Public acceptance is often one of the biggest obstacles to initiating or even expanding a nuclear power programme, and successfully designing and implementing stakeholder involvement programmes for such projects remains a challenge.
Underlining the importance of nurturing public acceptance, experts from over 40 countries met 4-7 November 2014 in Bristol, United Kingdom to develop effective techniques and messages to engage with decision makers and the public on nuclear power projects.
Hosted by EDF Energy, the four day IAEA workshop – Technical Meeting on Effective Techniques and Messages to Engage with Decision Makers and the Public – provided practical guidance regarding public communication techniques and enabled participants to practice creating and coordinating messages related to the planning and implementation of new nuclear power projects.
“There is an impact of any new programme – whether energy or infrastructure or specifically for the UK – and that is the impact to the people living in the area, traffic, transport during construction, excitement of young people for what opportunities it creates for jobs and wealth,” clarified Mike Harrison, Chief Nuclear Officer at EDF Energy. “We need to be open and transparent. We have to respect that not everybody is for nuclear power and we must answer the questions.”
From the UK experience, participants learnt what worked well, and what did not, at a national and local level. Innovative methods were also employed at the meeting to convey the importance of communication and stakeholder involvement. Introducing a board game specifically designed for the workshop, “The Nuclear Journey – Building trust to build a nuclear plant”, players went through the three phases of developing the infrastructure for new nuclear build and, at each turn, were faced with questions about or challenges to their stakeholder involvement plans.
Delegates from newcomer countries also had the opportunity to visit Hinkley Point C, the proposed site for building two new nuclear power reactors. The complexity of the project, which even at this early stage has a large variety of contractors and subcontractors in place, greatly impressed participants. Additionally, the common theme of supporting the needs of the local community from early on – for example by providing the dwellings closest to the site with double pane windows to mitigate the noise of construction, by planting a vast area with trees or by building a structure for a species of bats that is close to extinction – drove home the importance of strong commitment by the nuclear industry and local authorities to stakeholder involvement and their need to work together.
“It has been a steep learning curve for both of us [the local authorities and EDF energy]” illustrated David Hall, County Councillor of the Somerset County Council and the officer responsible for economic development, including new nuclear, in the county. “We developed a friendly but adversarial relationship. Now, we are on the cusp of a change. We need to move the adversarial relationship into a side by side, as it is important to demonstrate to the public that we are working together to deliver the maximum benefit to everyone.”
Successful stakeholder involvement programmes begin by listening to and addressing stakeholders’ concerns then entail engaging those stakeholders, providing timely information openly and building trust and credibility that will serve the programme throughout its entire duration. Often, there is a need to communicate first about energy policies and second to strengthen public understanding of nuclear power, especially its benefits and risks.
One way to do this is by communicating about the basics of electricity generation, national energy policy and objectives for economic growth in the Member State. Nuclear power becomes an underlying topic in these discussions and allows for the various organizations involved in the nuclear power programme to build their communication tools, messages and reputations in the scope of the bigger picture of their country’s national goals.
The IAEA has organized annual meetings on stakeholder involvement since 2012 and has seen increasing interest from nuclear newcomers as well as operating and expanding countries in the topic. The next meetings are planned in 2015 in Finland and Japan.