing “the best solution” for problems on behalf of society, engineers are considered to be experts who can offer their formulation of problems, multiple options available to society, and, if possible, proposals of solutions.

Sharing the thoughts listed above, it was decided to organize summer schools for topics that were considered inseparably related to social aspects, such as radioactive waste management, as a test bed for developing an advanced educational program to cultivate leading engineers who have this capacity. This collaborative program was given the name PAGES, Program for Advanced Graduate Education system for nuclear science and engineering with Social scientific literacy. Under PAGES, three summer schools were conducted.

  • [1] “Go” is short for Global COE program.
  • [2] Conversely, social scientists need a better grasp of engineers and engineering practices, of course.
 
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