Nuclear energy and civil society

Since 1999, the OECD has been conducting a broad-ranging programme on governance issues ultimately aimed at strengthening pluralistic democracy, promoting economic prosperity and social cohesion, and maintaining confidence in public administration. This programme stems from the view expressed at the 1999 OECD Council Meeting at Ministerial Level that: "The political, economic and social challenges of the next century require informed and actively participating citizens. Ministers recognise their heightened responsibility to ensure transparency and clarity in policy making, and look to the Organisation to assist governments in the important task of improving communication and consultation with civil society." Faced with the complexity of the relationship between government and citizens, and a perceived loss of direct influence over national and local policy decisions, many citizens are looking for ways to make wider use of participatory democracy. For their part, governments increasingly realise that they will not be able to conduct and effectively implement policies if their citizens do not understand and support them. Governments are thus looking to new or improved models and approaches for better informing and involving citizens in the policy-making process.

Nuclear energy is among those industrial activities that are particularly challenged to show transparency and accountability in decision making. Care must be taken to address citizens’ concerns over its potential implications, notably for public health and safety, including in respect of future generations. The NEA began studying specific aspects of the issue of nuclear energy and civil society two decades ago, and in recent years several of the Agency's standing technical committees have launched activities that aim to analyse national and local experience and to communicate lessons learnt. NEA activities currently under way are briefly described below.

Society and nuclear energy: towards a better understanding

As the social dimension is playing an increasingly important role in the nuclear energy policies of member countries, the NEA Nuclear Development Committee (NDC) initiated a study on society and nuclear energy, examining in particular public perception of the related risks and benefits. The first phase of the study, an in-depth review of authoritative literature and expert opinions on the topic, was completed in 2001. It covered nuclear-specific issues, the decision-making process and communication issues. The study was published in 2002 under the title Society and Nuclear Energy: Towards a Better Understanding.

Results from this first phase of the project highlighted the importance of risk perception and communication and showed that more work in this field could contribute to facilitate the dialogue between civil society, nuclear energy experts and policy makers.

The NEA Expert Group on Society and Nuclear Energy was therefore created to carry out a study that would provide policy makers findings, guidance and recommendations on communication and consultation with civil society in connection with nuclear energy policy decisions. The processes used or intended to be used in member countries were mapped and experiences of consultation and communication aspects reported on and analysed. The combined programmes of industry and government were also addressed in the 2005 study Society and Nuclear Energy: Case Histories of Practical Communication Experiences.

The second phase of the NDC project on society and nuclear energy was completed in 2005 with the publication on the NEA website of a report compiling and analysing 13 case studies from seven member countries. Society and Nuclear Energy: Case Histories of Practical Communication Experiences details experiences in communication with stakeholders on nuclear energy projects and issues, and provides policy makers with insights into the challenges involved and examples of best practice.

Radioactive waste management

The NEA Radioactive Waste Management Committee (RWMC) established the Forum on Stakeholder Confidence (FSC) in 2000, the overall purpose of which is to outline ways of integrating waste management programmes and socio-political considerations, and analyse successful and unsuccessful experiences in interacting with stakeholders. The FSC acts as a centre for informal exchanges on these experiences and for distilling lessons learnt in a form accessible to policy makers and other interested parties. Regular meetings of the FSC are complemented by workshops held in national contexts, at which civil society representatives feature prominently.

In finalising the first phase of its work (2000-2004), the FSC produced a report on Learning and Adapting to Societal Requirements for Radioactive Waste Management, presenting a synthesis of key FSC findings and drawing specifically on the experience gained in three workshops held in national context in Belgium, Canada and Finland. Three overarching principles have been found to be essential elements of any decision making seeking broad societal support:

Within those principles, a hierarchy of objectives should be considered. The waste management programme should be founded first upon recognition by the national government that the status quo is no longer acceptable, and that an important issue needs to be resolved. The link between current waste management policy and the future of nuclear energy should be openly addressed. Identification of a safe and licensable site and a safe and licensable waste management concept that enjoy host community support should then follow. Next, siting efforts should allow for consideration of local and regional development schemes that take into account the needs and views of the affected communities. Finally, radioactive waste management facilities should be designed and implemented in ways that reflect the values and interests of local communities.

