A final word

There is perhaps no more quintessential public policy challenge facing society today than the responsible management of nuclear energy. The challenge is to be able to benefit from technology and to reduce risk, while also respecting the values of our citizens. Yet, research shows that public trust in governments and major institutions is eroding while society's expectations to be involved in decision-making have become more intense and sophisticated.

Public support will be vital. In order to obtain a 'social licence' to proceed, it is incumbent upon decision-makers to understand the terms and conditions that would make nuclear power acceptable to society and to respect these factors in its design and implementation. Members of the public have a right to be engaged in discussions about matters that affect their lives fundamentally. Simply seeking the best technical approach is not enough. While technical and scientific specialists will articulate and help us to understand the nature of the risk, the technical adequacy of options, environmental impacts and economic feasibility, ultimately it is society at large who will determine which risks it is prepared to accept.

Values and ethics are absolutely central. Since ethical questions rarely have unambiguous or definitive answers, past attempts to solve them through technical arguments alone have not been satisfactory. As in any complex issue, trade-offs among competing objectives are going to be inevitable. In a democratic society, the inclusiveness and integrity of the process by which decisions are taken will be key to the success and acceptance of such a large socio-scientific project. Only a process that considers diverse views deliberately and transparently will be considered trustworthy of protecting the public interest.

Decisions will have to be taken in a dynamic and adaptive rather than static manner. Technological and societal changes will be inevitable. The public gravitates towards a precautionary approach instinctively because they are humble about the state of our current knowledge and uncertainties over time, optimistic about the future and respectful of decisions made today for future generations. At every stage, earning and retaining trust and confidence will be essential.

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