Decision-making processes across nuclear and radiation-related policy, regulation and practice can and should be better optimised. There is, however, still no common understanding in the nuclear sector of what an “optimised” decision implies. The NEA will therefore focus its third Stakeholder Involvement Workshop, to be held in September 2023, on “Optimisation in Decision Making”. The workshop is preceded by three webinars that explore a common understanding of optimisation as an approach to decision-making processes across fields in nuclear energy and NEA member countries.
The first of the three preparatory webinars was held on 14 December 2022 to open the discussion on stakeholder involvement in optimised decision-making. Moderated by Haidy Tadros, Director General of the Directorate of Environmental and Radiation Protection and Assessment at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and Chair of the workshop programme committee, this event brought together around 70 participants from regulatory and policy making institutions, international and non-governmental organisations, industry and academic and research institutes.
In his opening address, NEA Director-General William D. Magwood, IV, emphasised that while optimisation has always been fundamental to decision making, experiences in various fields increasingly show that stakeholder involvement is the essential element of any decision-making process. As societies face multiple complex and pressing global challenges, more holistic, inclusive and sustainable decision-making processes are needed.
Commissioner of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission David A. Wright highlighted in his keynote speech the importance of engaging with and involving all relevant stakeholders, including the public, in order to make well-informed decisions. Commissioner Wright also emphasised the crucial role of openness and transparency in decision-making, and of context and background when considering stakeholders’ positions.
Alexander Atarodi, Team Lead Foresight in the Development Co-operation Directorate of the OECD, explained how strategic foresight helps to develop responsible governance for countries and organisations by preparing them to deal with challenges, and discussed the implications of current global challenges for decision makers.
Véronique Leroyer, in charge of “Openness to Society” at the French Institute of Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), shared the lessons learnt from IRSN’s dialogue with civil society regarding the periodic safety review of 900 MWe reactors in France. Initiated 10 years ago, this dialogue benefited both sides as stakeholders gained technical knowledge and officials had a chance to take into account diverse viewpoints, expectations and constraints, which eventually built mutual trust.
Finding the right balance in decision making
The second of the three preparatory webinars was held on 18 January 2023 and focused on the assessment and weighting of competing aspects in the decision-making process and the role that different stakeholders should play in this process. The second webinar gathered around 80 participants from different stakeholder categories and countries.
Nobuhiko Ban, Commissioner at the Japanese Nuclear Regulatory Authority, provided valuable insight into the importance of stakeholder involvement after the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident. He highlighted the need for holistic approaches to decision making by involving stakeholders in multiple ways and stressed how there are limits to quantifying some aspects of the process, especially those influenced by the socio-cultural context. He promoted an inclusive and consent-based decision-making process in which stakeholders are transparently involved and noted the need for more practical guidance in this respect.
Christian Gollier, founder of the Toulouse School of Economics in France, where he is Professor, introduced the basic processes and assumptions of cost-benefit and deep uncertainty analysis from an economic perspective. He highlighted the potential of channeling the discussion with stakeholders in a constructive manner around specific weighting assumptions, the adaptation of which can lead to an evidence-based, transparent and accountable decision. He further outlined the complexity of taking decisions in uncertain circumstances.
Tristan Barr, Head of the Planning, Outreach, Exercises and Training Section at Health Canada, introduced the efforts his organisation made to develop a tool to select protective actions in a nuclear emergency, based on balancing radiological and non-radiological (more specifically psychosocial) impacts in decision-making protocols. He outlined the difficulties faced in the development of such a tool, including cultural differences between countries, data transferability, the complexity of psychosocial impacts from emergencies, and the quantification of these aspects. Health Canada now has a proof of concept tool that will be refined and could act as an efficient tool to communicate risks and decision-making outcomes to stakeholders.
The third and final preparatory webinar was held on 8 February 2023 and focused on the implementation of decisions and the assessment of the process after the decision is implemented. The third webinar gathered around 70 participants.
Christine Noiville, President of the French High Committee for Transparency and Information on Nuclear Safety (HCTISN), delivered the keynote remarks and highlighted the importance of the webinar’s topic as nuclear energy is seeing a resurgence in many countries. She noted that transparency and the openness of debates are key conditions for legitimacy. To be meaningful, the debate with the public should take place as early as possible, such as during the phase of consideration and justification of projects, and certainly before any decision or political declaration is made.
Emma Cantera, Policy Analyst at the Public Communication and Space Unit of the OECD Public Governance Directorate, introduced the recently published OECD Guidelines for Citizen Participation Processes. She discussed the difference between information, consultation and engagement, and outlined why citizens should be involved in decision-making processes. She then presented the ten steps to plan and implement a citizen participation process that are recommended in the guidelines.
Emma Barnes, Assistant Director (acting) for Health Physics Measurements at the Radiation Health Services Branch of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, shared insights from the remediation experience at the Maralinga test site in Australia. She discussed including local communities and traditional landowners into decision making and highlighted how stakeholder involvement helped counter misinformation, establish communication and foster mutual trust.
The webinar was followed by breakout discussions. The conclusions from all three preparatory webinars will be published ahead of the third Stakeholder Involvement Workshop on 5-7 September 2023 at the OECD Headquarters in Paris.