On 9-10 May 2012, senior officials from nuclear regulatory organisations and key stakeholders from 25 countries and 7 international organisations met during a two-day International Workshop on Crisis Communication: Facing the Challenges to share best practices and to improve crisis communication. The workshop was organised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) and hosted by the Consejo de Seguridad Nuclear (CSN) in Madrid, Spain.
Mrs. Carmen Martínez Ten, CSN Chair, Mr. Luis E. Echávarri, OECD/NEA Director-General, Mr. Pablo Matos, President of the Industry, Energy and Tourism Commission of the Spanish Parliament and Mr. Mike Weightman, Head of the UK Office for Nuclear Regulation and Chair of the OECD/NEA Committee on Nuclear Regulatory Activities (CNRA), opened the workshop on 9 May, stressing that the Fukushima accident had shown the extent to which information and communication are crucial in a time of a crisis.
Mr. Echávarri pointed out that the communication policies of nuclear safety organisations had been addressed for many years by the OECD/NEA Committee on Nuclear Regulatory Activities (CNRA) and its Working Group on Public Communication of Nuclear Regulatory Organisations, but the accident further highlighted the need for clear plans in times of crisis, when independent, objective and fact-based information is critically needed.
The lessons learnt from the Fukushima nuclear accident were at the core of the discussions throughout the workshop. Most of the regulatory bodies and international organisations sought to communicate authenticated data during the crisis, which proved challenging as reliable information was not always available in a timely manner. Generally, nuclear regulatory organisations activated crisis communication centres and made outstanding efforts to provide as much information as possible to governments, the public and the media, with several briefings and news items posted daily. It was also noted that the public demand for information had been overwhelming during the first weeks following the accident, inevitably triggering frustration linked primarily to diverging national recommendations on health protection measures.
Closing the workshop on 10 May, Mr. Fernando Martí Scharfhausen, Spanish Secretary of State for Energy, considered that the workshop had provided an excellent opportunity to update regulators’ strategies with a global approach and concluded that communication is an essential part of their duties.
While it was clear from the discussions that regulators should continue to enhance their crisis communication plans, it was also noted that public trust is highly dependent on credibility built over time, far before a crisis occurs. This implies that regulators should regularly demonstrate their competence and independence in their daily activities, which will help ensure that their messages will be listened to in a crisis situation.
Participants also insisted that, for events of international significance, crisis communication plans should take into account the globalisation of information and include tools to address the public and media beyond national borders. Several stakeholders added that scenarios and prognoses should be part of these plans, even with uncertain data. While new tools, including social media, can significantly help disseminate information, they do not dismiss the need for regulators to formulate clear messages that are understandable by non-experts and delivered on a timely basis. Furthermore, the emotional dimension of a crisis, with perceived fears, prejudices and misconceptions, should not be overlooked.
Since the Fukushima accident, several activities have been undertaken to enhance crisis communication and were highlighted during the workshop, including the IAEA Action Plan which inter alia calls upon the IAEA Secretariat to provide information on the potential consequences of an accident as well as an analysis of the information available at the time.
The International Workshop on Crisis Communication forms part of the efforts of the OECD/NEA Working Group on Public Communication of Nuclear Regulatory Organisations to draw lessons from the Fukushima accident, and will contribute to strengthening the roadmap for crisis communication of nuclear regulatory organisations.
The workshop presentations are available at:
Ms. Cynthia Gannon-Picot
NEA membership consists of 30 OECD countries. The mission of the NEA is to assist its member countries in maintaining and further developing, through international co-operation, the scientific, technological and legal bases required for a safe, environmentally friendly and economical use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.