Exploring the Science, Politics and Ethics of Nuclear Technology Assessment

February 21 - 22, 2012   Brussel (BELGIUM)

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, opinions would still differ on its acceptability. Science may thus inform us about the technical and societal aspects of options, it cannot instruct or clarify the choice to make. The matter becomes even more complex if we take into account the fact that science can only deliver evidence to a certain extent. Despite the maturity of nuclear science & engineering, the existence of inherent uncertainties, unknowns and unknowables puts fundamental limits to understanding and forecasting technological, biological and social phenomena in the interest of risk assessment. 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…

The course will focus on the science, politics and ethics of nuclear technology assessment by starting from an analysis of the complexity of nuclear risk governance and by linking these insights to the question of how approaches to knowledge generation and decision making could ‘generate societal trust’. The idea is that this trust would need to be generated ‘by method instead of proof’, regardless of whether the outcome of decision making would be acceptance or rejection of the technology. The overall aim of the course is to provide better insight into the complexity of nuclear risk governance and to discuss as well the moral foundations for risk governance as the practical implications for research and policy.