Ethics and expert culture

Ethics and expert culture research rely on intensive interaction between social scientists and nuclear – radiation protection experts, in which both strive for transparency in expert decision making. Research on expert culture focuses specifically on the decision support context of expert functioning, including the expert’s work methods, constraints, underlying hypotheses, limitations of current knowledge, dynamics of interactions with other experts.

Post-doctoral sociological research by Michel Bovy (SCK-CEN and FUL/Ulg) investigated expert needs, roles and deontological desiderata at SCK-CEN. It highlighted the main uncertainties about experts' responsibilities, legitimatcies, mandates, as well as interactions with the outside world, like media, politicians and other institutions. The research results show that experts need sufficient freedom to develop research projects, a degree of independence towards customers, continual learning, social awareness and training to take values into account.

Another objective of the Ethics and Expert Culture program was to build platforms of dialogue on controversial topics. The role of experts within Art. 31 of the Euratom Treaty was studied and some comparisons were initiated with the company culture at SCK•CEN. We initiated extensive brainstorming among experts on the ethical concepts introduced by the ICRP recommendations, and provided them with support for a critical review. These initiatives served to highlight issues of social concern, such as the future cost of energy, environmental protection and possible scenarios for energy supply, and thus increased the experts’ awareness of their responsibility.

In 2004, the social value of equity was integrated as a philosophical consideration in the "Justification principle" of radiation protection. This change was promoted both on Belgian side (SCK•CEN, UCL, Fondation Roi Baudouin, Belgian Association of Radiation Protection, ULG) and internationally (reflection groups and colloquia at ICRP, IRPA, OECD and research networks such as COWAM (see section on Governance of radioactive waste). PISA organized proactive meetings and reflection groups on expert culture and ethical aspects of radiation protection. At a global level, the role of experts in the editing of safety standards and radiation protection guidance stresses the importance of giving more attention to peer review with regard to both scientific standards and social concerns.

Research also contributed to a project on the ethical approach of the funding management for decommissioning activities in collaboration with the Working Group for Decommissioning and Dismantling Activities (WPPDD of NEA/OECD). Within European decommissioning policy, we identified a clear need for comparisons and justification, especially with regard to the long-term management of funds. This would help to meet the legitimate request for information while respecting the complexity of the issues.

Finally, in cooperation with CITES (ULG), we organized a two day international workshop on the ICRP justification and optimisation proposals on basic safety standards. This workshop focused on the role and challenges of responsibility, ethical choices, precaution and soft law and shed light on transgenerational issues such as genetic effects and nuclear waste issues.

References: Eggermont, G. (Ed.) (2001). Topical day - Ethics, culture and role of the expert – Proceedings. Mol, Belgium: SCK.CEN, 107 p.