Democratization of Nuclear Engineering: Not Just for Political Correctness, but Also for Innovation of Technology

As Bollerri discusses, nuclear technology is not a market-oriented enterprise. It has been strongly committed and controlled by the governments so that “there is a lack of experience with direct interaction between the nuclear engineer and the public” [11]. He also mentions about the consequences of this “detachment from their 'client'” as follows:

This has led many times to an 'us versus them' mentality which only fosters antagonism. This has historically shown to be the wrong approach. This can occur when so-called 'technocrats,' while well intentioned, try to make decisions based solely on science and engineering by relying on a responsibility for 'good of the public,' without experiencing or communicating directly the public, whom these decisions affect [11].

What the author discussed in the previous sections can be interpreted as a case of this phenomenon. Historically speaking, Science and Technology Studies (STS), Sociology of Science and Technology and History of Science and Technology have critically examined such mechanism motivated by the improvement of political legitimacy and the democratization of science and technology. In other word, they have problematized this issue for the sake of the other members of society, not for engineers. However, the author would like to argue that this situation is critically problematic not only for the rest of society, but also for engineers themselves at the same time, when we think about the future of (nuclear) engineering in society.

Achievement of engineering is not limited to improvement of technology. Innovation of technology should also be, or sometimes more, important and exciting for engineers. Of course, improvement also requires substantial innovation in many cases. But, what is really admired by their colleagues and 'clients' is the epoch-making breakthrough that provides brand-new options for society.

This kind of innovation is sometimes not a direct evolution of preceding technology and its appraisal. Christensen sheds new light on mechanism of innovation by examining many cases of “disruptive innovations” in his famous book The Innovator's Dilemma [12]. He emphasizes the importance to be free from stereotypical, conservative mindsets that prevent such breakthrough. It should be noted that experts tend to be possessed by conventional appraisal standard of technical merits. Sony's engineers could not change their goal for the best portable audio player from its sound quality, battery life and compact body to something another. Their product—the Walkman—had monopolized the market in the past, but their position was suddenly replaced by a new comer with the huge storage capacity– Apple's iPod, although it was not superior to Walkman in terms of the conventional advantages listed above. Apple's engineers were free from the traditional belief in the business, found a potential need in the market—to bring personal jukebox—and realized it by existing technical components. As Sony's engineers, nuclear engineers who cannot free from the traditional belief—bigger output for centralized power distribution system and conventional cost-benefit analysis— could be left by their 'client' in the Post-Fukushima society. Rapid promotion of renewable energy and liberalization of power industry is inevitably and irreversibly being carried out now, though Japanese national policy has not chosen the clear commitment to rapid phase-out from nuclear power so far. If nuclear engineers could not provide any suitable nuclear power system that is nicely compatible with distributed power system provided by renewable power sources, they might not be able to keep their presence both in energy technology field and in society.

If Japanese nuclear engineers had understood this need and another need for intrinsic safety, which was discussed in the previous section, more rapidly and precisely, some of them might have suggested different nuclear power system with SMRs for society, not just to say something about the safety improvements of the existing large-scale NPPs across Japan. It is not necessary that every engineer defends the appropriateness and advantages of current nuclear power system and supports the Governmental and the utility companies' policy of nuclear power utilization. However, there have been only a few fundamentally different proposals of nuclear power utilization for Post-Fukushima era so far. Almost no engineer is trying to change such a big picture at least in Japan. This is quite unnatural and unsound situation when we think about the competitive nature of engineering practices.

 
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