“An Argument for the Importance of Technology by Layne Hartsell at World Energy Congress

Layne Hartsell

Fellow, The Asia Institute (and P2P Foundation)
Address to the World Energy Congress

Gyeongju, Korea

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

“Science, Society and Fukushima: An Argument for the Importance of Technology from the Perspective of Global Justice”

First, let me thank the nuclear engineering Department at Seoul National University and Dr. Suh, and A-E-S-O-P, and many of you who are researchers or scientists that I have learned from, or will learn from.

I also want to acknowledge the hundreds of people at the Fukushima site who stayed behind to make sure the conditions didn’t get further out of hand. And, I want to recognize the multidisciplinary levels in this; the brilliance of the scientists and the hardworking people who are all involved.

The complete issue of nuclear power, now, will always have Fukushima underlying it, as the first speaker said, that any talks about nuclear energy have Fukushima in the background.

I will spend about equal time on two parts, today.

The first is related to logic, and the second, an argument on technology from global justice, and on open reasoning and citizens’ awareness about the nuclear industry; following Dr. McDaniels’ before me here.

I will start with the logic that we are seeing both in the industry and in the public.

And then, I will argue in a Kantian way, primarily, on the technological argument. What I mean here are universals and duties. This is the perspective I call: an Argument on Technology from Global Justice – and the Global Resources Dividend

The second part, is largely a report on a recent project we initiated at the Asia Institute and the P2P Foundation, where I serve as a fellow in convergence studies, philosophy and ethics; also advising in nanochemistry at a biomedical company in Incheon. The second part will be a report to you on progress on a white paper, but also practical work on smartphone apps which can assist in disaster relief, citizens’ participation, and getting information from experts for guidance.

The larger issue of climate change is the underlying motivation for my talk today. There is a major dilemma in energy related to climate change, and I don’t need to go into that, it’s already a major consensus that anthropological climate change is accepted. But I would make two points, that there are two dissenting opinions on climate change. One is that it is not a problem; the other, a smaller group which says climate change is farther along, and I’m quoting Stern in this case. I would ask, ‘How will the Global South scale up in their energy production, since as you know, the Global South is growing, from BRICS countries, Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa; and also Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia, are all headed in that direction. They are all relying on fossil fuels which are the most risky and dangerous, at this point, empirically.

Additionally, I include a partial solution to add to the multiplex of viable solutions for the current Fukushima crisis, and beyond for advanced technologies, and will finish on that note.

On logic and reasoning, I present a few premises that I accept as true and I hope that you might also.

A philosophical view on global justice and energy would argue:

First, Japan has few fossil resources. It’s not possible to get natural gas or coal into Japan, though they need energy for 130 million – 140 million people. So, the next step, and cleaner step is nuclear; with less CO2 output – and it is the solution or argument that seems a win-win. But there’s a problem, as you know, Japan sits on the Ring of Fire. There is not only an existential risk related to nuclear reactors but the added risk of faults. As I understand it, and maybe you can correct me if I’m wrong, the earthquake is what knocked out the power lines to the plant, which initially started the problem. Then, later came the failure of the diesel engines from the tsunami. So, it was not just the tsunami but the earthquake, also.

Second, due to the current structure of energy in the world, Japan is forced to depend upon nuclear – at peril, situated on the Ring of Fire. That’s premise number two.

The third premise is that the issue is a matter of global justice due to the universalization of duties within the global community to address the risk and related structures around energy.

This argument I make is nothing that I have seen put forth clearly and often enough. It’s the argument I want to make here today to see how this sits with you as peer review, and your critique of the argument.

Therefore, the conclusion that I would make is that there is a moral imperative, and indeed, an imperative of survival, that the world community support Japan. Prime Minister Abe, last week, has asked for help from the international community, which means all of you, and me. We should support Japan in the rapid transition from old nuclear, which was discussed earlier to better nuclear and into renewables, which I don’t think anyone questions that that is the way to go for the future such as advanced technologies and convergence science.

That’s the model that I am operating under and I want to go now to the mathematics:

The NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Agency) Probabilistic Risk Assessment gives the precautionary perspective, which is generally a priori, not manifested or empirical. The risk is stated to be at 1:1,000,000 chance of a nuclear accident. At the moment, there are 432reactors in the world. If we do the math, the probability of an accident is one every 2,500 years or the entire history of Western civilization back to the Greeks. Three reactor meltdowns at one time, that would be 1 million cubed giving 18 zeros; a major problem. I would argue that perhaps since it was in one place there may be a problem with the statistics of time and place, but only slight changes to 18 zeros. Prediction is one thing, and empirical is another. The evidence now shows that instead of a nuclear accident every 2,500years we could expect one every seven years, if we look over the past 35 years there have been 5 meltdowns, or one every 7 years. There were meltdowns before that, but this is giving the technology the benefit of the doubt. If we were to say there were five meltdowns over 35 years, that’s bad enough, but if we say there were three meltdowns in one month, or…over a few days at Daiichi, then the picture looks even worse.

