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SCK CEN seminars on Ethics of Science and Technology

Since 1999, the SCK CEN Academy for Nuclear Science and Technology, in cooperation with the Science & Technology Studies unit of SCK•CEN, organises seminars on ethics of science and technology.

Aim and approach

The seminars are organsised as self-standing events or as part of nuclear science and technology and radiation protection courses. Target audiences include science and engineering students and professionals dealing with nuclear technology in the context of energy production, medical applications or industrial applications. Seminar formats vary from one-hour-introductions to interactive workshops with group discussions running over two days. Participants receive presentation slides and additional reference literature.

The SCK CEN seminars on Ethics of Science and Technology typically start with an analysis of the complexity of nuclear risk governance to then link these insights to the question of how approaches to science as policy advise and political decision making could ‘generate societal trust’. The idea is that this trust would need to be generated ‘by method instead of proof’, regardless of whether the outcome of decision making would be acceptance or rejection of the technology. Case studies thereby inspire theoretical reflection and vice-versa.

The overall aim of the seminars is to stimulate thinking and dialogue

  • with respect to the complexity of the relation between ethics, science and technology in general and in the case of nuclear technology applications in particular;


  • on the moral foundations for risk governance as well as on the practical implications for research and policy.

The approach taken in the seminars unavoidably inspires reflection with respect to specific skills required to deal responsibly with risk inherent technologies such as nuclear technology, and one can understand that these skills requirements apply in the same way to anyone concerned with risk-inherent technology applications, being it nuclear workers, scientists, engineers, radiation protection officers, medical doctors, managers and policy makers. As a consequence, the seminars become self-reflexive in the way they invite reflection and dialogue on the specific role, expertise and responsibility of all participants.

Seminar topics

The topics of a ‘basic’ format of the seminars on ethics, science and technology are:

  • Analysis of current issues, challenges and controversies, including
    • nuclear energy and climate change: perceptions and challenges;
    • stakeholder engagement in nuclear technology governance in the context of energy production, medical applications or industrial applications;
    • post-accident governance;
    • non-proliferation and safeguards;
  • Ethics, fairness and trust: the idea of fair risk governance;
  • Seeking societal trust, facing scientific uncertainty and value pluralism – the challenge for science as policy advice;
  • Ethical ‘skills’ or ‘virtues’ for nuclear workers, scientists, engineers, radiation protection officers, medical doctors, managers and policy makers.
All basic topics are illustrated with case studies from policy and practice.

On request, the basic format of the seminars can be extended with (a selection of) the following specialised topics:

  • Ethics in relation to science and technology – the consequences for radiological protection and safety culture;
  • The bigger picture – a critique on modernity (critical views on approaches to political decision making, scientific research and education);
  • Ethical case studies in the nuclear energy, medical applications and NORM fields;
  • Ethics of energy governance, including reflections on existing energy technologies (nuclear, fossil fuels, renewables) and on the issue of climate change;
  • Ethical foundations of the system of radiological protection;
  • Ethics versus science in relation to the LNT hypothesis;
  • Ethical challenges coming with new technological applications (drones, artificial intelligence, bioengineering, data management, …)
  • The concepts of social justice, environmental protection and sustainable development in theory and practice;
  • An understanding of the interrelation of science & technology and society, from an ethics perspective (including deeper discussion of social sciences concepts such as ‘responsible research and innovation’, ‘post-normal science’, ‘science as social knowledge’, ‘contextual empiricism’, ‘well-ordered science’, ‘Mode-2 science’, ‘transdisciplinarity’, ‘the co-production of science and social order’, …);
  • Historicism of ethics, science and technology;
  • Reading, analysis and discussion of existing law, soft law, standards and recommendations relevant to applications of nuclear technology and radiological protection (IAEA standards and recommendations, ICRP recommendations, EC Directives, the Aarhus Convention, UNSCEAR assessments, …).


Gaston Meskens - gaston [dot] meskens [at] sckcen [dot] be (gaston[dot]meskens[at]sckcen[dot]be)


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