Gaston Meskens's Lectures

The Science, Politics and Ethics of Nuclear Technology Assessment

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 could still differ on its acceptability. Science may inform us about the technical and societal aspects of options, it cannot instruct or clarify the choice to make. 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 resulting room for interpretation that unavoidably marks any reasoning related to the societal justification of nuclear technology applications, puts a heavy responsibility on nuclear technology assessment as a research and policy practice. In addition, taking into account that a responsible nuclear safety and radiological protection culture are necessary but insufficient conditions for the societal justification of nuclear technology applications, an additional responsibility is with the way the why and how of nuclear safety and radiological protection are rationalised towards society.


The lectures will include with an analysis of the complexity of nuclear risk governance and link these insights to the question of what would be the requirements for knowledge generation and decision making to generate ‘societal trust’ around the justification question. It will further analyse relevant institutional rationales and policy processes and, as a topic of discussion, suggest how an ethical view on nuclear risk governance could inspire science and policy consequently.