Engineers can learn from selfless nuclear plant workers

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 March, 2011, 12:00am

Nuclear leakage at the Fukushima power plant in Japan has drawn attention worldwide.

The engineers at the plant are worthy of praise as they are risking their lives to contain this nuclear crisis, and working round the clock to contain the potential radiation hazard. These engineers are fully aware of the hazards they face.

According to the World Health Organisation, the average person is exposed to about 3 millisieverts [of radiation] a year. More than 1,000 millisieverts will result in immediate poisoning. However, these engineers are now exposed to a working environment that has about 400-500 millisieverts per hour.

As reported, some of them have already sacrificed their lives and other workers face permanent damage to their health.

They devoted themselves to building and managing nuclear power plants. As an engineer, I would like to express my greatest respect for them. I have always focused on the significance of engineering education. There are often moral, social and economic issues that come with technology, and engineers have to be keenly aware of these issues.

This is a prime example of the trade-off between cost, hazard and environmental safety.

It is believed that the executive officers in this case were worried about cost over safety and were unwilling to spray the complex with water, which had catastrophic consequences.

This is not an isolated case. In some developments a blind eye is turned to the importance of sustainable development and the welfare of a society, in the interests of cost-saving. Short-term economic gains can result in severe environmental damage and social costs.

Recently, I and the deans of engineering faculties from four other universities in Hong Kong wrote to the chief executive, pleading with the government to stimulate more technology development and help engineering education grow so that we can develop professional human capital and enhance Hong Kong's competitiveness in the long run.

This would help to diversify the SAR's economy and provide job opportunities for the younger generation that will otherwise not be there.

No advanced economy can thrive without a vibrant technology sector.

It is also important to have people in our society who have the necessary technological expertise and who can understand what is safe and environmentally friendly. They must also be aware of the importance of moral and social issues, such as corporate social responsibility.

The Fukushima engineers, who have put the needs of society above their own personal safety, have shown us the importance of maintaining high professional work ethics.

They have also shown us that professional engineering education is an important part of nation-building.

Professor Wengcho Chew, dean of engineering, University of Hong Kong