The FSC organised its fourth workshop in this series in Germany in 2004. Extensive discussions with stakeholders on all levels of interaction gave insight into the specific challenges of the German process, which are characterised by historic interactions perceived as traumatic by some stakeholders, as well as by the proposal of a new approach regarding repository siting criteria and procedures. In this context, the workshop provided a "testing ground" for the government, stakeholders and industry to probe the various viewpoints and probable positions in the discussions to come. It has been shown that in spite of different agendas, various stakeholders from civil society act unanimously regarding process issues, and towards what is perceived as "fact-setting" unilateral actions.

In long-term radioactive waste management, consideration is also increasingly being given to concepts such as "stepwise decision making" and "adaptive staging". The key feature of these concepts is development by steps or stages that are reversible, within the limits of practicability. This is designed to provide reassurance that decisions can be reversed if experience shows them to have adverse or unwanted effects. Despite its early identification within the radioactive waste management community as an important means for reaching solutions and decisions in which there is broad-based confidence, the bases for and application of stepwise decision making have not yet been widely reviewed. The FSC undertook this task, and documented key findings as well as extensive references to the literature in an FSC report on Stepwise Approach to Decision Making for Long-term Radioactive Waste Management.

Some of the outstanding issues identified are that:

Institutions and governments are aware of these challenges and examples have been given of a proactive stance, e.g. the restyling of the role of the regulators and the search for, and implementation of, new forms of dialogue. The FSC report confirms that radioactive waste management is more than finding a technical answer to a technical problem. Continued monitoring of stepwise experience will provide important guidance. The FSC workshops held in national context have proven to be successful instruments for sharing national experience in interacting with stakeholders. Also prepared under the aegis of the FSC is the survey Public Information, Consultation and Involvement in Radioactive Waste Management, which benchmarks radioactive waste management institutions and gives an international overview of approaches and experiences in this area.

In 2004 the FSC published a short guide to stakeholder involvement techniques and their selection. The guide includes an annotated bibliography pointing to easily accessible handbooks and other resources. While it approaches the topic from the point of view of radioactive waste management, the guide is intended for any person or organisation considering stakeholder involvement in decision making.

The fifth FSC workshop in national context was held in 2005 in Hospitalet, Spain. Three Spanish organisations – the association of Spanish nuclear-affected municipalities (AMAC), the Spanish waste management agency ENRESA and the national safety authority CSN – had worked together on a project called "Cowam Spain" to develop a methodology for arriving at facility-siting proposals broadly accepted by society. Workshop participants discussed this new methodology with those of the Cowam Spain project and with Spanish stakeholders in order to offer the results of their reflection to national politicians and administration. These discussions were particularly helpful to the Spanish participants as they provided valuable feedback from the international community and from different points of view. The Cowam-Spain methodology will be applied to the currently proposed national interim storage facility for spent fuel in Spain. The most recent FSC workshop in a national context took place in Hungary in November 2006.

Stakeholder involvement in radiological protection decision making

The NEA Committee on Radiation Protection and Public Health (CRPPH) has explored in detail the implications of stakeholder involvement in decision-making processes for several years and held important workshops in this area in 1998, 2001 and 2003. Specific case studies have been analysed to extract commonalities of stakeholder involvement process aspects that, to some extent, transcend geographic and cultural frontiers.

The CRPPH organised the 1st Villigen Workshop in January 1998 on The Societal Aspects of Decision Making in Complex Radiological Situations, which reached the broad conclusion that radiological protection must adapt to meet the needs of society, and not the reverse. To deepen the understanding of this important subject, the CRPPH launched further studies that resulted in the organisation of the 2nd Villigen Workshop, held in January 2001, on Better Integration of Radiation Protection in Modern Society. This workshop concluded that although broad stakeholder participation was not needed to reach agreement in the vast majority of regulatory decisions, it can be the best and sometimes only way to achieve agreement in certain blocked situations. In addition, the workshop showed that it is important to develop a common understanding of stakeholder roles and responsibilities, to distinguish clearly between scientific knowledge and social judgement, and to foster an atmosphere of mutual learning. These analyses were used as fundamental input to the 3rd Villigen Workshop on Stakeholder Participation in Decision Making Involving Radiation: Exploring Processes and Implications, which took place in October 2003. Case studies presented during this workshop appear to show that focusing on the sustainability of a decision is a key aspect. This means that it is essential to clearly understand the concerns of stakeholders, and to identify the common values of all parties to create a "natural decisional framework" in which an agreed solution can be identified. This requires, however, that decisions strike a balance between national policy and local stakeholder needs. It is also essential that, early in the process, stakeholders clearly understand how their input will be taken into account in the final decision, and who is, in fact, mandated to "make a decision".

