Message from the Vice Director of the Institute of Advanced Science

A brief history of safety and risk studies at Yokohama National University

Professor Atsumi Miyake
Professor Atsumi Miyake

Yokohama National University (YNU) established the Department of Safety Engineering in 1967, the first of its kind in Japan, and the Institute of Environmental Science Technology in 1973, also a nationwide first. They began to conduct research and to train people in the disciplines of safety and environmental conservation. Since then, these YNU organizations have been published many scientific findings and trained many people in these respective fields.

In the following, I would like to summarize the history of risk assessment, risk management, and our training of people in these areas. A study titled the “Establishment of a scientific framework for the management of toxicity of chemicals based on environmental risk-benefit analysis," which was part of the Japan Science and Technology Agency’s Strategic Basic Research Program (Principle investigator: Junko NAKANISHI, FY1996—FY2001), was conducted. It looked concurrently into the benefits of chemicals and their impact on the environment, and sought to derive principles for the management of chemicals. The study quantified the risk of chemicals to humans in terms of the loss of life expectancy owing to exposure to chemical substances. These research findings provided a scientific basis for environmental policy.

Following this, a project called “Bio-Eco Environmental Risk Management” (Principle investigator: Kouhei URANO, FY2002—F2006) at YNU was selected as part of the 21st Century Center of Excellence Program. The project constructed diverse ecosystem databases as well as databases for chemicals and their eco-toxicity. The project also systematized ecological risks across a range fields and outlined principles and methodologies for ecological risk management.

In recognition of their accomplishments in the areas of approaches to and methodologies for assessing and managing ecological risk, their record of research results, and their activities in the area of developing human resources, two YNU projects were chosen: "Global Eco-Risk Management from Asian Viewpoints" (Principle investigator: Hiroyuki MATSUDA, FY2007—F2011) as part of the Global COE Program and "Leadership Program in Sustainable Living with Environmental Risk" (General Project Manager: Kunio SUZUKI, FY2009-2013) as part of the Strategic Funds for the Promotion of Science and Technology. The former project puts forth the concept of “risk-symbiosis,” whereby nature is inherently dangerous and may produce certain undesirable outcomes, but ultimately argues that in order to make use of the functions of the ecosystem, it is necessary to strike a sustainable balance between human activity and the ecosystem around it. The research builds an understanding of the potential of risk tradeoffs and establishes ecosystem assessment and management techniques. The latter project was an international education program designed to academically advance risk-symbiosis research and education and to train international environmental leaders to be highly capable of implementing and practicing these principles in regions in Asia and Africa in order to stem the tide of ecological risks and environmental damage or to rehabilitate environments.

In conjunction with the above COE programs, a project titled the “Advanced Risk Management Engineering Training Unit” (Principle investigator: Kazuyoshi SEKINE, FY2004—FY2008), which was an initiative to train human resources in a new field and funded by the now-defunct system of Special Coordination Funds for Promoting Science and Technology. With “safety” as one of the keywords of the project, this project aimed to equip people who already have engineering knowledge with perspectives from the humanities and social sciences so that they can observe and make decisions on issues of “people ― society ― material things ― environment” with an added human aspect. With the adoption of this project, YNU established the Center for Risk Management and Safety Sciences, which began operating with a focus on research and human resource development in the field of “safety science,” a discipline that integrated the humanities and social sciences with the natural sciences. In FY2015, with the merger of the Cooperative Research and Development Center, this center was re-launched as the Center for Creation of Symbiosis Society with Risk. Its renewed purpose is to work in close coordination with the IAS to flesh out ideas about risk-symbiosis and to implement in society the ideas and techniques of risk management and risk-symbiosis. In October of 2014, the IAS was founded and has since been advancing research to develop modes of rational risk management, or more specifically research into the technologies, systems development, and assessment techniques that may contribute to making society safe, vibrant, and sustainable in the 21st century.

Professor and Vice Director of Institute of Advanced Sciences