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Continuing the Nuclear Dialogue: Alvin Weinberg's Nuclear Renaissance at 30

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William Kinsella's Presentation at the 2014 ORAU Board Meeting

William Kinsella's Presentation at the 2014 ORAU Board Meeting


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  • 1. Continuing the Nuclear Dialogue: Alvin Weinberg's Nuclear Renaissance at 30 William J. Kinsella Department of Communication and Program in Science, Technology & Society North Carolina State University wjkinsel@ncsu.edu Annual meeting, Oak Ridge Associated Universities Council of Sponsoring Institutions, 4-6 March 2014
  • 2. Background – What Am I Doing Here? • Communication researcher, background in physics, focus on energy, environment, and science & technology studies • Research on nuclear fusion community; U.S. nuclear weapons production complex; commercial nuclear energy in U.S., Germany, Japan • Asked to speak about nuclear energy communication in U.S. and global contexts • Framing the topic with help from Alvin Weinberg 2 Kinsella-ORAU2014 Continuing the Nuclear Dialog
  • 3. A Word about Communication • Discipline has dual humanities and social science roots: rhetoric and communication • Post WWII communication models: information transfer and cybernetics => focus on transmission, reception, control • One rhetorical model: persuasion • Another rhetorical model: community & democracy 3 Kinsella-ORAU2014 Continuing the Nuclear Dialog
  • 4. Communication, Democracy, and Dialog • Quintillian: “Good man speaking well” • Update: “Good citizen speaking well” • “Good” — engaged & well-intentioned re: topics of common concern • “Speaking well” — informed, ethical, common interest at heart • Dialog and collaboration vs. one-way persuasion Kinsella-ORAU2014 Continuing the Nuclear Dialog 4
  • 5. 21st Century Context • Plurality, diversity, risk of fragmentation • Complexity in tension with emphasis on specialized knowledge • Expert vs. vernacular knowledge • Technocratic vs. cultural, personal, local forms of knowledge • “The public”  multiple “publics” Kinsella-ORAU2014 Continuing the Nuclear Dialog 5
  • 6. Two Relevant Perspectives • Niklas Luhmann -- science and technology as radical simplification -- paradox: maintaining simplicity demands complex support systems -- differentiation of “social subsystems”: e.g., science, politics, economics, law -- “system rationality ceases to be world rationality” -- essential factors viewed as “externalities” Kinsella-ORAU2014 Continuing the Nuclear Dialog 6
  • 7. Two Relevant Perspectives • Ulrich Beck: “risk society” and “reflexive modernity” -- solutions to problems of scarcity produce problems of risk -- risk as new fundamental societal organizing principle -- reflexive risks demand collective societal reflection Kinsella-ORAU2014 Continuing the Nuclear Dialog 7
  • 8. Alvin Weinberg and the Nuclear Dialogue • Weinberg (1972a). “Science and trans-science.” Minerva, 10, 209-222. • Weinberg (1972b). “Social institutions and nuclear energy.” Science, 177(4043), 27-34. • Weinberg, & Spiewak (1984). “Inherently safe reactors and a second nuclear era.” Science, 224(4656), 1398-1402. • Weinberg, Spiewak, Phung & Livingston (1985). “The second nuclear era: A nuclear renaissance.” image credit: orau.org Energy, 10(5), 661-680. • Weinberg (1985). Continuing the Nuclear Dialog (ANS) Kinsella-ORAU2014 Continuing the Nuclear Dialog 8
  • 9. Essays in Continuing the Nuclear Dialogue • “Is nuclear energy acceptable?”(1977a) • “Do nuclear engineering educators have a special responsibility?” (1977b) • “The future of nuclear energy” (1981) • “Nuclear Safety and public acceptance “(1982) • “’Immortal’ energy systems and intergenerational justice” (1985) Kinsella-ORAU2014 Continuing the Nuclear Dialog 9
  • 10. Key Points: Science, Technology, and Institutions • Some questions cannot be answered by science (or science alone) (1972a) • Social institutions must match the demands of technologies (1972b) • Nuclear professionals have special responsibilities (1977b) • Call for continuing public dialog Kinsella-ORAU2014 Continuing the Nuclear Dialog 10
