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Home arrow Environment arrow Reflections on the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident

Role of Nuclear Professionals After Fukushima, by Kenta Horio, the University of Tokyo

The Fukushima nuclear accident caused a significant impact on Japan. Many people were forced to evacuate from their homes, energy shortage deeply affected the economy, and people's distrust of nuclear energy has become tremendous. Also, there are a lot of difficult tasks to be done by nuclear professionals, such as stabilization of the accident, clean-up of contaminated areas, ensuring and improving safety of existing nuclear power plants, recovering melted fuels, and decommissioning damaged reactors.

Whether we will continue to use nuclear energy in the future or not, rebuilding confi in the general public is essential for us nuclear professionals, since we already have hundreds of reactors all over the world. In order to rebuild confi

in the general public, we have to reconsider our role in society. The conventional role of nuclear professionals in society was to provide technical information about nuclear energy, such as risk analysis, cost-benefi analysis, etc. How did we conduct this role? Was it suffi Or are there any other roles which we should perform for society? These are questions which we have to think about and fi some answers.

I'm still convinced that the conventional role of nuclear professionals, providing information, is essential, since people need reliable, technical information to make decisions on nuclear policy and energy policy. But I also consider we have to be much more sensitive in our attitude towards the general public. Most technical information, such as simulations, calculations, or forecasts, contains some sort of uncertainties and assumptions which do not appear clearly when the outcomes are shown as numbers. Though some people are not accustomed to dealing with uncertainties or assumptions, we have to explain technical information, including uncertainties and assumptions, in a sincere and honest manner. Otherwise, information won't be truly meaningful and we won't be trusted in a real sense.

In addition to the above conventional role, I'm wondering if there are other roles which we should play. Since the culture of engineering is utilitarianism, our strongest assets and tools are based on a utilitarian way of thinking. But utilitarianism is not the only philosophy of modern society, especially in current Japan, and there are other major social values. Though I'm not sure whether it is possible to justify use of nuclear energy without utilitarianism, it might be our role to facilitate discussions among people with different sets of values and to help them to bridge the gaps. At least, we have to understand various social values and gaps among them.

The above are my thoughts on our role in society after Fukushima and I haven't yet reached any concrete conclusion. But at least, I have no doubt that we have to play a certain role in society and I consider we have to keep thinking about what our role is, not only with engineering methods but also with social scientific literacy.

Risk Analysis and Public Confidence, by Naomi Kaida, the University of Tokyo

In this summer school, lecturers and students proposed various arguments. In this essay, however, I would like to focus on two points: one is an answer to the question posed by Professor Kastenberg, and the other is an extension of the discussion among the students. The construction of this essay is as follows. Firstly, a response to the question is proposed. The question is about improvement of risk analysis and avoiding loss of public confidence. Secondly, further thoughts about the discussion are suggested. The main point of the argument is the relationship between social decision-making and nuclear engineers. One of the students said that it was society that would make a decision about whether to stop using nuclear power, and he would obey the social determination as an engineer. However, this essay suggests that the social/technical dichotomy is meaningless. Finally, an integrated idea of the whole is demonstrated: to construct or reconstruct public confidence, arguments in more detail among nuclear engineers are needed.

Professor Kastenberg posed some interesting questions, and one of them is, “What would it take to improve the quality of risk analysis and emergency planning so that the loss of public confi could have been avoided?” Regrettably, risk analysis on nuclear power plants and emergency planning has not been suffi in Japan. Emergency planning has been especially weak because power utilities had stressed that there was almost no danger that severe accidents at nuclear power plants would occur in Japan. Moreover, conducting emergency planning had been regarded as acknowledging the possibility of severe accidents at nuclear power plants. This caused weakness in emergency planning in Japan. Therefore, in order to avoid the loss of public confi or to reconstruct public confi information about risk and what will be done in case of emergency must be released to the public. Although it is too late to gain public confi after the Fukushima accident occurred, disclosure is still needed not only by Japanese, but also by people all around the world.

Disclosure is an important keyword when people think about public confidence in nuclear power, but I would like to point out one more significant way of thinking. It is about the relationship between society and technology. In the discussion among students, one student said that it was society that would make the decision whether to stop using nuclear power in Japan, and if the public decided to withdraw from using all of the nuclear power plants, he would abide by the decision. However, I felt somewhat puzzled by his words, because he seems to assume that withdrawing from using nuclear power is not a technical but a social issue. Is it a purely social problem or a purely technical problem regarding the Fukushima accident and nuclear power policy in Japan? For instance, the emergency workers' dose limit, transmission of information, the radiation level for school playgrounds, etc.: every problem revealed has aspects of both social and technical problems. Why is only the withdrawal issue regarded as a purely social problem? When people think about the Fukushima accident and the future of nuclear power in Japan, the social/technical dichotomy is useless. Therefore, not only the public but also nuclear engineers have to discuss whether to stop using nuclear power and how to realize a safe phasing out of nuclear power.

As shown above, I think disclosure and in-depth discussion among nuclear engineers are necessary to achieve public confidence on nuclear power. While doing so, engineers should not think of society and nuclear technology separately. Public suspicion about nuclear power is becoming worse. People suspect that engineers, utilities, and the government suppress the facts about radioactive substances. In order to rebuild public confidence, unprecedented discussions and suggestions have to be proposed by nuclear engineers. For example, how to stop using nuclear power safely, how to renew or do away with nuclear power plants.

 
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