Friday, July 15, 2011

The debate of the decade

Something interesting is happening in Jordan. People want to discuss issues, and they are finding more and more forums to do so. A few weeks ago, I attended two such events. The first was the "Debate on Advantages and Disadvantages of Nuclear Energy" organized by Edama and held on the 28th of June at the Landmark Hotel. The second was a lecture by Minister of Energy Khaled Touqan on "Nuclear Energy" at Shoman Cultural Center on July 4, which was followed by questions from the audience. I have to be honest that until then, I had not formed a definitive position on nuclear energy and it was in that frame of mind that I attended both debates, hoping to come out leaning one way or the other.

Now the time to crack jokes about some of the incidents that occurred during these two events - and there were plenty of them - has passed. And I am left wondering what it all means. Did anyone win the argument? The nuclear advocates focused on the science while opponents focused on past experience and worldwide trends, as well as Jordan's weak institutions and lack of readiness. Of course Fukushima was, and still is, the word of the day. Since then I have tried to do my homework and read up on the subject to be able to make an informed decision (A few recommended pieces are this, this and this). At the risk of sounding fickle, I became even more confused. When I read a pro-nuclear article, I was convinced that it's doable. I would later read anti-nuclear one and change my mind.

And then I realized why. I am neither a nuclear scientist nor a safety expert. And if it's gonna take me this much effort to get a hint of an idea about nuclear power plants, I can't imagine the entire population of Jordan being able to do it. And you know what, they are not supposed to. Because there is no way that they can know enough science to hold their own in a debate with an expert. What they need is a decision-making process they can trust. They need representatives who will consult the necessary experts with the sole intent of guaranteeing their safety before giving a green light. And so, if the people trust neither the process nor the representatives, then no PowerPoint presentation in the world will sway them (because, as Stewart Lee joked: "You can prove anything with facts, can't you?").

And so, I've made up my mind. I have no inherent problem with nuclear energy but I wouldn't live 100 km from a power plant if I didn't have complete faith in the system that built and operates it.

This is not a scientific debate, it's battle for trust. And that's a much harder mountain to climb.


Ahed Aladwan said...

Thanks for sharing your - right on the spot - thoughts. It is a trust issue that just amplify with the criticality of the issue, this is not like building a street or a bridge, this is far more complicated than anything we have ever came across in this country. The whole governing structure in Jordan lacks accountability, so why an official today would think 1000 times before making a strategic decision, how to assure that they have done their homework well, how to assure that we have not been locked into a single choice by vertue of a single man background and experience. Who is the entrusted entity by the people of this country that would look into the whole project file and say, sure, it was done in a very professional way, and the conclusions, plans and roadmap are correct and valid? In the US, the congress specific committee would call for a public hearing session, calling experts from all sides, and spends maybe a year looking into every little detail, in Jordan, few people sit in room and decide, we follow. This established culture in Jordan did lead us to what we see today, we are lost when it comes to our energy options, haven't they saw all that coming? What shall we do today as citizens to enforce a culture of open doors and participation?
Finally, it is not ok to trust a public official, it is ok to trust a process of checks and balances.

buffalo gal said...

The advocates for nuclear power tell you that if you follow all the safety measures then it is safe.
When the Japanese, who have the reputation of being meticulous, lax on the safety measures and are shoddy on the checks, just imagine the Jordanians! With all due respect, I am sorry to say that we are not yet a people who appreciate the importance of following procedure or taking pride in being meticulous.