SMiRT 4 ConferenceSMiRT 4 Flag
San Francisco, USA

Information and Society



As you know better than I, the construction of pressure vessels and other major parts of a nuclear reactor raises some very special problems. Their solution requires an input of information from a diversity of disciplines. At one end of the scale, you need to understand the behaviour of the microscopic structures which make up the materials you are using. At the other end of the scale, these materials are being put together into enormous structures that have to fulfill some very stringent design conditions. To cope with the broad sweep of your discipline you need all the cooperative effort and support that you can muster. And it is in the public interest, as well as in the respective private ones, that you succeed and that the whole immense range of your problems be fully mastered: only so can we assure the quality and reliability of a nuclear power plant. And we do not have to look far to see that it may not be oil prices or coal prices, but public anxiety about safety that may turn out to be the primary determinant of the future of the nuclear industry and in some considerable degree of our energy predicament as a whole.

Safety and design are intimately interwoven: it is for this reason that we in the Commission of the European Communities considered it appropriate, in cooperation with the Nuclear Energy Agency of the OECD, to promote cooperation between engineers and the safety assessors of the various countries involved. The group of experts set up jointly by the two organisations is looking at mechanical and material questions relating to the safety aspects of the steel components in nuclear power plants. We hope their efforts will stimulate international cooperation in applied research and an international approach to questions of reactor safety.

The handling of scientific and technical information, which happens to be my own primary concern at present, is a field teeming with new developments which are being opened up mainly by improvements in computer hardware and software. All that is very exciting and we must find solutions – data banks, especially banks of properly evaluated data, effective methods of storage, of rapid communication and effective retrieval, and the rest, to help designers, engineers and let us be clear, those who must take decisions and the public itself – that enable all concerned to find their way.

But, as I already emphasized in the previous SMIRT conference, we have not yet – perhaps it is as well- found ways to replace human contact, human dialogue and the formation of effective working clubs. So a conference like SMIRT 4 remains an admirable method of ensuring an effective exchange of information. The papers, the abstracts – provided they are ready ahead of time – are of value not only to those who come and enjoy the company and the discussions but also to those who cannot. This is why we shall be trying to make sure that the transactions of your present proceedings are distributed as quickly as possible.

Having said that, perhaps it is of interest to explain to you a little of the philosophy behind the action of the European Community in the field of scientific and technical information.

A genuine common market in a modern technological society probably cannot exist unless the scientific and technical information within its borders is made available in a fair and easily accessible way. As a community whose primary resource is not a geological one such as oil but the developed brains of its citizens, it is essential that we face this challenge. The European Community, just like its component States, needs a coherent policy for scientific and technical information; if we are to be a real modern technical community, we need to ensure the widest, fastest and cheapest internal access of its 260 million population to all scientific and technical information falling within the public domain.

A whole set of new techniques has arisen during the past few years that make large-scale information systems possible, and in collaboration with the Member States we have devised what we call an action programme to make use of these new tools, the computer, magnetic tape, the modern telecommunications network and so on.

Whenever a new technology is being introduced there is always a danger of being seduced by the magic of it all, by the black boxes that do fantastic tricks in a thousandth of the time that an ordinary mortal would take. It is all very well for the information scientists to have fun putting these magnificent systems together, but we have to ask whether we are giving the user what he really needs. I believe that we ought to aim to a much greater extent in the future at tailor-made systems, at systems which, to use the jargon of the documentalist are much more user-friendly.

At the same time we ought to move more into the storage and automatic retrieval of directly usable scientific information. I mention this because the customer at the receiving end of all this scientific and technological information is not necessarily another scientist or technologist. Nowadays he might equally well be a politician, a public servant or an industrial manager. We always used to complain that these people never take sufficient account of the scientific and technical aspects of their problems; that they ignored the contribution that science can make. Now that people are becoming increasingly aware of how science can help them, we are obliged to make sure that the scientific and technical information they need is available in an easily accessible form; and by “accessible” I also mean easily understandable. Here is an objective which, in the public interest, you must accept as yours as well as ours.

This brings us back to our present conference on Structural Mechanics in Reactor Technology: your primary aim must surely be to see that today’s and tomorrow’s societies, which must make vastly increased use of nuclear power, should be doing so knowing that their safety is not endangered. In this sense, it is a highly significant public duty in which you are engaged. Having convinced yourselves of the safety and reliability of a nuclear power plant, you then have the job of convincing the public. Remembering that the word “nuclear” is an anagram of “unclear”, you will certainly wish to make sure that this conference with its proceedings is brought to the attention of the ordinary man so that he can see that science and technology is being handled in a responsible way.

Director-General for Scientific and Technical Information and Information Management
Commission of the European Communities