Risk communication is an essential component and delicate practice for the nuclear sector, requiring a considered and thorough strategy and approach.
The Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) has long been dedicated to addressing the complexities of risk communication in the context of nuclear activities. These activities encompass a variety of potential radiation exposure risks, with radiological concerns and the tools to address them sharing common ground in different scenarios.
To address this topic and aide its member countries in developing the skillset required for effective risk communication, the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) held its second Risk Communication Training Course on 13-16 November in Abu Dhabi. The four-day training course was hosted by the United Arab Emirates’ Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR).
The course gathered approximately 45 participants from over 20 different countries and included communication specialists and professionals from technical support organisations and radioactive waste management agencies. The goal of all participants was to both learn the fundamentals, and improve the effectiveness of risk communication, in order to enhance public understanding.
NEA Director-General William D. Magwood, IV and FANR Director-General Christer Viktorsson were present to deliver opening remarks on day one of the workshop.
“The idea for this course arose from discussions which were held in the NEA Stakeholder Engagement Workshop, attended by nuclear executives from around the world, who identified very early in the conversation that there was a need to enhance the ability of both technical staff to communicate openly to the public and for communications staff to communicate accurately technical concepts. We thought that one way to approach that would be to create a course that involved both sides, together to have discussions about how to communicate to the public,” said Director-General Magwood.
“We recognise that this is a complicated subject that requires a great deal of thought and are confident that this training course will significantly contribute to a better understanding of the complexities of risk communication,” the NEA Director-General added.
NEA Director-General Magwood addressing the participants during the second Risk Communication Training Course in Abu Dhabi.
The course, featuring diverse lecturers and participants, addressed the current communication challenges, such as building trust, the importance of plain language as well as stakeholder engagement and internal communication within the organisation.
Representing the host organisation, Salah Al Hashimi, Director of Government Communication at FANR, shared knowledge and learnings on risk communication best practice, drawing on FANR’s recent experience in relation to the installation and operation of the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant, the United Arab Emirates’ first nuclear power plant which began operating in 2020. Mr Al Hashimi delivered presentations on topics including designing and implementing a risk communications strategy and evaluating its effectiveness, plus useful techniques, tools and channels for nuclear and radiological risk communications.
FANR Director-General Christer Viktorsson delivering opening remarks and welcoming the participants to Abu Dhabi.
The workshop was chaired by Adriana Scialdone García, Communication Advisor for the Spanish Nuclear Safety Council, who helped to highlight to the group of nuclear professionals the important role that the media play in risk communication. With her background in journalism, Ms Scialdone García delved into topics including news consumption and what journalists need from risk communicators in the nuclear sector.
A range of highly experienced communications professionals and nuclear researchers delivered the course, delving into a range of essential concepts for effective risk communication, including the importance of building trust and how to deal with uncertainty. The course also covered more recent considerations in risk communication, such as how to counter fake news and the role of artificial intelligence in the media landscape.
Knowledge sharing is key for communicators to improve strategy efficiency. The group welcomed the presentation by Noboru Takamura, Professor in the Department of Global Health, Medicine and Welfare at the Institute of Nagasaki University, who discussed risk perception and stakeholder engagement in the context of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident. This valuable group discussion highlighted some of the errors and learnings from this accident which is an ongoing risk communication challenge for both the Japanese, as well as the international, nuclear community.
Director of Government Communication at FANR, Salah Al Hashimi, presenting on the UAE's case of risk communications with reference to the recent Barakah Nuclear Power Plant operations.
To summarise their learnings and put these concepts into action, the participants were tasked with creating a risk communication strategy for a variety of different scenarios, with guidance from one of the experiences lecturers. NEA Director-General Magwood, along with the other presenters, listened to each group project and provided feedback during a group discussion on the key takeaway from the course.
The course's success has underscored the need for an ongoing workshop, focusing on the vital role of effective risk communication in the evolving landscape of decision making and the NEA will continue to work with its member countries, and other interested partners, to help contribute to a better understanding of the complexities of risk communication.