Home Environment Reflections on the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident
Results and Evaluation
Points Discussed During the Program
The PAGES 2011 program brought about very intensive and thought-provoking exchanges among the participants. Across many intriguing discussions, the following points emerged as potentially critical for post-Fukushima nuclear engineering education and societal decision-making:
• Problems centering on the social justification of nuclear utilization. In particular, utilitarian arguments—such as cost-benefit analyses—became a central point of discussion throughout the sessions. Some participants considered these justifications less compelling after the Fukushima Daiichi accident and pointed out the need for deontological considerations to think more fundamentally on this issue, while others argued that cost-benefit evaluation is still reasonable and, ultimately, necessary as a form of science-based assessment.
• In parallel with the issue above, the concept of “rationality” itself was ques-
tioned in discussions by lecturers and students. Some participants argued that the role of science (and scientists or engineers) is to provide neutral and logical conclusions based on quantifiable knowledge (and these individuals' expertise), which will render societal decision-making “rational.” These participants criticized other social reactions, such as the anti-nuclear movement after the Fukushima Daiichi accident, as “irrational.” However, another group of participants voiced the opinion that such social reactions embraced a different kind of “rationality” than that of technical experts. These participants argued that different types of “rationality” should be considered more intensively when society makes decisions regarding science and technology issues. This controversy is associated with the previous point, of course.
• Prof. William Kastenberg raised an issue about “safety culture” in the Japanese
nuclear industry (see Chap. 9). He pointed out its weakness in light of the Fukushima Daiichi accident and its consequences, and suggested an explanation of the roots of this weakness based on cultural and historical differences between Western and Asian societies. He illustrated the importance of individualism when considering engineering ethics. This argument triggered much discussion regarding the character of social-scientific explanation and analysis of the root cause of the Fukushima Daiichi accident. Some participants questioned Prof. Kastenberg's theory. This contestation also extended the horizon of participants' perspectives on the mechanism behind the tragedy.
• Many participants also focused on the importance and diffi of public and
inter-expert communication during emergency situations (so-called “crisis communication”). They described some dilemmas: timely information vs. well-confi information, simple and understandable explanation vs. detailed and correct explanation, controlled disclosure vs. unlimited disclosure, and so on. Participants realized the possible tough choices for engineers posed by those dilemmas.
As we intended, no particular single conclusion was reached on these complex and difficult issues during this summer school. However, students reported that they conceptualized such dilemmas more sharply than they did before as a result of interactions with people who took different stances, brought different methodological perspectives, and held divergent opinions.
Evaluation of PAGES 2011
In their post-school feedback, many students strongly emphasized the importance of interaction with people of different backgrounds (for instance, Japanese and American) and different fields (engineering and social science). Many students mentioned a lack of time; specifically, they wanted to have more time for discussion with other students and lecturers. A number also requested more presentations by and discussions with social scientists. Some students regretted the absence of field trips, particularly as these had been included in our 2009 summer school. Students said they wanted to have such occasions both to expand their understanding and to strengthen relationships with other students, as well as to render their learning more concrete.
As described above, and in accord with our aim, we were able to bring about very intensive and intriguing discussions throughout the program. Every point raised in our discussions on the lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident offers an important perspective to potentially avoid similar structural failures in future. Not only did students gain knowledge from the lectures, they also broadened and deepened their perspectives on this terrible nuclear accident and nuclear utilization more generally through candid discussion. This summer school stimulated students' consciousness of various socio-technical issues that must be considered by the next generation of leading engineers.
In this sense, we believe we can evaluate the experiment of this school as successful. Our model for the impact of our efforts has been to seed new ways of thinking among rising professionals. We have seen success of this approach among the small cohort of participants in the school. We have also found our own perspectives and strategies changed by the effort, in ways that will continue to shape our own engagement on questions of nuclear technologies and society. We intend that publishing this volume and continuing to work in this area will provide stimulation for others to carry out similar efforts in their own settings and ways.
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