Nuclear energy, responsible risk communication and moral emotions: a three level framework
Communication about nuclear risks is treacherous territory, especially after Fukushima, requiring not only considerations about effectiveness, but also about ethical legitimacy. In this paper, a three-level framework of morally responsible risk communication is developed, focusing on the procedure, the message and the effects of risk communication. This gives rise to three conditions of ethically responsible risk communication: it requires a legitimate procedure, an ethically justified risk message and concern for and evaluation of the effects of the message and procedure. The role of emotions, such as sympathy, empathy and feelings or responsibility, is emphasized as a key to addressing and explicating moral values at these three levels. Emotions point out moral aspects of risks such as justice, fairness and autonomy. This framework can shed important new light on morally responsible communication about nuclear risks. The first condition of this framework requires that the procedure of communication is participatory, in order to include the relevant moral emotions and values concerning nuclear energy of all stakeholders. A legitimate procedure does not guarantee an ethically justified message concerning nuclear risks. For this reason, the second condition requires an ethical deliberation of the message and the values and emotions entailed in it. Finally, the third condition requires a moral evaluation of the effects of risk communication concerning nuclear energy. A successful risk communication effort triggers reflection, compassion and a willingness to take responsibility for energy-related issues. Problematic effects of risk communication can be a lack of trust or a sense of hopelessness and passivity. Evaluating all three levels from a moral point of view should be done in an iterative way, allowing possible revisions and improvements. Considering the high stakes and current stalemates in the nuclear debate, the suggested model provides a promising, constructive and morally legitimate way forward.