Addressing uncertainty and inequality in nuclear policy

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Abstract

Purpose This paper analyses the justification of technological choices and options in the context of nuclear energy policy. We argue that 'society' increasingly demands a justification with regard to the level of uncertainty and inequality a certain technological choice induces. We aim to demonstrate that policy makers in fact do address these issues, but depending on how they define the problem, this is done in a more explicit (overt) or implicit (covert) way. Design/methodology/approach First, the changing context with regard to the justification of technological choices is briefly sketched. We draw the attention to the link between the way a certain (energy) policy problem is defined, and the way the framework for political decision making is set up in response to the problem. In order to clarify this observation, we make use of a scheme derived from policy sciences, mapping out policy problems in two dimensions: the (lack of) certainty concerning the kinds of knowledge a problem may require, and the (lack of) consensus on relevant values (i.e. 'the common good', 'basic rights', etc.). Each type of policy problem requires a distinct solution strategy. A so-called Type III-error occurs when the wrong problem is solved by employing a strategy which does not apply to the problem at hand. In that case, political theory predicts strategic behavior in order to actively suppress or blur value differences. The Belgian decision to phase out nuclear power is used as a case study to illustrate some of the theoretical implications of the scheme. Findings Several Type III-errors could be demonstrated in the case of the Belgian phase out. In this case, social learning was severely hampered by different methodological approaches; lack of data; different perceptions of relevant time scales; different framing of the problem; institutional barriers; lack of communication; strategic use of scientific assessments by different stakeholders; and insufficient knowledge of scientific assessments. Value of paper The paper aims to broaden the debate on energy policy outside the boundaries of institutional decision making. We conclude with some practical recommendations for future energy policy, regarding problem structuring, defining possible options, goal and strategy formulation and monitoring of choices.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)357-376
JournalJournal of Enterprise Information Management
Volume18
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2005

Keywords

  • decision making, nuclear energy industry, risk assessment, sustainable development

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