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The Canadian Nuclear FAQ  

by Dr. Jeremy Whitlock


To The Peace River Record-Gazette regarding the issue of bias and expertise in the nuclear debate:

(published in the 2008 Feb 12 edition)


Nuclear grass-roots critics are not experts on topic

To the Editor,

The recent discussion of "bias" in the nuclear debate misses the crucial point that bias is something all of us have, without exception.

Bias is not a dirty word, but a culmination of experiences that informs every thought each of us entertains.

The problem is not the existence of bias, but recognizing and dealing with it when objective decisions are called for.

The field of science, for example, operates on the fundamental principle of overcoming bias to make decisions based solely on objective evidence. Professional scientists are not only trained to think this way, but are also held accountable to this ideal through peer review.

Bias is, however, only one aspect of the "credibility issue" that Albertans must contend with as opinions and facts on all sides of the nuclear debate flood their collective consciousness.

Another aspect is professional expertise, and this has unfortunately been maligned in the current debate as well.

Willingness and ability to speak on the nuclear topic, and quantity of information supplied, should not be confused with professional expertise.

Likewise, educational background, while an indication of technical aptitude or even intelligence, should not be confused with expertise in a specific and unrelated area.

For example, it may come as a surprise to many that nuclear physics has little to do with nuclear power reactors (other than sharing the "n" word), and someone with a degree in this area may be no more qualified to discuss nuclear reactors than an aerospace engineer or a biochemist.

Likewise, nuclear grass-roots critics, no matter how eloquent, dedicated, popular, educated, or willing to be flown to Alberta, are not experts on this topic.

Moreover, when they leave Alberta they are absolutely unaccountable for the statements and fear they leave behind.

This is further confused when such non-experts present a resume of past appearances before inquires and committees, often as an "expert witness" or similar designation. As well-read and often long-time activists against nuclear power, these people do deserve to be heard in such processes, just as Albertans are free to invite whomever they want to share their opinions on the topic. But they are not experts in the sense of the word that should be of interest to those seeking the truth.

Without question, CANDU nuclear technology is owned by all Canadians, and it is crucial that all voices in this debate be heard - but it is also crucial to know whom you are listening to.

When I speak to Albertans, for example, I do so as a professional expert, a scientist, and a father with a young family in a small rural town next door to Canada's largest nuclear laboratory.

To suggest that I might mislead the public (and by implication also my family) through the bias of my employment, is an insult not only to myself and my profession, but to the thousands of Albertans who deserve to hear the facts behind this successful, but controversial, made-in-Canada technology.


Jeremy Whitlock, BSc, MEng, PhD

Non-proliferation & Safeguards
Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.

Canadian Nuclear Society

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