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Unfruitful Results from the Attempts

I became interested in the social aspects of nuclear technology around 2008. At least since that time, I saw many research presentations by social-aspects experts at biannual meetings of AESJ (Fig. 20.1). This indicates that social-aspects experts had secured a certain position in the nuclear professional community. It must have made them feel at ease and made technological experts feel free from struggles to communicate with society, as the communication was often time-consuming and tough for engineers. This new situation, where technological experts can focus on their conventional engineering work and social-aspects experts face society, seemed to be reinforced in the last decade. The reinforcement is reasonable because it was beneficial for both experts. However, I think fruitful results were hardly achieved in line with the prospectus of SES.

One of the reasons of the unfruitful outcome is that social-aspects experts were prone to turn their faces more toward citizens and less toward nuclear technology experts. Most of communication practitioners and social-aspects experts do not have enough knowledge and skills about nuclear technology to advance the technology by

Fig. 20.1 The number of papers on the social aspects (categorized in general issues session), which were presented in the biannual AESJ meetings since 1998. We see a clear increasing trend

themselves. Hence, in order to refl what they gathered from society on nuclear technology development and utilization, social-aspects experts should have transferred opinions from society to engineers so that engineers could consider and refl it in their work; however, this was not done suffi . Even when mutual communication is carried out between citizens and social-aspects experts or communicators, if the accumulated information is not appropriately transferred to engineers, the communication is virtually no different from enlightenment-type one-way communication.

In addition, it should be recognized that the opinion of society hardly appears on opinion polls or answers to questionnaires, such as agreement rates on “Do you agree with nuclear power utilization?” Many data from opinion polls and questionnaires have been accumulated over these decades. These data are resourceful, but the data in raw formats are not significant enough to stimulate engineers so as to bring some changes in the technology. Furthermore, such raw data sometimes gave engineers misleading perceptions on the opinion of citizens.

For example, after the occurrence of an incident, we nuclear experts are often anxious about opinion polls and regard their results as the opinion of citizens. Then, when the polls start to become more positive, we engineers often simply assume that the public sentiment has recovered and society has forgiven the incident. However, in most cases, this is not due to forgiveness, but mainly due to oblivion because nuclear energy is not the sole agenda for society. Even after the opinion polls recover to around the level before the incident, some bad memories are deeply and subconsciously inscribed in public minds. Then, when another incident occurs in the future, society reacts excessively due to the accumulated bad records in the past. Such an excess reaction puzzles nuclear engineers and makes engineers think that citizens are irrational.[1] To avoid such misunderstanding on the behavior and the intention of citizens, we engineers should seek out the true opinion and intention of citizens rather than apparent ones.

To extract more true opinion and intention of society, those raw data should be carefully and thoroughly studied considering historical, cultural, and political contexts, as described in the prospectus of SES. For this, some disciplines in social sciences, and even sometimes humanities and literature, should be useful. However, as far as I know, most social-aspects experts in the nuclear professional community did not have enough educational background in social sciences.[2] Probably partly due to this, most information shown to nuclear engineers from social-aspects experts was not deep enough to motivate nuclear engineers to think about it.

Of course, the problems did not exist only among social-aspects experts but also among nuclear engineers. They did not have an attitude of sincerely listening to and collaborating with social-aspects experts. As seen in the previous sections, nuclear engineers became aware of the importance of social aspects. However, it was mostly done in a passive and reluctant manner, and they did not really understand how social aspects are related to nuclear technology. Then, engineers left most things about society up to social-aspects experts so that they can be free from mutual communication with society.

In summary, I observe two types of miscommunication between nuclear-technology experts and social-aspects experts, rather than between social-aspects experts and citizens: (1) a quantitative one, which is due to insuffi communication between nuclear-technology experts and social-aspects experts, and (2) a qualitative one, which is due to the fact that most information provided from social-aspects experts to nuclear engineers was not deep enough to stimulate nuclear engineers. Consequently, it may even be said that the mutual communication between citizens and nuclear engineers was further reduced and the distance between society and nuclear technology could not be decreased in the last decade, although frameworks to conduct mutual communication was nominally established and deployed (Fig. 20.2).

Fig. 20.2 Three structures for nuclear technology communications: a enlightenment-type oneway communication with society, where information as knowledge is transferred from engineers (experts) to the general public; b mutual communication with society via social-aspects experts (including communicators), where miscommunication occurred between social-aspects experts and nuclear engineers; c an effective mutual communication with society which I propose in this chapter

  • [1] We engineers usually believe that we can improve technology so as to prevent future occurrence of mistakes that have happened in the past. Due to this belief, we tend to evaluate the status of the engineering as separate from the fact that the mistake happened in the past. On the other hand, citizens usually do not separate the current status of engineering from the previous mistakes, because the current status is regarded as a point on the line continued from the past and continues into the future. In this sense, public reaction is reasonable and rational. The difference from that of engineers is mostly how they construct the framework to look at technology advancement.
  • [2] Although the statistics need to be carefully checked, many social-aspects experts chose their focus of expertise in graduate courses and did not receive comprehensive social-scientific education in undergraduate courses in Japan.
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