Ortwin Renn, Professor of Environmental and Technology Studies, Germany

“It’s about acceptance”

Ortwin Renn is a professor of environmental and technology studies and director of the Research Center for Interdisciplinary Risk and Innovation at the University of Stuttgart. From 2006 to 2012 he headed the Sustainability Council for the state of Baden-Württemberg and was a member of the Ethics Commission on a Safe Energy Supply, appointed by German chancellor Angela Merkel.

“Nuclear power plants belonging to the so-called third generation are safer than their predecessors, and it’s safe to assume that with these reactors, the accidents in Chernobyl or Fukushima would have been far less grave or would not even have occurred. We can speak here of a learning effect. It’s not just about improved relief valves or stronger casings; the modular design of new types of power plants reduces their complexity. Decisions that have to be made by operators, such as when something malfunctions, are thus easier to make. This reduces the risk of making everything worse with wrong decisions. The thesis formulated by Charles Perrow, in which complex technical systems essentially fail by themselves, is thus is need of revision. We are speaking here about technique.

But for a long time now, a nuclear power plant risk assessment is not just about an expert assessment and providing advice to authorities and society at large. It’s also about the question of accepting a risk. As individuals, we underestimate the risk of dying from a car accident and overestimate the risk of being exposed to radiation. This is the same all over the world. It looks quite different when it comes to the acceptance of nuclear energy. In Germany, a nuclear phase-out wasn’t the only option on the table after Fukushima, and in neighbouring France no one seriously raised this. This can easily be explained by the different political cultures. In centralist France, and also to a certain extent in Japan, there is a lot of trust in the technical elite and a type of collective pride specifically in what the nuclear industry affords us. In federalist Germany, the resistance that emerged after the first euphoric years has since grown and never faded away. What tipped the scales in favour of the phase-out was a politically motivated reassessment of the risk. Instead of theoretical models, which put the probability of a nuclear accident in the realm beyond human imagination, we've come to rely on historical experience, which shows us that we have to expect such an event worldwide every 25 years. It hits much closer to home from this perspective. But if we look to China, it becomes clear that there is an enormous demand for energy that cannot be satisfied despite the strong promotion of renewable energy. In this context, nuclear energy would seem to be indispensable, and acceptance is correspondingly high.”

Who we are

Founded in 2012, the Association for Sustainable Journalism on the Internet is committed to high-quality, independent on-line journalism that stands the test of time. The association promotes and runs journalistic websites dedicated to topics that are hardly covered any more in conventional media. Its members include journalists, photographers, designers and web designers.

Pressbüro Seegrund, which was founded in 1989, is firmly established in the media landscape. Its focus is on feature reports, reportage and non-fiction books. It has launched a number of online magazines in recent years including www.alpenmagazin.org, www.mangel-und-moral.org, and the latest creation: www.mensch-und-atom.org.


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English translation:
Elana Summers


Russian translation:
Alexej Scherbakov


Local interpretors: Galina Kovalch (Belarus),
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Martin Arnold, freelance journalist, author and media entrepreneur for the past 30 years
Urs Fitze, freelance journalist, reportage on politics, the economy, science, travel and the environment" target="_blank">www.seegrund.ch,



Our Aim

Without provoking or causing a scandal, www.society-and-the-atom.org wants to shake things up a bit by encouraging society to reflect on a subject that affects all of us: nuclear power. It is a subject that polarises, turning opponents and supporters into ideologues. And it is a subject that divides the informed and the uninformed in a way that creates intentional and unintentional dependencies. Against the background of the current debates on the 'energy transition', we want to contribute a critical discussion for all those who want to more know about nuclear power. And we want to do our bit to overcome the deep ideological divide that separates supporters and opponents. When it comes to this subject, the truth very quickly becomes relative – or is made relative. You move around in an area where experts, opinion makers, ideologues, affected persons, victims, lobbyists, politicians and world saviours jostle against each other. Everyone should be able to have their say, to tell their truth. The truth of the radiation victims as well as that of the power plant operators, the supporters and the opponents. The second objective of the book is to explore the many facets of truth – and remain receptive to all those who want to make it comfortable for us.

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