Lately, much has been made of the issues in Japan dealing with nuclear power generation and safety. Meanwhile, approximately 20% of United States power generation portfolio is composed of nuclear sources. In deciding where you stand on nuclear energy, it is very important to keep things in perspective and listen to experts with nuclear science and engineering experience and education, and operational exposure to nuclear power plants.
Many governments are trying to ban nuclear power. The public, often afraid of nuclear power, seeks to support alternatives that are not cost effective, environmentally friendly in emissions or cradle to grave cycles, and cannot even meet our power demand with or without aggressive energy conservation efforts. We must analyze the whole problem and develop well-engineered and designed solutions, instead of offering knee-jerk responses.
Nuclear experts need to step up in the current Japanese crisis. The world needs their expertise. The same can be said for scientists and engineers in fields like stem cell research and healthcare as well. So often, we engineers and scientists opt to be silent in the media, halls of government, and business circles. We tend to stick to our tools in the lab or engineering facility and, as long as we keep producing data or widgets within “spec,” we feel that our job is done.
It is not done. Many times, extreme positions are presented with no factual basis or scientific/engineering justification. This is indeed a large problem. Within the United States, in the halls of policy and law-making bodies like the US Congress or state legislatures, there are few scientists or engineers to provide steady analysis and sensible debate on issues that require a technical solution to best help society.
We know that many citizens in the United States are not science or engineering literate. Technical professionals must meet them at their knowledge level and inform them of the basic essential information that they will need to be informed and engaged in the debate, so they will feel empowered to engage our community to learn more about the impacts of science in their lives. We must be clear and concise in our communications to ensure that our message isn’t lost on our audience.
Convincing the public not to be alarmed when great tragedies involving engineering or science strike is difficult because the response must be based on correct interpretation of the facts. These facts may be constantly changing,, but then we need to constantly engage the media and the public as the facts change so that they can believe that we are doing a competent job in solving the problem. The BP oil spill was not a good representation of scientists and engineers engaging the community, neither is the attention currently given to the disabled Dai-Ichi nuclear plant . We need to do better.