Nuclear industry needs to improve communication

14 April 2016

Safety and security are the "overriding and enduring priorities" of the nuclear power industry and plant operators "need to anticipate new safety concerns", such as terrorism and cyber security, EDF Energy CEO Vincent de Rivaz said at a conference in London today.

In his opening address to the Nuclear Safety Symposium, which the utility hosted together with the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), de Rivaz said the "digital revolution has changed the way that people talk to each other, which impacts openness and transparency".

"Cooperation across our industry, companies and borders continues to be paramount in addressing and anticipating risks and opportunities," he said.

"Social media channels, like Facebook and Twitter, can be an opportunity for us to listen and engage on energy issues and EDF Energy has created digital tools based on the same principle as its physical visitor centres. These tools have been viewed over 1.3 million times," he said. "As an industry we must harness the power of social media to broaden understanding of what we do, but we must also pay attention to the risks and we must be equipped to respond to unfounded [statements] on social media. We must be equipped to address the challenge of inaccurate information that can go viral in a matter of minutes if not seconds. This is a vital part of gaining and maintaining public trust."

Communication is key

Agneta Rising, director general of the World Nuclear Association, told the more than 300 delegates at the conference that the industry has failed to talk enough about one of the key lessons to be drawn from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident in Japan, in March 2011. That lesson is communication, she said.

"If an accident occurs, there will be many voices seeking to be heard and media channels will want to use the information sources they know and trust. And trust has to be gained before an event," Rising said.

The World Nuclear Association supports the viability of nuclear energy, gaining trust in nuclear technology, its management and oversight, she said, and the organisation does this through the provision of "constantly high-level information as well as media outreach".

"We do this for the day-to-day operations of nuclear facilities as well as for nuclear events or accidents with informed commentary on the implications for public safety and the future of the industry."

The Association has the world's most read website on nuclear energy, with 11 million page views per year, she noted. It has 182 reference papers "covering every aspect of nuclear energy that are used around the world". In addition, World Nuclear News has "up-to-the-minute expert reporting" that is published on the internet and sent to subscribers by email and also through social media.

During an accident, such as at Fukushima, the affected operator will be faced with the "double burden", she said, of dealing with the safety issue at hand and communicating with the regulator, with the national bodies, with the local and national media and with the stakeholders. And if the accident is serious, the operator will face an "international media onslaught".

"Our role is to support and to amplify the communications of an effective nuclear operator, of national and international nuclear bodies, as well as of governmental and intergovernmental bodies. We have taken on this role because we see that WANO and the IAEA are restricted in their communication," Rising said.

"Of course, the World Nuclear Association has to have factual information and this has to be checked with the source, but we don't need governmental approval, so we can act faster." WANO has "little or no remit" to communicate with the public directly and the IAEA can "do little more than wait and do what the governments are saying". A lack of communication "risks a vacuum that will quickly be filled by rumours".

Fukushima was the first nuclear accident to occur in the world with 24/7 news channels, widespread access to the internet and social media, she said.

"There were many lessons to be learned after Fukushima – technical, institutional, organisational, human, and communication. And in the past five years I have heard people talking a lot about these lessons, except communication. This has been much less discussed and no one has said, 'We have to step up and have more resources in this area'.

"But the World Nuclear Association decided last year that its Secretariat would implement a crisis communication function and we have made a plan for this, it will be done during this year, and we have shared this plan with WANO as well."

Following the Fukushima accident, there were "pages and pages of numbers coming out with no interpretation of their relevance", she said. "There is a tendency to think that publishing more and more data demonstrates transparency, but it doesn't."

The World Nuclear Association has 178 member organisations from 37 countries.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News