Benefits Versus Risks, by Kampanart Silva, the University of Tokyo

Are the benefits of nuclear power worth the risks? The question raised by Dr. J. Samuel Walker stimulated me to write this essay. There are some questions which needed to be and could be answered in order to specify the scope of the decision making and finally move toward the progress of answering the question.

Where is this question asked?

If it is asked in developed countries, such as the U.S. or Japan, with the money and resources that those countries have, and the high level of education of the population, there are a number of choices for electric power supply and the population has the ability to correctly select them. Therefore, we can easily move to the next question. However, if it is asked in developing countries, where rapid energy growth is a requisite condition, and the population does not even know what would be the consequences of their choices, there comes another question very difficult to answer: is it ethically preferable to ensure their rights to select the energy sources?

To whom is this question is asked?

If it is asked of an individual, and if that individual is an expert, he (or she) might try to quantitatively analyze the risk and the benefit based on the data he has, include some of his personal perceptions, and finally give you the answer. (Perhaps this is also what I am going to do.) If not an expert, he might emotionally give you the answer based on the information he has. But when it comes to a decision of a country or a society, apart from achieving the utility (by quantifying the risks and the benefits and make sure that the benefits are worth the risks), the fairness among the society members must also be taken into account by some means or other.

When is the answer needed?

In the case of decision on the energy policy of a country, when it has money and resources, which means it has the chance to choose its preferred energy resources, the answer to the question “are the benefits of nuclear power worth the risks?” might not be needed until the next decade or even the next century because its energy production potential is several times the demand. On the other hand, for a country with small potential, it might need the answer within several years or even several months. In that case, the only thing it can do is to try to improve and make use of the tool (risk-benefit analysis) it has, and set up some system to obtain as much as possible the perceptions of its public.

Under this circumstance, regarding the results of risk-benefi analysis being done by developed countries, even after including the social impacts (public anxiety or opposition movements) or ethical issues (which came up in the answer to the fi question) to be observed, I still personally think that the benefi of nuclear power in Thailand are worth the risks, for the time being. However, this is based on the present information I have. If in the future, the possibility of severe accidents is to become tens or hundreds of times what we see now, and the social and economic impacts are proved to be much larger than what they are now, this evaluation may change. In my personal view, the most important thing is to be able to judge the risks and benefi under the present circumstance with limited information, and take responsibility for the judgment, no matter whether you are an individual, an expert, or a decision maker.

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