Atoms for Peace - Prize Atoms for Peace Int. Journal
About Atoms for Peace
Presentation Nuclear Code of Ethic Chartre du Nucléaire Nagasaki's Mayor Declaration

(Part 1)


In the contemporary debate on civilian and nuclear power, the role of public opinion, as an expression of the wishes and fears, as well as the hopes, of the men and women of our time, is perhaps primarily to remind the managers and work-force of the nuclear industry of the needs and the challenges of communication between experts, technicians, users and citizens. To overlook this expectation and this thirst for dialogue, in the requisite scientific rigor and honesty, is to court failure. Behind the sometimes clumsily phrased but often perspicatious expression of this public opinion, there looms the quest for a common conscience, the search for a shared knowledge, for a common future, especially since man does not live alone by what he consumes or produces, but also by the humanistic quality of his exchanges with his fellows.

Humanity is made up of a community of individuals endowed with liberty and individual responsibility, which go hand-in-hand to elevate man and his requirements above technology and its desiderata. Thus information must not be considered as a tactic designed to convince others - the public - of the soundness of the decisions taken, but as a sharing of an awareness of needs and risks, of chances and of progress. Information, first of all, is communication with the citizens who, as taxpayers and electors, set the stage for the common good. Non-information fosters disinformation and collective responses of fear or rejection. It generates anxiety and dramatizes risks. To overlook this means conflicts and repulsion; to involve the citizens is to ensure their participation in the dynamics of a world of progress and solidarity. Respect for this quest for dialogue must not be seen as a component of a rejection of the dynamics of progress, the wish for knowledge and know-how, but as a desire to work together so that science and technology are no longer a source of fear or dependency, but a source of exchange, mutual enrichment and reciprocal trust.

The "You can't stop progress" in opposition to "fear of progress" are not so much findings as inchoate beliefs in the possibility or the fear of extracting the secrets and exploiting the forces of nature, a principle or credulity that ethics puts into question by scutinizing the foundations of these practices. It does this in the name of mankind and its future, which a technique researched only for itself, so do speak dehumanized, would reduce to nothing more than the instrument of the powers that be and systems of production. Man becoming a menace to man is a permanent and wayward drift of ambitions no longer concerned with the essential purposes of life, a dangerous drift but one that ethics can obstruct and defeat.

The nuclear industry is inseparable from the other techniques making up our industrial society. It is not an excrescence that can be lanced without impinging upon the other sectors of this society, one of whose aspects is its interrelativity. The ethical question concerning nuclear energy in its application, its operation, its use, is part of a wider question from which it cannot be separated: the question of development and of technical progress. It is one of its impressive aspects, either because its technology and performance are admired, or because its effects are feared and its potential perils denounced. Nuclear energy is a fruit of the irreversible progress of scientific and technical knowledge, which brought it into being, and whose expansion it now largely ensures. It derives from the profound dynamics of human beings wishing to put their knowledge at the service of humanity, for its wellbeing and its development.

1. Energy, a universal good, necessary for the humanistic development of the planet

Energy is a universal good to which all human beings are equally eligible, regardless of where they live and the century to which they belong. Energy supply is a primary concern for the continued development of mankind, a radical solution to problems posed by the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and an improvement to the global environment. But a major threat stems from man's technological activities, with their attendant environmental impacts. Greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy production are exacerbating ecological degradation. The situation can hardly improve in the near future, as many developing countries, with their rapidly growing energy production, do not posses modern technologies requiring large investments, and will therefore rely on more readily available resources liable to cause the greatest environmental damage.

Scientific and technical development has spurred the rising use of energy, which in return has intensified and densified growth, enabling ever-broader areas of humanity to arise from economies of shortage to consumer economies, these two types of society being mutually exclusive. In this respect, the use of nuclear energy has marked a watershed in the history of humanity, in terms of its power, its permanence, its virtually inexhaustible character, insofar as the appropriate technologies are applied, and also in terms of its risks. This is the aspect that in fact generates anxieties, and raises disputations queries today from "those who know not" to "those who know", and this questioning necessarily has to account for the whole of energy, industrial, economic and above all, social development.

The abundance created by the consumer society releases us from heavy encumbrances, burdens that nonetheless can still continue to weigh on the segment of humanity that has not yet solved the energy question and that lives in areas of the planet where the specter of shortage, misery and famine is still unvanquished. No one enjoys the moral right to prevent these populations from attaining a state of development that is free of these encumbrances.

It is inconceivable to proclaim the right of all to jobs and to development, and simultaneously artificially withhold the scientific breakthroughs that have permitted the transition from a society of shortage to a consumer society. To believe in man and his destiny demands an understanding of the whole complexity of the strengths and capacities that provide him the resources for his survival and his self-realization.

