The limited involvement of non-state actors in nuclear decision-making increases the risks to nuclear accidents and decreases the legitimacy of public policy.
In March last year, The Hague hosted the World Nuclear Security Summit. The next edition is scheduled for early 2016 in the US. The purpose of these meetings is for world leaders to discuss and agree on concrete steps leading to a robust nuclear security. That objective, however, cannot be achieved without recognizing the importance of involving non-state actors.
Currently, only a limited number of state actors determine the course of action on nuclear security, which does not reflect its immense social impact. Nuclear security is a complex social issue which requires attention from a wide audience. Key problem is that uncertainties in people’s assumptions are insufficiently acknowlegded.
Recognizing assumptions can serve as a trigger for a strengthened nuclear security policy and can contribute to crisis prevention. The 2011 Fukushima disaster, for example, could have been prevented if more attention was given to not only the technical, but also the cultural and organizational sides of operation.
Uncertainties influence nuclear security in two ways. First, the concentration of responsibility in the hands of a few does not contribute to acknowledging the inherent unknowns in the field. The assumptions and uncertainties of the main actors in nuclear materials governance are insufficiently challenged and this increases the risks that something might go wrong. A leading scientific advisor who participated in our roundtable underlines this: As scientists, we like to place ourselves on a pedestal of knowledge. But the frequency of nuclear accidents demonstrates plenty of incidents where we got it wrong.
Secondly, the lack of involvement of non-state actors in the decision-making process decreases the legitimacy of public policy and increases the resistance of the general public against nuclear installations.
Not communicating uncertainties about the risks of nuclear energy and radiation only fosters fear and resistance to nuclear materials. Especially in the aftermath of a disaster, like Fukushima, lack of openness creates unnecessary social unrest.
This policy brief by Rens de Man makes an argument for greater and wider stakeholder involvement as a way to increasing nuclear security. In particular, the discussion centres on the uncertainties associated with the use of nuclear material for energy production. These uncertainties are inherent in such a complex subject and cannot be underestimated or worse, ignored. Diverging beliefs, non-confirmed conclusions, contested information, alongside personal and organizational strategic interests are all factors which influence and steer the selection and interpretation of facts when it comes to policy-making.
Appropriate managing of the ‘wicked problem’ of nuclear security governance requires the involvement of non-traditional stakeholders. Recognition of a plurality of perspectives and the pursuit of a shared discourse are key to making progress towards a structured and reliable nuclear security policy.