During 2004, the CRPPH worked to consolidate and diffuse the conclusions of its Villigen workshops, publishing a policy-level summary of its findings and a detailed report on the case studies used as a basis for discussions. The case studies used, however, all dealt with situations in Europe or North America, and thus with stakeholders having European and North-American social and cultural backgrounds. With nuclear power significantly expanding in Asia, and stakeholder questions becoming more common, the Asian members of the CRPPH have begun to consider how the experience from the Villigen workshops could be assessed in the context of Asian cultures, particularly Japanese and Korean. Thus, in 2004 the CRPPH organised the Second Asian Regional Workshop on the Evolution of the System of Radiological Protection, and as in the case of the first Asian regional workshop, included a session on the Committee’s stakeholder involvement experience.

Stakeholder aspects also form an essential element in the evolution of the system of radiological protection. This work will therefore also bolster NEA input to the discussions of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) on new recommendations for the system of radiological protection. As part of its work, the CRPPH has organised, in collaboration with the ICRP, several regional dialogue fora to discuss draft versions of the developing ICRP recommendations. Two such meetings have been held in Europe and two in Asia. The latest was held in Prague, Czech Republic on 24-25 October 2006.

Nuclear regulators and the public

Regulatory bodies, in fulfilling their responsibilities to inform the public about their role in contributing to nuclear safety, face increasing communication needs. At the same time, good governance and efficiency in decision making by government authorities are increasingly dependent upon mutual trust and confidence between those authorities and the public. Indeed, as pointed out by Richard A. Meserve, Chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, "Trust is a fragile commodity. Governmental organisations and their relations with the public they serve can be strengthened by trust – or paralysed by a lack of it." It was in this context and based on the outcome of a workshop on Investing in Trust: Nuclear Regulators and the Public organised in 2000 that the NEA Committee on Nuclear Regulatory Activities (CNRA) established a Working Group on Public Communication of Nuclear Regulatory Organisations (WGPC) in June 2001.

The working group shares information, news, documents and experiences in the field of public communications. It also exchanges views regarding the policies of nuclear regulatory organisations in the area of public communication of a regulatory nature, and identifies ways of promoting efficient collaboration. In 2005, the mandate of the WGPC was revised, and now includes the production of notes addressing developments, tools, procedures and achievements in the area of nuclear regulatory communication with the public and stakeholders. The notes aim to reach a large audience, identifying specific regulatory challenges in public communication and suggesting ways to deal with them.

The working group organised at the beginning of 2004 a workshop on Building and Measuring Public Confidence in the Nuclear Regulator. The workshop addressed how to plan and implement public confidence building activities; how to measure and assess public confidence in the nuclear regulator; and how the results of measuring public confidence impacted the regulator. The workshop used as case studies specific examples where some loss of confidence both in the industry and the regulator had occurred. These cases were related to the Davis-Besse issue in the USA, the TEPCO problems in Japan and the Paks incident in Hungary. The workshop concluded that re-establishing lost confidence is a long and demanding task. Maximum transparency, and intense and proactive communication are needed. It is also important to understand correctly what sort of public the regulator is addressing. A general observation from the presentations and discussions was that cultural differences between the countries are large, and similar means for communication are not effective in all countries. It was also agreed that in some countries the regulators can achieve public confidence more easily than in others. An important factor in this respect is the general public trust in the government and its representatives. Nevertheless, a number of common principles were identified that can be recommended to all regulators:

The two main topics discussed in 2005 were the challenges associated with public communication during abnormal situations and the publicity given to regulatory decisions. The discussions should result in notes which will highlight lessons learnt and good practices. The WGPC will use the findings from this work to continue to assist its members on related matters of regulatory transparency. Regulatory transparency was also the subject of a workshop held in Japan in 2007.

