Caring for critical-intellectual capacities for society

Due to the specific character of its associated risk, the societal justification of nuclear energy technology is troubled by moral pluralism. That is: even if we would all agree on the scientific knowledge base for the assessment of the risk, then opinions could still differ on its acceptability.

Science is needed to inform us about the technical and societal aspects of options, but it cannot instruct or clarify the choice to make. In addition, science can only deliver evidence to a certain extent. Last but not least, we have to accept that three important factors remain to a large degree beyond control; these are human behaviour, nature and time…

Reflexivity as a critical-intellectual capacity

From this perspective, the SCK•CEN's Academy cares for ‘reflexivity’ as a critical-intellectual capacity of its nuclear students, trainees and PhD researchers. Whether in the context of energy policy or medical applications, the aim is to sharpen and stimulate their critical sense with regard to the scientific, social, political and ethical aspects of evaluating nuclear technology applications and with regard to their own rationalities (and those of others) in this respect.

Almost by definition, this engagement is not a one-directional teacher-student practice but a mutual learning experience. Therefore, the Academy’s interests reach beyond the lecture room and extend to research and policy contexts.

In practice, this engagement is undertaken in a close collaboration with the Science & Technology Studies group of the SCK•CEN, and this by way of:

  • The organisation of interactive courses for nuclear engineering students and PhD’s that ‘explore’ the science, politics and ethics of nuclear technology assessment.
  • The organisation of courses on ethics of radiological risk governance in traditional radiological protection and nuclear engineering training and ecudation programmes.
  • Raising awareness for the importance of the idea of ‘reflexivity as a critical-intellectual capacity’ in relevant national and European policy programmes devoted to the organisation of education, training and knowledge management.
  • Organising discussion with academia and civil society representatives on the theory and practice of ‘methodological approaches’ to reflexive intellectual capacity building (transdisciplinarity in research and education, organising confrontation with different views, critical reading of scientific and policy texts, …).