The use of nuclear energy reveals with unique cogency the questions raised by the industrial society, and by our society in general. Should we reject it, power and wealth alike, to be denounced as factors that pervert man and make him lose his soul, causing him to turn, as Pascal said, from angel to beast? Should we adopt as standard and model, the sylvan and pastoral ambience of the descriptions of a lost Eden, adhere to the rules of sharing befitting a subsistence economy, in which quantities of produced and consumed goods must be strictly identical and constant, if not reduced by natural catastrophes or conflicts engendering famine and misery?

To do this would be to overlook the essentials of humanistic thought, which makes men jointly responsible for the good of all, duty-bound to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and liberate the repressed. Some appear to have failed to perceive the close links that bind them to the world of work, economics and politics, from which they benefit and profit daily, but which they denounce. True humanism is the humanism of solidarity and mutual aid. It is not that of the neo-malthusians, who indeed deny to the poorest the right to exist and seek refuge in the myth of a nature that is spontaneously harmonious and protective, the nature of the "good savage" enshrined by J.J. Rousseau, who was nonetheless ready to abandon his own children. They denounce the predatory man who ravages nature, destroys it and "denatures" it. In fact, the human being must find his food, he must acquire it. He has to hunt, work, produce, and indoing so, use the resources provided by his environment. This is the struggle for survival observed in all the animal species, although the regulatory instinct in animals limits the damage. Hunter or hunted, hangman or victim, such is the primitive situation of man, and it survives in other forms. And complaining about it is not enough. Reason, prudence and caution must be enlisted for the struggle. Our civilizations have succeeded in reducing the violence of conquest, in organizing the arduous yet peaceful work of the fields, in transforming wilderness into gardens, domesticating, cultivating. And this has been done by facing all the risks, by warding them off and finding remedies. The same responsibilities are ours today. And it would be both foolhardy and imprudent to imagine that our achievements are perpetual, because man, despite his technology, is little or nothing before the incommensurable mysteries of Nature.

Necessity is the mother of invention. But it also implies that the means must not spell destruction, but be subject to the same imperative: the future and the wellbeing of mankind.

2. Nuclear energy, menace for some, progress for others

Nuclear workers feel intensely that nuclear energy offers the best of answers to the problems of our time. It is neither an end in itself nor a panacea. It is a means that we judge legitimate and accept because it is safe, economical and ecological. It is applied by men, who are obviously fallible, but knowing this, build up the guarantees that we deem satisfactory, enlist men who are neither supermen nor robots, but who are aware of their responsibilities. Indeed, they would be the very first to suffer the consequences of their failures!

From its inception, the nuclear industry has promulgated a body of rules that instantly guarantee a level whose excellence has never wavered, when the conditions for its effective application have been met. The existence of independent safety authorities, both national and international, United Nations agencies, like the IAEA, UNSCEAR and the ILO, have ensured that the nuclear industry would develop for the wellbeing of humanity.

The safety of nuclear installations has been the focus of constant concern by scientists, engineers and technicians, from the outset, since the construction of the very first nuclear power plants. Developments in ideas and practices, perceiving and addressing the expectations of the public at large, have not put the quality of the initial methodology into question. This methodology has nonetheless grown with significant incidents and accidents, the closer knowledge of the technologies, materials, equipment and human behavior, and the determination to minimize the residual risks and releases. This safety approach pursues the concept of in-depth defense: accident prevention, permanent surveillance in operation, intervention of fallback systems in case of failure of normal systems and emergency systems, implementation of emergency procedures, integration of feedback. Nuclear safety is not limited to reactors alone. It is guaranteed all along the nuclear fuel cycle, from uranium mines to reprocessing plants and waste disposal. It presides over the design of nuclear facilities, during their construction, in normal operation, in case of incident or accident, and finally, in decommissioning.

This determination to control the risks induced, like all other human activities, by the use of nuclear energy, has led to the adoption of a special legislative and regulatory regime by most countries, a regime with largely international roots, which determines the framework surrounding the activities associated with the miscellaneous uses of nuclear energy.

Yet despite all the precautions that have been observed and that continue to be taken with the aim of its constant improvement, nuclear energy is the subject of complex, sometimes passionate debates, where political, economic, scientific and moral aspects mingle, together with objective analyses and subjective judgments, short-term electoral calculations and concerns addressing the future of humanity.

