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IAEA Meeting Highlights Public Trust Crucial in Nuclear Power

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Maria Zeneida Angara Collinson, Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the United Nations, talks about the Philippine's role in ensuring public communication and transparency. (Image: IAEA)

Involving a wide range of interested parties in the decision-making on nuclear power programmes is crucial for success and can enhance public awareness, understanding and confidence, participants at an IAEA meeting agreed.

The IAEA Technical Meeting on Stakeholder Involvement and Public Information, held last week in Vienna, focused on the unique challenges nuclear energy faces with regards to public understanding and acceptance. More than 60 participants from 19 newcomer countries to nuclear power and 16 operating countries attended the four-day event.

Mikhail Chudakov, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy, was encouraged by both the broad range of Member States and high turnout.

“I believe it underscores a key message of the IAEA that there is a growing need for stakeholder involvement and communication throughout the lifecycle of nuclear power programmes,” he said. “Transparent and fact-based communication with the society at large, not only contributes to the introduction and acceptance of nuclear power programmes, but also enhances safety and security.”

Stakeholder involvement is one of the 19 infrastructure “issues” identified in the IAEA’s guidance documents for newcomers to both nuclear power generation (Milestones in the Development of a National Infrastructure for Nuclear Power) and to research reactor operation (Specific Considerations and Milestones for a Research Reactor Project).

Indeed, nuclear power programmes are not developed nor implemented in isolation from the rest of the society. All vested institutions, including governmental authorities, regulatory bodies, operators, and professional and scientific bodies, have the responsibility to inform the public about the relevant decisions made by authorities, and the rationale behind them. One can attribute public backlash and negative sentiment to cases where both communication and public involvement where overlooked by involved authorities.  

Maria Zeneida Angara Collinson, Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the United Nations and other international organizations in Vienna, cited the key role of governments in gaining public trust. “All decisions, from the initial stages through siting, safety and environmental issues, require public input, not just education,” she said. The trust of the public in the institutions tasked with establishing a nuclear power programme has to be earned.”

The IAEA publication, Stakeholder Involvement Throughout the Life Cycle of Nuclear Facilities, notes that, “public participation in decisions can promote a greater degree of understanding of the issues and can help to develop appreciation of the actual risks and benefits of nuclear energy as compared to the risks and benefits of other energy sources”.

Transparent and fact-based communication with the society at large not only contributes to the introduction and acceptance of nuclear power programmes, but also enhances safety and security.
Mikhail Chudakov, IAEA Deputy Director General

Over 60 participants from 19 newcomer countries to nuclear power and 16 operating countries attended the IAEA Technical Meeting on Stakeholder Involvement and Public Information, held on 13-16 June 2017 in Vienna. (Photo: A.Evrensel/IAEA)

Brenda Pagannone, chairperson of the technical meeting, underlined that only through this sort of dialogue, can a country build and establish trust for a nuclear power programme, and the institutions and people who will run it. “This can be done if we can answer key questions, like the ones our participants discussed this week during a simulated town hall meeting – on safety, practical impacts on the local community, jobs, the environment, waste, and comparisons with renewable sources of energy.”

While decision making mechanisms may vary considerably by country, the IAEA has recommended that all countries create instruments that enhance stakeholder involvement. In this regard, the IAEA supports its Member States in building their capacities to develop and implement strategies for effective, open and transparent communication and consultation. In addition to such technical meetings, the Agency regularly organizes events to facilitate the exchange of knowledge, experiences and best practices on how to communicate with interested parties in IAEA Member States.

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