Towards More Open-Minded Nuclear Engineering Diversity, Independence and Public Good

Kohta Juraku

Abstract The implication of the PAGES project especially in Japan's post-Fukushima context is examined in this chapter, summing up the arguments of sister chapters in Part IV at the same time. Social scientific literacy is not just an “additional” component for nuclear engineers. Rather, it is one of the most “essential” parts of engineering competences and practices. This point has not been fully recognized, at least in the Japanese context so far. In this chapter, an epochmaking judgment by a Japanese court and the responses from nuclear engineers in Japan will be taken as a case to explore this issue. Japanese nuclear engineers misunderstood the judgment's argument and could not make appropriate counterarguments against the court. This kind of misunderstanding of voices from society can result both in loss of political legitimacy and stagnation in technical evolution. Looking at the original nature of engineering itself, the need for fundamental change to re-establish diversity and independence in nuclear engineering, and the significance of social-scientific literacy to realize it, will be discussed.

Keywords Human rights Post-Fukushima accident Legitimacy Innovation Diversity Independence Open-minded Public good

Introduction

This brief chapter tries to examine the implications of the PAGES project, especially in the post-Fukushima Japanese context, summing up the arguments of sister chapters in Part IV at the same time. The PAGES project and its participants consider social scientific literacy not just as an “additional” component for nuclear engineers. Rather, it is one of the “essential” parts of engineering competences and practices. In our understanding, the importance of this perspective even becomes greater and greater, especially in this post-Fukushima nuclear scene.

However, the author regrettably has to say that this perspective has not been fully and appropriately recognized by nuclear engineering experts as well as some of the other stakeholders at least in the Japanese context, though it has been over 3 years since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident unfolded. In the sections below, an epoch-making judgment by a Japanese court and the responses from nuclear engineers in Japan will be taken as a case to explore this issue. Japanese nuclear engineers' misunderstanding of the judgment's argument will be examined critically. Then, looking at the original nature of engineering itself, the need for fundamental change in nuclear engineers' mindset and the significance of socialscientific literacy will be discussed.

Denial of Nuclear Power: A Message from Japanese Court

On May 21, 2014, Fukui District Court delivered a judgment about the operation of Oi Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) owned and operated by Kansai Electric Power Company. The court ordered the prohibition of operation of Units 3 and 4 of the power station, siding with a group of 189 citizens, the plaintiff. It was the first case of loss of nuclear power operator at a court since the Fukushima nuclear accident occurred.

There had been several court decisions that supported nuclear opponents' arguments even before the Fukushima nuclear accident, but this judgment ordered the halt of the nuclear power operation directly based on Constitutional human rights—personal rights—for the first time in Japanese legal history. The sentence points out the reality of the damage caused by the Fukushima accident and characterizes it as a critical threat to fundamental human rights. It says as follows:

Nuclear utilization [in Japan] is limited to civilian use so that the operation of a nuclear power plant is a means of electricity production, which belongs to the freedom of economic activities [guaranteed by the Constitution], and is inferior to the core part of personal rights, legally speaking. Then, it cannot be imagined that the fundamental [human] rights could be exceptionally broadly denied as much as by a nuclear accident, except for a huge natural disaster or war…. It makes sense that any commercial activities which have such concrete risk should be prohibited… [1].[1]

The court clearly distinguishes the risk posed by a nuclear accident from other risks generated by general industrial activities, not by its probability but by the qualitative nature of its potential hazard (i.e., long-term radioactive contamination of the environment and evacuation and damage to the community as a result).

It also determinably denies the application of cost-benefit analysis for nuclear risk through very strong criticism.

The court thinks that we are not allowed to participate in nor decide something about the discussion that compares the rights of many people to their life itself to the cost of electricity production… There is a discussion about outflow or loss of national wealth as regards this cost issue; we should not consider the huge trade deficit generated by the halt of the operation of these nuclear power stations as outflow nor as loss of national wealth. National wealth consists of productive land and people's life upon that land, thus the court thinks that irreparable damage of the national land is loss of national wealth [1].[1]

In other words, this judgment argues that our society can no longer allow the existence of nuclear power utilization (at least in Japan, thinking about its narrow national territory and density of population). It is not the health effect of radiation exposure to the public that is the central problem of the risk of a nuclear accident, but the disastrous effect on people's life, according to their formulation. It points out that what happened and is happening in Fukushima is clear evidence and this fact validates their understanding. This is an extraordinary fundamental criticism of nuclear power technology and its utilization.

  • [1] Translated and supplemented by the author.
  • [2] Translated and supplemented by the author.
 
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