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Acceptable EvidenceScience and Values in Risk Management$
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Deborah G. Mayo and Rachelle D. Hollander

Print publication date: 1994

Print ISBN-13: 9780195089295

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195089295.001.0001

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Evidential, Ethical, and Policy Disputes: Admissible Evidence in Radioactive Waste Management

Evidential, Ethical, and Policy Disputes: Admissible Evidence in Radioactive Waste Management

7 (p.137) Evidential, Ethical, and Policy Disputes: Admissible Evidence in Radioactive Waste Management
Acceptable Evidence

E. William Colglazier

Oxford University Press

A sustained and definitive radioactive waste management policy has been a elusive goal for our nation since the beginning of the nuclear age. An atmosphere of contentiousness and mistrust among the interested parties, fed by a long history of policy reversals, delays, false starts, legal and jurisdictional wrangles, and scientific overconfidence and played out against the background of public concern with nuclear power and weapons issues generally, has dogged society’s attempts to come to grips with the radioactive waste-management issue. The policy conflicts have become so intense and intractable that Congress has been forced to deal with the issue periodically. The year 1982 was one watershed year for congressional action on high-level nuclear waste, and 1987 proved to be another. This chapter will examine ethical and value issues in radioactive waste management (RWM), with a special emphasis on disputes about scientific evidence. Controversies over evidence have been particularly important because of the many scientific uncertainties and problems inherent in trying to ensure that nuclear waste in a geological repository will harm neither people nor the environment for the thousands of years that the waste will remain hazardous. This requirement of guaranteeing adequate safety over millennia is an unprecedented undertaking for our regulatory and scientific institutions. The first section of the chapter will provide a brief historical overview of the national policy disputes in radioactive waste management, and the second section will discuss some of the key value issues that have been at the heart of the controversies. Our approach is to delineate key policy issues and to separate the value components of each into three categories: procedural, distributional, and evidential. Key stakeholders Congress, federal agencies, the nuclear industry, utilities, environmental groups, state governments, Native American tribes, local communities take particular policy positions justified in part on the basis of procedural, distributional, and evidential values. Procedural values refer to who should make what decision for whom and by what process. Distributional values concern what is a fair allocation of costs, benefits, and risks to the affected parties and to society as a whole. Evidential values refer to what counts as evidence, for example, what type and degree of scientific evidence is sufficient and admissible in making a particular societal decision, especially in the face of large scientific unknowns and significant social and scientific debate. Categories of “value concerns” thus include fairness and appropriateness of process, outcomes, and evidence.

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