The numerous controversies surrounding this form of energy, too often provoked by the manipulation of a credulous public opinion, its judgment weakened since the Chernobyl accident by the proliferation of slanderous campaigns, fears about waste management, the virtually obsessive anxiety provoked by the simple evocation of the word "radioactivity", have, like it or not, become unavoidable facts which the application of positive law alone cannot address. The social challenges associated with nuclear energy are no longer satisfied by an answer that would consist of the mere application of a regulation, no matter how rigorous, how well applied and fully controlled it may be.

Setting aside this highly regrettable aspect, it is clear that the regulations arising from positive law - as ideal as it may be - cannot fulfill the legitimate wishes of citizens concerned with participating in the definition of their future. This makes it necessary, in the market economic societies, where the operators are granted leeway for initiative and autonomy, that in addition to positive law, a citizen charter be defined, a genuine code of ethics integrating the concept of a safety culture initiated by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The many upheavals affecting the new century - the generalized introduction of automation in many production sectors, higher energy prices, intensified awareness of the limited character of the natural heritage and its insupportable pollution - all these new conditions demand a remediation of the way to "think" and to "manage" work, fully justifying the existence of this charter, this code.

This charter of citizenship, inspired by ethical concerns, should be universally approved on a voluntary basis by all those who exercise direct and indirect responsibilities in all steps of nuclear activities: research, design, construction, operation of power plants and all fuel cycle plants, waste storage and final disposal, transport and trade in nuclear fuels, as well as the other uses of nuclear energy and ionizing radiation, as in medicine and agribusiness.

3. The answer to the nuclear question, a problem of ethics

There are no simple answers to the questions of the public, no single comprehensive solution. "There is a plurality of contradictory imperatives. We must be conscious of all these antagonistic problems and be aware of the fact that we are taking calculated risks: we have the rights of man, the rights of life as well as the rights of nature for which we are responsible. We do not have "the" message. All that we can do is pose problems, formulate contradictions. This conflict of values is a problem of ethics1".

Ethics can be conceived as a loftier look at technical evidences that seem ineluctable, in order to create a space for assessing our practices that takes account of the consequences and human significance of our actions. In our spaces of democracy and massive intervention of the drift of public opinion, it implies communication actions so that each can be aware of his responsibility by participating in the growth and development of the planet. By this philosophy, each individual can accede to a share of responsibility and competence.

Ethical considerations are deployed as a discernment of the possible, as the elaboration of a judgment or a decision as a function of what the human community considers to be preferable for man. Ethics is a question of the future, of foresight and of responsibility. It is not tied to a closeted past, but is the vector of ambitious projects. "Here it is not enough to have good intentions to be truly responsible. Responsibility must contend with a terrible uncertainty". "We must understand that the notion of responsibility forces us to be responsible for the use of the word responsibility, in other words, obliges us to reveal its difficulties and its complexity.2". Hence this affects not only our security, but also justice and solidarity with future generations. Our decisions and our choices are embedded in economic, cultural and social developments the world over, they cannot focus simply on the wellbeing of countries rich in technological know-how and complex production systems. Nuclear energy, and hence the ethical imperatives of its use, stand at the crossroads of the political and economic futures of our societies. In this sense, the approach of the World Council of Nuclear Workers is part of the conscience of humanity today.

4. The fundamental role of the human factor

In the complex systems created by nuclear installations, the individual plays an essential role. If man can err, the design of the installations must account for any possible failure, and man is also responsible. He is aware of his responsibilities and is trained to shoulder them. Yet above all, man has capacities for response, for analysis and for synthesis, superior to those of machines. It is not possible for a machine to predict all possible combinations of imaginary situations, which is something a well-trained operator can do. Man is thus indispensable. And he is the court of last resort.

The recognition of work is one of the fundamental components of human dignity

Man fits into the productive act through his work, through a work that must be understood as a transitive activity, in other words, drawing its force from man, and turned towards an outside object, man's specific domination over the earth to satisfy his needs by exploiting the resources that the earth contains and which, by the conscious activity of man, can be upgraded and used for his convenience, to the extent that man succeeds in respecting and preserving a nature that can be so generous. Work is thus one of the fundamental dimensions of human existence, wherein man draws his own dignity, but which simultaneously contains the constant measure of human labor. Work is the bearer of increased wealth. It is the only means to increase the common good, to augment the heritage of humanity, of all the women and of all the men living throughout the world. If it contains factors of freedom, work can also contain factors of prejudice and injustice. It is through his work that man procures his daily bread. It is through his work that man contributes to the progress of science and technology, to the constant cultural and moral elevation of the society in which he lives. But it is also through work that man can be fettered by the chains that jeopardize his dignity. One mistake of early capitalism was to treat human work as a simple instrument of production, to privilege its objective dimension and deprecate its subjective dimension. The antinomy that existed for decades, and sometimes still exists, between work and capital, stems from the error which consisted in considering human work exclusively from the standpoint of its economic finality, in relegating cognition to a subordinate position, reducing human dignity to a superfluous phenomenon.

