The Nuclear Power Plant: Our New “Tower of Babel”?
On July 5, 2012 the Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) issued a final, damning report. Its conclusions show that the human group – constituted by the employees of TEPCO and the control organism – had partial and imperfect epistemic control on the nuclear power plant and its environment. They also testify to a group inertia in decision-making and action. Could it have been otherwise? Is not a collective of human beings, even prepared in the best way against nuclear risk, de facto prone to epistemic imperfection and a kind of inertia?
In this article, I focus on the group of engineers who, in research and design offices, design nuclear power plants and model possible nuclear accidents in order to calculate the probability of their occurrence, predict their consequences, and determine the appropriate countermeasures against them. I argue that this group is prone to epistemic imperfection, even when it is highly prepared for adverse nuclear events.
KeywordsNuclear Power Plant Steam Generator Tight Coupling Nuclear Accident Individual Error
I am very grateful to Anouk Barberousse, Jacques Dubucs, Ashley Graham Kennedy and Charles Perrow for their helpful comments on the paper. Any remaining shortcomings in the paper are of course mine. I am also in debt to Camille Lancelevée who introduced me to the sociology of organizations.
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