Home Environment Reflections on the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident
Who Am I? What Is My Own Role on Earth? by Shin-etsu Sugawara, the University of Tokyo
This summer school has posed these challenges to me. During the last presentation of our group, a question from Dr. Juraku was of grave significance to me: what is your role?—not the role of “engineer” as a general noun.
This reflection shows my own reply to this.
Throughout the full program of this summer school, the “limitation” of costbenefit analysis and the “irrationality” of social decision-making were major topics of discussion. In particular, our group focused on the issue of how nuclear engineers provide their expertise in society under conditions where the decisionmaking methods about energy policies look so “irrational” from their point of view in Japan and in some other countries.
Re-examining this discussion, however, I now think that our framing was too narrow and too ironical. That is because engineers' activities, which are said to be based on “rational” thoughts, failed to control nuclear technology, and as a result made society “irrational.” In other words, it is engineers who want to “improve” society that drive society toward the opposite direction.
This is applied not only to the Fukushima accident but also to all the failures, misconducts, and “unexpected” accidents which are related to science and technology. And, this is not valid simply for each engineer but for all the persons and organizations who stand on the side of promoting science and technology.
These FACTS are, I think, the biggest “failures” of engineers and the points which should be considered to be the responsibility of everyone concerned with nuclear technology—of course including me—in the historical context.
Reflecting on these considerations, I will give an opinion of my own role.
I am not a nuclear engineer. I am a researcher tackling nuclear issues based on social-scientific methodologies. I now recognize my special role as a “boundary worker” as follows: to show available prescriptions—sometimes ideal ones— for dealing with risks associated with the social utilization of nuclear technology, including socially amplified risks; that is, to envisage and to publish the social systems where expertise is referenced appropriately in social decision-making processes; and to maintain the relationship between expertise and social decision in the face of extreme fluctuation.
Such roles have a substantial overlap with my own studies over 4 years. I can now be more confident on this point.
This is my principle in the profession of “boundary worker” between nuclear technology and society. Wherever I go after my graduation, I shall hold on to this principle.
The Role of Nuclear Engineers in Society,by Tatsuhiko Sugiyama, the University of Tokyo
Through the summer school, I became interested in the role of engineers in disclosing information, and I was particularly intrigued by Prof. Satoru Tanaka's question: How can we improve the transmission of information? I have reinforced my idea that this kind of topic involves some ethical issues and we cannot clearly decide what to do, especially in emergency situations. On the point of “transmission,” however, I have found some problems and some ideas to improve the way information is transmitted.
In the Fukushima case, the major problem in transmitting information was that engineers or professionals were not trying to let citizens fully understand the meaning of the information they disclosed. They were mainly disclosing numerical data unfamiliar to citizens and the mass media were doing “interpretation” of these data. Moreover, press conferences were conducted without engineers or professionals. This led to multiple interpretations among citizens about “how serious is the accident?,” “should we evacuate as soon as possible?,” and so on.
In my opinion, engineers or professionals have to try to do what mass media are now doing and try to explain with or on behalf of politicians, especially in crisis communications. I agree they disclosed enough data in the Fukushima case. But this is not enough. In order to prevent panic or incorrect behavior, they themselves must try to let citizens understand without going through the media. They have to reconsider the role of engineers or professionals in emergency situations.
If our society allows the continued use of nuclear power, what are the attributes needed for a nuclear system in the new era? I will try to think about this question based on a concrete image/concept of the new nuclear system (reactor plant and its fuel cycle).
One factor that caused station blackout (SBO) was that the isolation condenser (IC) and reactor core isolation cooling (RCIC) batteries were not sufficient to survive for a long period. One advantage of IC and RCIC is that they can utilize vapor from the reactor to operate. But if they also need batteries to operate, I think this system is nonsense. Emergency core cooling systems should be isolated from such anxieties.
In my opinion, however robust a plant may be designed, some residual risks remain. Through the Fukushima case, we have gained some ideas on future reactor designs. But even if we adopt all these ideas, reactors will not be perfectly robust, and most of the people who are against the usage of NPPs often quote this problem. We have to clearly admit the existence of residual risk in the future design.
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