The Nuclear Industry Association today welcomed the conclusions of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report on risk communication, “Devil’s Bargain? Energy Risks and the Public”.
The NIA supports the recommendation for the independent nuclear watchdog, the Office of Nuclear Regulation, to play a greater role in communicating risk to the public.
Chief Executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, Keith Parker welcomed the report, describing the role of independent regulators as “absolutely fundamental” to the safety of the existing and future civil nuclear programme in the UK. He said:
“The role of independent regulators is of paramount importance in communicating risk and acting as a trusted source of information to the general public – as Chief Nuclear Inspector Dr. Mike Weightman has demonstrated so successfully in his report last year on Fukushima.”
The ONR stated ‘Nuclear generation is, by some margin, the safest form of energy generation in terms of immediate deaths from major accidents, both within the OECD and worldwide.’
Keith Parker added;
“Although evidence shows that nuclear generation is the safest form of energy generation, perception of risk is not always in step with objective risks. This makes it vitally important that the public and media can access reliable, credible and independent information, upon which public policy decisions are based.”
The report emphasises the importance of basing policy decisions on evidence from ‘independent, impartial, scientific sources.’ However Government is not seen as a sufficiently impartial source in communicating risks associated with energy generation, thus emphasising the important role that the independent regulator must play.
The Committee also recommends that the Government should play a key role in influencing the review of the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) which is being led by the IAEA.
Keith Parker added:
“The UK has a huge asset in its world renowned independent regulator and it is essential that their voice is heard in these important discussions.”
The Committee of MPs also conclude that:
Regulatory bodies such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Environment Agency and the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) are in a unique position to engender public trust and influence risk perception.
The International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) is not an adequate communication tool for conveying risks
Community benefits are an important current and continuing way of building trust between energy companies, local government and the public around new nuclear proposals.
On public opinion towards nuclear energy, the committee have quoted independently conducted NIA polling on nuclear, "in 2010 nuclear energy had its highest support in over a decade”. One of the reasons for this support comes from the socio-economic benefits of nuclear projects to local communities, Mr. Parker continued:
“New nuclear power stations will bring significant benefits to their local communities with the programme expected to create 32,000 jobs by 2025. Discussions between these communities, energy companies, local government and other agencies undoubtedly improves trust and an understanding of all of the issues involved.
“However as this report recognises, not everyone is interested in understanding energy risks. In the nuclear industry we often see a difference between those who live in close proximity to nuclear sites and the wider public, both in terms of desire for knowledge and a familiarity with the agencies involved such as the ONR and the HSE. It is essential that the wider public knows who to look to as a trusted source of reliable, up to date information.
Public support for new nuclear has grown consistently, and it is essential that we contribute to this debate, and engage with the public on the benefits of nuclear power to ensure we have a balanced low carbon energy mix.”
 Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami: Implications for the UK Nuclear Industry: Technical Note - A Comparison of Risk Levels for Different Sources of Energy http://www.hse.gov.uk/nuclear/fukushima/ws2-interim-report.pdf
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