Some controversies, as the useful cliché has it, generate more heat than light. Nowhere is this more true than in the polarizing debates that are sparked by public hearings on the licensing, location, and construction of nuclear power plants and on the safety criteria that they should be required to meet.
These “pro” and “anti” confrontations are tests of strength—divided among corporate, governmental, and local citizens' bodies—that do not guarantee an outcome that is fair based on factual merit. Moreover, this book argues that where scientific and technological issues are involved, the adversary process is fundamentally incompatible with the impartial search for truth through scientific methods.
And yet the desirability of participatory democracy—of people exercising their right to determine the shape and future of their society by some effective process—is clear and postulated as inalienable. However, in the nuclear power controversy, the adversarial process as now constituted and administered by the Atomic Energy Commission is essentially inhospitable to the participation in meaningful ways of ordinary citizens. As the authors point out, “government and industry have tended to become allied against small groups of concerned, even worried, citizens. Clearly, the weight of influence, talent, money, power, policy, and decision making lies with government and industry. As a result, citizen groups are usually restricted to raising questions about matters concerning which they possess little knowledge or expertise.”
In order to examine the process as it works now and to propose improvements for the future, the authors undertook an intensive one-year study, covering three cases: the construction permit hearings on the nuclear plants proposed for Midland, Michigan; the operating license proceedings for the plant at Vernon, Vermont; and the rule-making hearings on criteria for emergency core cooling systems. Altogether, they attended some 48 days of hearings and interviewed more than 100 people on all sides of the issues.
After a thorough analysis of the findings, the book offers in its concluding chapter a number of specific recommendations.