Development of an assured systems management model for environmental decision–making
Vivier, Jacobus Johannes Petrus
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The purpose of this study was to make a contribution towards decision–making in complex environmental problems, especially where data is limited and associated with a high degree of uncertainty. As a young scientist, I understood the value of science as a measuring and quantification tool and used to intuitively believe that science was exact and could provide undisputable answers. It was in 1997, during the Safety Assessments done at the Vaalputs National Radioactive Waste Repository that my belief system was challenged. This occurred after there were numerous scientific studies done on the site that was started since the early 1980’s, yet with no conclusion as to how safe the site is in terms of radioactive waste disposal. The Safety Assessment process was developed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to transform the scientific investigations and data into decision–making information for the purposes of radioactive waste management. It was also during the Vaalputs investigations when I learned the value of lateral thinking. There were numerous scientists with doctorate and master’s degrees that worked on the site of which I was one. One of the important requirements was to measure evaporation at the local weather station close to the repository. It was specifically important to measure evaporation as a controlling parameter in the unsaturated zone models. Evaporation was measured with an Apan that is filled with water so that the losses can be measured. Vaalputs is a very dry place and water is scarce. The local weather station site was fenced off, but there was a problem in that the aardvark dug below the fence and drank the water in the A–pan, so that no measurements were possible. The solution from the scientists was to put the fence deeper into the ground. The aardvark did not find it hard to dig even deeper. The next solution was to put a second fence around the weather station and again the aardvark dug below it to drink the water. It was then that Mr Robbie Schoeman, a technician became aware of the problem and put a drinking water container outside the weather station fence for the aardvark and – the problem was solved at a fraction of the cost of the previous complex solutions. I get in contact with the same thinking patterns that intuitively expect that the act of scientific investigations will provide decision–making information or even solve the problem. If the investigation provides more questions than answers, the quest is for more and more data on more detailed scales. There is a difference between problem characterization and solution viidentification. Problem characterization requires scientific and critical thinking, which is an important component but that has to be incorporated with the solution identification process of creative thinking towards decision–making. I am a scientist by heart, but it was necessary to realise that apart from research, practical science must feed into a higher process, such as decision–making to be able to make a practical difference. The process of compilation of this thesis meant a lot to me as I initially thought of doing a PhD and then it changed me, especially in the way I think. This was a life changing process, which is good. As Jesus said in Mathew 3:2 And saying, Repent (think differently; change your mind, regretting your sins and changing your conduct), for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.