  • 11. Key Points: Future of Nuclear Energy • Early vision of a “second nuclear era” or “nuclear renaissance” (1984-1985) • Explicit link to “inherently safe reactors” (1984) • Premise: “economic breakthrough of nuclear power” (1972b) • Premise: robust institutions (regulation and governance) ensure safety and public trust Kinsella-ORAU2014 Continuing the Nuclear Dialog 11
  • 12. A Dialogue with Nature • Inherently safe, or inherently risky? -- extreme physical conditions -- demand for precise control -- maintaining simplicity requires complexity -- precise control requires precise knowledge • “Limits of representation” -- risk analysis & epistemic uncertainty -- seismology and other natural hazards -- human error -- human intentions -- climate change vs. technology development timescale Kinsella-ORAU2014 Continuing the Nuclear Dialog 12
  • 13. A Dialogue with Economics • “Since per unit of output a large power plant is cheaper than a small one…increase in reactor size was largely responsible for the economic breakthrough of nuclear power.” (1972b) => AP 1000, not SMR • Economic breakthrough not sustained • Cost/safety tradeoff • Emerging competitive energy sources Kinsella-ORAU2014 Continuing the Nuclear Dialog 13
  • 14. A Dialogue with History • “Today the United States is committed to over 100 X 106 kilowatts [0.1 TW] of nuclear power, and the rest of the world to an equal amount. Rather plausible estimates suggest that by 2000 the United States may be generating electricity at a rate of 1000 X 106 kilowatts [1 TW] with nuclear reactors.” (1972b) • U.S. nuclear capacity, summer 2009: 0.101 Net TW(e) http://www.eia.gov/nuclear/reactors/stats_table1.html accessed 28 February 2014 Kinsella-ORAU2014 Continuing the Nuclear Dialog 14
  • 15. A Dialogue with History: The Global Picture Year Global Power Reactors Global Capacity 2000 438 0.351 TW 2010 442 0.375 TW 2012 440 0.374 TW http://www.iaea.org/PRIS/WorldStatistics/WorldTrendNuclearPowerCapacity.aspx Accessed 28 February 2014 vs. Prediction for U.S. 1 TW by 2000 Kinsella-ORAU2014 Continuing the Nuclear Dialog 15
  • 16. Institutional Challenges “When nuclear energy was small and experimental and unimportant, the intricate moral and institutional demands…could be ignored or not taken seriously.” (1972b) • Public trust • Regulatory effectiveness • Emerging nuclear nations: technical and regulatory capacity • Technology dissemination and proliferation potential • Nuclear waste won’t go away -- cf. “’Immortal’ energy systems and intergenerational justice” (1985) Kinsella-ORAU2014 Continuing the Nuclear Dialog 16
  • 17. Nuclear Dialogue: Communication Challenges • Technocratic assumption: technical knowledge is better knowledge and most important knowledge -- social completeness -- technical completeness -- “requisite variety” of knowledge to match sociotechnical complexity Kinsella-ORAU2014 Continuing the Nuclear Dialog 17
  • 18. Nuclear Dialogue: Communication Challenges • “Deficit model” of public understanding -- assumes lack of public capacity -- characterizes concerns as irrational, emotional, ignorant, extreme, driven by special interests -- seeks to avoid complicating the process • Historical amnesia • Next-generation narrative (e.g., inherent safety, SMR, travelling wave, thorium) not publicly persuasive • Proprietary information and self-regulation undermine trust (compare with other industries) Kinsella-ORAU2014 Continuing the Nuclear Dialog 18
  • 19. Closing Thoughts “I believe the only path available to the nuclear community is…to establish a record of safe operation, even with 500 reactors in the world, over the next two decades. Common sense must eventually prevail over…narrow sectarianism…” (1982) • Safety, sectarianism, and common sense are products of continuing dialogue wjkinsel@ncsu.edu Kinsella-ORAU2014 Continuing the Nuclear Dialog 19