Economy Gains Weight in Public Acceptance

Current trends show a certain shift in the nuclear energy public acceptance agenda. Though safety remains one of the cornerstone issues, local communities and governments begin to focus on the economic and ecological benefits of NPP projects. A round table on nuclear public acceptance, which was held during Atomexpo-2018, demonstrated that quite explicitly. Here are the highlights of the ideas voiced at the event.

Kirill Komarov, First Deputy Director General for Corporate Development and International Business, ROSATOM

Today it is impossible to separate business objectives from social issues. We believe that to gain public acceptance we need to build effective partnerships. We are already working with the World Nuclear Association in this realm – for example, at the beginning of this year Rosatom took part in a two-day “Indonesia spotlight ” event, where we talked about the advantages of nuclear power for the entire national infrastructure of Indonesia and elaborated on the communication work that needs to be done. Public acceptance in Indonesia is the last missing element required to start the nuclear power program development in this country.

To gain public acceptance, first of all, you should be as open as possible. That is what we are doing in Rosatom. We established 23 information centers in Russia and in foreign countries. Every one of big projects, like the construction of a nuclear power plant, starts with the establishment of an information center, because first of all, that’s what people need – open and transparent information. Otherwise, they begin to experience doubts and spread rumors. And the best way to address all these fears is to provide people with comprehensive information, which will help them find answers to all the questions they have.

In Russia we have a good level of support for nuclear power – over 70%. It gives us the opportunity to develop the industry in our country. But the most interesting fact here is that the level of support in towns near nuclear facilities is more than 90%. It sounds strange, because it seems that the closer to a nuclear facility people live, the stronger their fears should be: they are very close, and if something happens, they are immediately affected. But in reality they are very strongly pro-nuclear, as they have a lot of information, coming from different independent sources: not only media and official statements, but also information from their neighbors or relatives working at the nuclear facility. So, when a fearful rumor starts circulating, people can ask a direct question: is everything “ok” or not? And they can get a direct answer. As for me, this is real evidence of the correlation: the more open we are, the higher level of public support we have.

Jeremy Gordon, Advisor of the WNA on the Programme “Harmony”

There are two fundamental things that you need before you become a successful nuclear operator. First – you have to be safe. If you are not safe, you should be shut down. Second – public acceptance. If you don’t have it, you cannot be successful for long. You may build and operate your plant for a while, but it won’t be very long before some problem comes out: policy may change, you can’t get your license extended, you can’t get new build.  So, you really need to focus on getting these two.

You have to create an effective safety paradigm focusing on genuine public well-being, where the health, environmental and safety benefits of nuclear are better understood and valued compared to other energy sources. When there is a conversation about safety, there should be a pre-existing understanding of benefits that nuclear brings. They should be talked about as much as possible. We need to think what the issues stakeholders really care about. When our work affects those issues for the better, we have to get out and communicate that. It’s not that difficult. We don’t have to pretend, as we really care about the same things.

Minna Forsström, Hanhikivi 1 NPP Project Director, Fennovoima Oy

We bring Fennovoima closer to people and continuously work on making it familiar especially in local communities.  It is not only communication, it is engagement. Puhayoki (the community that is nearest to Hanhikivi-1 NPP construction site) is a small village with a population of around 3500 people. We’ve been present in this village since 2008, having a small office with doors open almost all the time. We are hosting discussions there – even with people who are against us. A lot of work has been done. Now 75% of Puhayoki inhabitants support the Hanhikivi-1 project.

We have engaged our own employees to promote the nuclear power plant project in regular conversations or on social media. The main idea is that we are the part of the solution to mitigate climate change. We have nothing against renewable sources, but we see nuclear as the essential core. I can say personally – this is one of the main drivers of why I am building the nuclear power plant: it’s all against climate change.

Attila Aszodi, Government Commissioner in charge of the Paks II project

I think that when it comes to III+ generation reactors, the safety issue is not on the table any more. I made more than 100 public hearings and public consultations with a lot of people. When we started the whole campaign in 2014, I said that safety will be the key element of those consultations . But when we had presentations about the plant, it became clear that generation III+ reactor technology with its double-wall containment, with the core-catcher, with all the safety features, arose no safety questions from the public anymore. The most numerable questions that we heard during the consultations were not related to the plant, not related to the safety. I’m not saying that we do not need to know or to speak about safety, but that’s not the main focus with generation III+ technology. People asked questions about the economic advantages of Paks-II nuclear power plant project. That was the main focus.

Christian Vega, President, Argentine Youth Nuclear Generation

The decision developing countries make on their way to producing energy is not the same one facing developed countries. The latter can choose the kinds of energy sources they are going to develop because they are rich. But this is not the case for developing countries. As an example I will take China. In the early 80-s, around 80% of its population lived in poverty. And right now, that number amounts to 20%. This is a remarkable, amazing result. Of course, they did it with model that includes cheap energy. But the cheap energy released toxic particles into the atmosphere, and it is not only China’s problem.

Basset Buyukah, Director, Publicity & Advocacy, Kenya Nuclear Electricity Board

Kenya is looking at commissioning about four gigawatts of nuclear power by the mid 2030s. The main questions our people ask when we tell them about nuclear are:

  • How much is it going to cost? Is nuclear cost-effective compared to other energy sources?
  • How will we deal with the West?
  • Is nuclear safe?
  • What are nuclear energy benefits? How will nuclear affect energy tariffs?

It is proven that a geothermal and nuclear power plant will provide Kenia with best energy in terms of cost. Our government is aiming at building energy sources that can sustainably bring down the cost of energy in the country.