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Public Opinion Research Can Guide Stakeholder Communication for Nuclear Power

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Coming from 29 Member States and one international organization, 47 experts convened in Vienna from 11 to 14 June 2019 for the Technical Meeting on Stakeholder Involvement and Communication for New and Expanding Nuclear Power Programmes. (Photo: E. Dyck/IAEA)

Opinion research and public surveys on nuclear power can help countries shape their strategies for involving and communicating with a wide range of stakeholders. Understanding stakeholders’ opinions, awareness and knowledge on nuclear power is a crucial component for decision making and indeed for the success of a nuclear power programme, participants at an IAEA technical meeting agreed last week.

Coming from 29 Member States and one international organization, 47 experts convened in Vienna from 11 to 14 June 2019 for the Technical Meeting on Stakeholder Involvement and Communication for New and Expanding Nuclear Power Programmes. They represented a mix of countries, including those with considerable experience in operating nuclear power plants (NPPs), as well as those constructing their first NPPs and countries considering or embarking on a nuclear power programme.

“The IAEA recognizes stakeholder involvement as one of the key areas for any successful and sustainable nuclear power programme,” said Mikhail Chudakov, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy. “It is the responsibility of all involved in developing and using nuclear power to ensure that stakeholders are sufficiently heard, consulted and informed.”

He added that continuous, open, transparent and fact-based communication and dialogue with the society at large, as well as among all key organizations in nuclear power contributes to safety, security and overall feasibility of nuclear power programmes.

Undertaking public opinion research

At the meeting presenters and participants underscored the benefits of conducting periodic research through surveys, focus groups and other mechanisms. Sandy Wilkes from Bisconti Research Inc., a US company with 40 years of experience in public surveys on nuclear topics, delivered a keynote address, provided tips for public opinion research to guide stakeholder communication and led an interactive workshop in which participants were tasked with drafting a hypothetical questionnaire about the public’s opinions on nuclear power.

“Public opinion research is vital to effective stakeholder communication,” said Ms Wilkes. “It is surprising how often there is a disconnect between the very knowledgeable, passionate nuclear scientist and the general public or other stakeholders whom we are trying to reach with our messages.” She added that research can be enlightening in terms of sharing information with key audiences and developing or constantly improving communication programmes.

“Public opinion polls are very important for us,” explained Dorota Chandavoine, from Poland’s PGE EJ 1, the investor company in the country’s new nuclear power plant project. “We’ve been carrying out polls regularly since 2011 on a national and local level. It is valuable for us to know what people think about their own knowledge of nuclear, because based on these polls, we evaluate and build our communication strategy. We also want to find out about the dynamics of opinion change over time.”

Jordan, which is developing a nuclear power programme, has been active in increasing public awareness and involving a variety of stakeholders, such as politicians, business people, journalists, academics, high school students and local communities.

“In 2016, a national survey was conducted on the status, knowledge and perception of the Jordanian society on our nuclear power programme,” said Ahmad Alsabbagh, Commissioner for Nuclear Fuel Cycle at the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission. “We have used the results to inform our communication strategy.”

Public surveys will also be the topic of the next IAEA webinar on stakeholder involvement, to be held on 3 September 2019. The IAEA recently launched this webinar series to strengthen the capacity of Member States to develop, implement, manage and adapt effective stakeholder involvement programmes for nuclear power.

Stakeholder Involvement in the Milestones Approach

“Stakeholder involvement is one of the 19 infrastructure issues covered in the IAEA’s Milestones Approach, a programme management guide that Member States use for the development of infrastructure for a nuclear power programme,” said Anthony Stott, from the IAEA Nuclear Infrastructure Development Section and co-scientific secretary of the meeting. “However, communicating with and involving stakeholders is also important for the other 18 infrastructure issues.”

Participants and IAEA experts discussed a selection of these issues, including national position, regulatory framework, site and supporting facilities and emergency planning in several sessions. Interactive group activities on each of these issues offered participants the opportunity to work in small groups and consider different scenarios related to engaging with stakeholders at different stages of a nuclear power programme.

Representatives from 17 Member States presented on stakeholder involvement and communication activities from their respective organizations. These contributions significantly supported the international exchange of information, including lessons learned, challenges and trends.

The Technical Meeting on Stakeholder Involvement and Communication for New and Expanding Nuclear Power Programmes was co-organized by the Nuclear Infrastructure Development Section and the Nuclear Power Engineering Section in the IAEA Department of Nuclear Energy.

Participants at the Technical Meeting on Stakeholder Involvement and Communication for New and Expanding Nuclear Power Programmes worked in small groups and considered different scenarios related to engaging with stakeholders at different stages of a nuclear power programme, 11 June 2019, Vienna. (Photo: L. Berthelot/IAEA)

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