Work is the property of man. Like all living species, man transforms nature to adapt it to its own needs, but as a man, in other words, as a being endowed with reason, he has to do this by incorporating an ethical dimension. When man works, he wants the fruits of his labor to be useful, but also useful to others, so that in the very process of work he can appear as co-responsible and the co-artisan of the workstation that he occupies. The man who works not only wants to receive the fair remuneration that is his due - the key to all social ethics - he wants his dignity as a human being to be considered. Work must enable man to achieve nobility.

Human labor has this ethical value directly related to the fact that he who performs it is a conscious and free subject, who decides on his own. The quality of work is directly related to this capacity to decide, to act, to assume the responsibilities with which every man, every link in the immense chain that links all men to work, is invested, and which he has freely chosen to assume.

If work is an obligation, in other words, a duty, for man, if by working man is enriched by the work of others, consolidating him with other workers, if man must work with a view to his neighbor, more specially to his family, and also to the society to which he belongs, work is also a source of rights. These rights must be examined in the vast context of all human rights. This implementation of workers' rights cannot be relegated to a mere consequence of the economic systems which, at a more or less broad scale, have maximum profit as their sole purpose. The awareness of the objective rights of workers must represent the adequate and fundamental criterion for the formation of any world economic policy.

The globalistic multidimensionality of the nuclear industry demands that it be exemplary in this area.

Nuclear professions and the safety culture

Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the techniques and professions exercised in the nuclear industry are the same as those found practically everywhere in large-scale industry. They are the same as those found in the other major industries. There are mechanics, electricians, controllers who run operations from the control room, organizers of daily working schedules, trainers, administrative staff, guardians, accountants, chemists, electronics specialists and information scientists, and general maintenance services. There are employees charged with questions pertaining to conventional industrial security, fire protection as well as radiological protection. Others are responsible for physicochemical measurements and radiological measurements in the installation and the environment. As in any large plant, there is a full-time medical service. Paradoxically, and contrary to the public perception, nuclear physics, while fully present in the professional knowledge of the employees charged with checking the operation of the nuclear reactor, just like chemistry and thermodynamics, for example, is not by itself a broad speciality.

Yet what differentiates a nuclear installation from the others, this so complete and so complex industrial and human system, is the permanent prevalence of safety at all levels, seen as a series of arrangements adopted to guarantee normal operation of the installations, to prevent incidents and accidents and, if need be, to limit their consequences.

The operation of a nuclear installation is a collective task, in which human solidarity is a vital component, solidarity extending far beyond what is normally found in the other industries operating with continuous processes, a solidarity that is defined as a safety culture. This safety culture is not a theoretical concept. It is based on the active man, the artisan of his acts and gestures. It is manifested in the field in the gestures that may be simple or complex, humdrum or exceptional, and in any case miscellaneous, performed by men trained in the knowledge of the implications of their activity in the collective responsibility for safety.

Individual and collective responsibility, key to the safety culture

Man in the nuclear installation, a complex technical system, preserves an essential place. Each person links his activity, his own responsibility, to collective responsibility. This responsibility is exercised by numerous players, in a wide variety of professions. Yet beyond the production tasks which represent the final objective of the companies, professional behaviors incorporate the concepts of rigor, quality, responsibility and solidarity.

It is because he has learned and understood the importance of his role in the safety of the installation in which his superiors, his team, create a professional environment of confidence, that the "nuclear artisan" is capable of identifying in the exercise of his functions the imperfections, albeit slight, which could, by degenerating, have serious repercussions for the installation, the security of his colleagues and the protection of the public.

The professionalism of the "nuclear artisans", like the mastery of their art to strive for excellence, demands an individual effort, reflection and method, concern for anticipation, necessity to clearly position his role and responsibility for his professional act in the human chain that works together for the safe operation of the overall installation. Thus the nuclear worker stands out as a team-member and responsible professional. Clearly he is best placed to identify the imperfections liable to degenerate and cause detrimental repercussions for the installation and the protection of the public and the environment. The role of the rank and file in this safety culture context is therefore essential. They must be irreproachable to privilege transparency, facilitate feedback and draw the necessary lessons, but without forgetting that in case of repeated failures, or grave fault, they are to blame.

This specific context cannot be addressed by a body of legislative and regulatory texts, which are nonetheless indispensable. It demands individual compliance, freely accepted, with a general code of ethics. Efficiency and effectiveness; the value of the code of ethics is thereby rooted in the recognition of human factor as a primary efficient cause, the other means of production, including capital, remaining mere instruments.