Parties involved in the nuclear energy sector share the common goal of ensuring that the decision-making . Involving public stakeholders in the decision making process is essential to achieving such decisions for nearly all aspects of nuclear energy, including new nuclear construction, nuclear safety measures, radioactive waste management solutions and legacy management.
The importance of stakeholder involvement was one of the key messages highlighted by the NEA at the Virtual Nuclear Power Plants Expo & Summit (NPPES), hosted by the Nuclear Industry Association of Turkey (NIATR) on 1-2 June 2021.
“Projects where stakeholders are not involved eventually run into problems. Building trust, building openness, building transparency is a path to successful long-term programme. And I encourage that to all of our members everywhere,” noted NEA Director-General William D. Magwood, IV during his keynote remarks at the summit. “As you go forward with the nuclear programme in Turkey, building trust across all stakeholders will be a very important aspect of the work to have a long-term, sustainable future for nuclear in Turkey.”
The NEA organised a session on stakeholder engagement at the summit. Moderated by Greg Lamarre, Head of the NEA Division of Radiological Protection and Human Aspects of Nuclear Safety, this session explored the basic principles of stakeholder involvement for nuclear power projects. The speakers also addressed the best practices for public communication efforts.
The discussants agreed on the necessity of communicating with public stakeholders and listening to their needs, concerns and fears. "The relation with our stakeholders is key to our success. Because if we communicate, we win trust, empathy, interest, understanding, transparency acknowledgement, and much more,” said Laura Escribano, Director of the Communication Department at the Spanish Nuclear Industry Forum Foro Nuclear. “For this, we need a clear strategy for our stakeholders, taking into account all different groups, key messages and channels, taking into account that each stakeholder is different and will need a different approach.”
Different groups of stakeholders can be identified and categorised via the practice of stakeholder mapping. Once the stakeholder groups are identified, various means of communicating with them include briefings, meetings, newsletters, social media and traditional media channels. Visitor centres and town hall meetings are key to developing effective strategies for engaging with local stakeholder communities. As underlined by Robert Holy, Head of Nuclear Communication at Slovenské elektrárne and its Energoland, “A visitor centre should be the first facility to be built at the site of a future nuclear power plants, and it should be the last to be closed after the plant is completely decommissioned to green grass.”
In this context, the panel also discussed the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic to in-person briefings at visitor centres and town hall meetings. Throughout the pandemic, many nuclear organisations have had to seek digital means to deliver public consultations. According to John McNamara, Head of Stakeholder Relations at the United Kingdom Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), digital platforms initially imposed difficulties for engaging with certain stakeholder groups. But over time, they provided the ability to increase the frequency of public consultation events, as well as the number of participants and the levels of engagement.
“All of the stakeholder groups found it much more accessible, including the NGOs,” said McNamara. “Some of our key stakeholder groupings really benefited from it; they felt that they knew more about the strategy than previous strategies, because they were talking to us more often.”
The panel also addressed the regulatory viewpoints on successfully engaging stakeholders in every stage of a nuclear power project. "To become a trusted regulator, you need to invest in regular and transparent relations with all your stakeholders," said Lut Vande Velde, Head of Communication & Information at the Belgian Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC). Highlighting the importance of independency for nuclear regulators, Vande Velde added: “it’s a balancing act between guarding independence, and opening up.”
“The NEA has been deeply involved in stakeholder engagement and trust building for many years, and has organised a number of international workshops to explore the concepts of stakeholder engagement in effective decision-making,” noted Greg Lamarre. The NEA supports its membership and member country nuclear regulators in their efforts to build effective stakeholder engagement strategies through its committees and working groups such as the Committee on Decommissioning of Nuclear Installations and Legacy Management (CDLM), the Forum on Stakeholder Confidence (FSC), and the Working Group in Public Communication of Nuclear Regulatory Organisations (WGPC). The Agency also hosted a number of workshops on this issue, including the 2017 Workshop on Stakeholder Involvement in Nuclear Decision Making and the 2019 Workshop on Stakeholder Involvement: Risk Communication.