Science Communication at the Future Energy World Expo 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan:the case of nuclear S&T

If the main complain that one has about the expo is that there is very little new generation energy technology being featured (although there are some that are featured), one of the abiding themes there, at least for the pavilions who take their work seriously, as oppose to merely using that as an excuse to do low-value trade – which one would find aplenty, driven perhaps, by a combination of economic need, government indifference to the point of participating in a world expo, and who is given charge of the respective national pavilions, was that there is a serious attempt to communicate science and technology, if not merely of energy, but also of the multidisciplinary sustainability sciences. The role of exhibitions such as the world expo, especially specialized ones, in science and technology communication, and even S&T diplomacy, are evidently played out in the Astana 2017 World Expo, Over here, I would like to point to some examples of science communication that took place about nuclear science and technology, which one could see in the video I had concocted from a mixture of photographs and a video, taken by myself and my colleague while we were at the Expo.

Local Kazakh docents were trained to adhere to very specific script when it comes to explaining to the public, some of the more intricate aspects of nuclear technology – keeping the explanation simple but providing enough information so that there is a sense that one is being guided through the intent and design of the exhibits. Of course, I don’t always completely understand what they say.  Some docents appear to be repeating lines without too much understanding themselves, with some exceptions  (although one might say that language could be an issue, since English is a third or fourth language for most of them).  Some information seemed to be spouted merely as facts disembodied from context (although they make for interesting trivia, if you remember them). But even so, there are quiz machines that will aid you in trying to remember all these random facts – the novelty of the presentation probably outshines the actual content, but that is useful to providing another angle to remembering.  Of course, not all the interactive physical models that were present could work , as some had broken down, probably due to the constant interaction with the thousands of daily visitors. However, the Kazatomprom and other sponsoring nuclear power plant corporations took pains to design the nuclear public info exhibition as best as they could, in an as neutral manner as they can (drawing on facts and figures), given how quickly they could be accused of self-interest.

Visuals were abundant, as were to use of analogies and comparisons, physical models (including scaled-down prototypes of an actual working generator for instance), maps, theatricals and simulations. One might say that when it comes to dealing with nuclear S&T and radiation phobia, perhaps the most convincing form of communication would be to show tiers of comparisons using not numerical values, but also examples of mundane events with values that the public could use as points of comparisons. One might say that knowledge could drive away fears, but a poor understanding of that knowledge, or knowledge without sufficient context, might increase rather than alleviate fears.

While the nuclear agencies and nuclear power corporations endeavour to demonstrate the utility and value of nuclear energy and technology, it is disappointing that organizations such as the IAEA did not attempt to take advantage of the Expo to provide better and well-designed public scientific communication on nuclear issues – in fact, all they had was a tiny booth that does not say much beyond a brief representation of the organization. Of course, not all countries known for their nuclear programme choose to show those, since some would like to do a different kind of S&T and energy technology diplomacy (so one does not see overt or visible references to  nuclear power/technology from countries such as Japan, South Korea, Iran, India, and Pakistan – already known for their nuclear programmes) – of course, one also does not present what is either politically contentious or controversial, especially if your country is part of that controversy. Among the Southeast Asian countries that participated were Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. None of them showed anything about the nuclear either, not even how the technological aspect could be deployed to various sectors.




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