Next, there are problems with errors of logic.

Basically, there is a heuristic from rules of thumb we use every day to make decisions automatically. One rule of thumb goes like this: If we engage in high-risk activity at a high frequency, then sooner, not later, the risk is liable to materialize. I think we are addressing this here today.


Older plants use data from younger plants to determine risk at older plants. And, I’m plagiarizing Arnie  Gunderson here where he also says it’s as if a doctor examining a 25 year old, looking at his or her biometrics, and then applying those to the 70 year old and concluding that the 70 year old will live to be 140. This is a categorical fallacy.


I want to echo something Dr. McDaniel said before me on the issue of public acceptance, or of societal acceptance of nuclear energy which has gone down. The public is certainly confused, and so, I’ve been looking at both the scientific research and also at the logic and confusion in society.

There is also a classic non-sequitor, which is continually popping up in society on nuclear reactors; not from the experts but from the people who are working at the reactors and the people in the towns. I call it the Homefield (Hometown) Fallacy of nuclear power.

The premises are that there are brilliant, good, conscientious people working at our reactor. The plants pay their taxes and are major employers. These kinds of people serve on the school board and sing in the choir. Fair enough, so far; these statements are repeated at numerous meetings from general citizens who are relatively unsophisticated in argument and also uninformed. The essential argument comes down to:

If we have nice people running OUR plant, then an accident won’t happen here. Or, better put: Our plant is in our hometown, therefore it is safe. This argument I am calling the Homefield (Hometown) Fallacy on nuclear energy which is a nonsequitor or one of the most common types of fallacies, but more importantly, this one is dangerous.

So, those are a philosophical examination of nuclear power in society today. And, I would say that the Kantian…Emanuel Kant developed the moral imperative 300 years ago and this is the line of argument I will give now on the necessity for an international response because of the duties which are universalized and shared globally. And, if there were a manifestation of existential risk, that would be a worldwide problem. [I don’t…I haven’t seen in any of your writings that you seem to be too concerned with cesium 134 and 137 in the Pacific, at this moment, except around the site – and I’ll go with your findings on that information, empirically.]

The final part of my talk today, is to move from the logic and philosophy to the basic title I chose of Science, Society and Fukushima. As a matter of contingency, I would accept the arguments of van der Hoeven at Delft and of course Hansen, that we may have to bridge from clean or new nuclear into the renewables as we scale up out of the laboratories from advanced technology, nanotechnologies, convergence science and so on.

What I want to report to you, and to ask for your review is on the recent group we have formed at the Asia Institute and the P2P Foundation on Open Reasoning or Public Reasoning, to borrow from Amartya Sen, the Nobel Laureate at Cambridge. He argues that through public reasoning we can develop the abstract structures for how we are going to frame our understanding of the world which is becoming a lot more complex.

Just some technical details, our group is made up of 25 core people from different parts of the world – 13 different countries. There are students up to PhD level researchers; there are eight PhDs on-board, a law student, and maybe five with masters degrees. The aim is to write a white paper on citizens’ participation in science, as guided by experts that we are in contact with. And, also that the world community can assist Japan, and [I would] go further to ask if Japan can be a model or test case for a place of investment to upscale from renewable to go from 6 or 8% up to 40 or50% or more, as the nuclear industry can make its changes.

The white paper is the first part, and the other part is to make an application for smart phones, an app, on which an alternative Internet can run in case of a disaster. At Fukushima, the phone system went out, or 3G, and people were not able to get information. In such an event, we can set up an alternative Internet through Bluetooth connections in a P2P format. This can be the alternative for people to communicate with each other to get up to date information through the social app that we are developing, with such parameters as: data, weather, notes, family/friends, Geiger counter data and so on.

Finally, to address the larger issue of energy…it’s easy to criticize before, and even easier to criticize processes after a disaster occurs. But I would argue as a matter of global justice that there be a Global Resources Dividend as a matter of national property rights. The dividends could be invested in scaling up advanced, renewable technologies globally, and according to scientific consensus. And, through the Global Resources Dividend, which comes from Thomas Pogge at Yale, these technologies would then be available to the Global South at a low cost, or maybe for free, such as to prevent the overarching existential threat from climate change. It may seem to be long term, but I would argue for rapid, high-impact implementation.