Related links

OECD work with civil society

1999 OECD Ministerial Communique

Society and nuclear energy

Society and Nuclear Energy: Towards a Better Understanding Société et énergie nucléaire : vers une meilleure compréhension

Society and Nuclear Energy: Case Histories of Practical Communication Experiences Société et énergie nucléaire

Radioactive waste management

Fostering a Durable Relationship Between a Waste Management Facility and its Host Community Créer un lien durable entre une installation de gestion de déchets et sa collectivité d'accueil : Valeur ajoutée à travers la conception et les processus
Adding Value Through Design and Process

Stakeholder Involvement in Decommissioning Nuclear Facilities Implication des parties prenantes dans le déclassement des installations nucléaires : Enseignements internationaux
International Lessons Learnt

Learning and Adapting to Societal Requirements for Radioactive Waste Management
Key Findings and Experience of the Forum on Stakeholder Confidence

Stepwise Approach to Decision Making for Long-term Radioactive Waste Management La prise de décision par étapes dans la gestion des déchets radioactifs
Experience, Issues and Guiding Principles

Stakeholder Involvement Techniques Favoriser la participation des parties prenantes: Guide pratique des outils et bibliographie annotée
A Short Guide and Annotated Bibliography

Public Information, Consultation and Involvement in Radioactive Waste Management Informer, consulter et impliquer le public dans la gestion des déchets radioactifs (2003) Panorama international des approches et expériences
An International Overview of Approaches and Experiences

The Regulator's Evolving Role and Image in Radioactive Waste Management Image et rôle des autorités réglementaires dans la gestion des déchets radioactifs (2003) Enseignements tirés par le Forum de l'AEN sur la confiance des parties prenantes
Lessons Learnt within the NEA Forum on Stakeholder Confidence

Disposal of Radioactive Waste: The Forming of a New Approach in Germany
Summary and International Perspective: FSC Community Visit and National Workshop, Hitzacker, Hamburg, 5-8 October 2004

Dealing with Interests, Values and Knowledge in Managing Risk
Workshop Proceedings, Brussels, Belgium, 18-21 November 2003 (Or download the executive summary)

Public Confidence in the Management of Radioactive Waste: The Canadian Context
Workshop Proceedings, Ottawa, Canada, 14-18 October 2002 (Or download the executive summary)

Stepwise Decision Making in Finland for the Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel
Workshop Proceedings, Turku, Finland, 15-16 November 2001 (Or download the executive summary)

NEA Forum on Stakeholder Confidence

Radiological protection

Stakeholders and Radiological Protection: Lessons from Chernobyl 20 Years After

Stakeholder Participation in Radiological Decision Making: Processes and Implications
Third Villigen Workshop, Villigen, Switzerland, 21-23 October 2003 (Or download the summary report)

Evolution of the System of Radiological Protection
Asian Regional Conference, Tokyo, Japan, 24-25 October 2002

Stakeholder Participation in Radiological Decision Making: Processes and Implications
Case Studies for the Third Villigen Workshop, Villigen, Switzerland, 21–23 October 2003

Better Integration of Radiation Protection in Modern Society
Workshop Proceedings, Villigen, Switzerland, 23-25 January 2001 (Or download the summary report)

The Societal Aspects of Decision Making in Complex Radiological Situations
Proceedings of an International Workshop, Villigen, Switzerland, 13-15 January 1998

NEA Expert Group on the Process of Stakeholder Involvement in Radiation Protection Decision Making

Nuclear regulators and the public

Transparency of Nuclear Regulatory Activities
Workshop Proceedings, Tokyo and Tokai, Japan, 22-24 May 2007

Building, Measuring and Improving Public Confidence in the Nuclear Regulator
Workshop Proceedings: Ottawa, Canada, 18-20 May 2004

Investing in Trust: Nuclear Regulators and the Public
Workshop Proceedings, Paris, France 29th November-1st December 2000

NEA Working Group on Public Communication of Nuclear Regulatory Organisations

Last reviewed: 11 December 2014