Considering the Geological Disposal Program of High-Level Radioactive Waste Through Classroom Debate

Abstract Although nuclear power has become recognized as a social issue—one that concerns us all—there is still, in Japan, insufficient public debate on the problems posed by this form of energy. In particular, interest among the younger generation on this and many other issues is limited, a situation reflected in the low turnout of young people at elections. The disposal of high-level radioactive waste is an issue that cannot be simply solved by shutting down nuclear reactors. Yet, in spite of the need to urgently find a solution to the problem of nuclear waste, many young people appear to be apathetic. Part of the reason for this lack of interest is that students majoring in the so-called humanities do not feel confident approaching the issue. As a way to raise such students' interest in the issue of nuclear waste disposal, debating courses were held in the social science departments of two universities located in Aichi Prefecture, Japan. This chapter reports on these courses, discusses the value and effectiveness of debate in raising awareness of social issues, and assesses potential problems with implementing debating in educational contexts.

Keywords Active learning • Classroom debate • Communication training • Fundamental literacy for members of society • Nuclear power • Radioactive waste


The Situation Now

Although the problems surrounding nuclear power have certainly become a social issue, it cannot be said that the present discussion on this issue is always calm and rooted in science. Elsewhere in the world, including in the USA and various European countries, the importance of public debate has been emphasized and reports published on the efficacy of specific examples. In Japan, however, particularly since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, sensational media reporting has not served to encourage sound debate on the issue of nuclear power. Moreover, this is not limited to the issue of nuclear power, nor is it a phenomenon that dates from the Fukushima disaster: issues around food safety and gender equality have been similarly characterized by emotive media reporting. Debate around these issues has not been informed by current scientific knowledge; indeed, what has prevailed is argument based on emotion engaged in without even an understanding of the relevant laws.

Being a democratic society entails that the path society follows is set according to the wishes of its citizens. These citizens exchange their divergent views and do their utmost to reach a consensus. If an agreement cannot be reached, society acts in accordance with the opinion of the majority. Necessary for such a process is that people think about an issue and express their views. In modern society, however, because many issues are complicated and difficult for people to adequately understand, often such issues are left to the “experts.”

Although the citizens' right of self-determination should go hand in hand with responsibility, entrusting decision making to the experts has resulted in responsibility for these decisions being thrust upon them. Entrusting all responsibility to the experts could be expected to expedite decision making, but this has not been the case; instead, the emotional response of the public has contributed further to the deferring of decision making.

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