Nuclear Engineers for Society: What Education can do

Takuji Oda

Abstract Engineering education is a key factor in determining the range of engineers' expertise, the attitude and the behavior of engineers, and the culture of the engineering professional community. This chapter is devoted to nuclear engineering education post-Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. Prior to education itself, knowledge and attitudes required of nuclear engineers are firstly discussed, focusing on social aspects of nuclear technology. I emphasize the importance of mutual communication with society, not only with the general public but also with experts in other fields, by referring to 3 points which are essential for appropriate advancement of nuclear engineering and can be reinforced with mutual communication: social legitimacy of nuclear technology, introspection within the nuclear professional community, and public trust in nuclear technology and the professional community. These points are not only needed for smooth utilization of nuclear technology, but also, and more importantly, needed for enhancing the safety of nuclear technology utilization and advancing nuclear technology to provide more benefits and welfare to society. Finally, I propose 4 items for education reform, which are mainly designed to make mutual communication with society more effective while maintaining a high level of technical expertise: standardization and internationalization, transparency and sharing, social-scientific literacy education, and development and evaluation of faculty.

Keywords Nuclear engineering education Social aspects of nuclear technology

Social legitimacy Introspection Trust

Introduction

When an accident or a scandal related to science and technology occurs, education— especially higher education such as undergraduate-school and graduate-school education—often draws social attention. This social reaction is natural because higher education is the fi opportunity for to-be-experts to gain expertise in a comprehensive manner for several years and is thus infl Indeed, engineers continuously update and reinforce their expertise even after the completion of higher education, mostly through on-the-job experiences. However, what they learned at the beginning of their professional career inevitably affects how they improve their expertise and what they learn from the experiences. Therefore, higher education is a key factor in determining the range of expertise as well as the attitude and the behavior of engineers. It also affects the culture of professional community because the culture is constructed by collective behaviors and attitudes of community members.

Considering its extensive influence, this chapter presents a discussion on nuclear engineering education. However, since the goal of education largely depends on human resources required in society, a major part of this chapter is devoted to clarifying the knowledge and attitudes required of nuclear engineers, especially focusing on social aspects of nuclear technology, as follows.

In Sect. 20.2, first of all, I look back on some actions on educational reform which were carried out in Japan before the Fukushima Daiichi accident. We see that Japanese nuclear professionals were aware of the importance of social aspects of nuclear technology and then tried to incorporate some relevant contents into nuclear engineering education.

Indeed, the importance of social aspects, which often includes communication with society on science and technology, was recognized not only in nuclear engineering but also in other engineering and science fields in those decades. In Sect. 20.3, I briefly review why the social aspects were increasingly thought to be important with focus on communication with society.

In Sect. 20.4, some key efforts made in relation to social aspects and the communication with society on nuclear technology are introduced. However, I must say that these activities hardly brought fruitful results in the reality.

In Sect. 20.5, the causes of the unfruitful results in communication are discussed. There was/is often a big gap in the purposes of mutual communication for the general public (or society) and for nuclear engineers (or nuclear professional community): the former expects changes in nuclear engineering and its professional community, while the latter expects changes in the general public and society.

In Sect. 20.6, I reconsider the significance of mutual communication in advancing nuclear engineering. I bring three viewpoints for this: legitimacy, introspection, and trust. I try to explain that they are requisite to the safe utilization of nuclear technology and to the appropriate advancement of nuclear engineering, and that they are underpinned by mutual communication with society. Here, communication with society is extended: not only with the general public but also with experts in other science and engineering fields.

In Sect. 20.7, I discuss what kinds of communication are doable and effective in practice.

In Sect. 20.8, I propose 4 ideas on higher education reform based on the discussion given in the previous sections.

Section 20.9 ends this chapter with some concluding remarks.

Finally, before entering the main contents, I would like to briefly introduce my educational and professional background. I am a researcher in nuclear materials science and engineering. I am interested in both nuclear fission and fusion reactors technology. I received my primary, secondary, and higher education in Japan. After them, I worked in a Japanese university for about 6 years at its nuclear engineering department, worked in a U.S. university for 1 year at the materials science and engineering department, and now work as an assistant professor at a Korean university since 2013 in the nuclear engineering department. Due to this background, the description in this chapter is centered on Japan's situation and history. Non-Japanese readers may feel some strangeness in the contents. However, based on my experience and observation in Japan, U.S., and Korea, I believe that there are large similarities in the characters of nuclear expert communities in Asian countries and some similarities even between Asian countries and Western countries, more than expected, because the culture of a nuclear engineering community is strongly influenced by the nature of nuclear technology itself.

 
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