On 28 November, Nuclear Transparency Watch (NTW) and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) informed the European Council and the European Commission of their decision to suspend cooperation with and participation in the European Nuclear Energy Forum (ENEF). ENEF is presently a conference held every year in Bratislava or Prague, and was set up in 2007 by the European Council as a platform for discussion by all stakeholders about the future of nuclear energy in Europe. The ENEF conferences organised by the Czech Republic and Slovakia together with the European Commission. NTW and the EEB have participated in the Steering Committee of the forum, together with representatives from the EESC, Foratom, Eurelectric, the Commission and the two organising member states.
In the letter (1) the two organisations explain that ENEF is still not fulfilling its Council mandate and that civil society actors like representatives from NGOs, independent academics and others have basically been used as greenwash for a nuclear propaganda event from the Czech and Slovak governments. NTW and the EEB also call on other civil society actors to further boycott ENEF.
In 2015, the European Commission had invited NTW and the EEB to participate in the Steering Committee in an attempt to reform ENEF, in order to make it fulfil the Council’s mandate. It became soon clear that the format of panels followed by a few questions from the room was not the basis for a constructive discussion about all the factors that influence the role of nuclear energy in the European Union energy policies. Attempts to introduce more participative formats were met with scepticism by the Czech and Slovak organisers and part of the industry participants. NTW and the EEB lauded the attempts to attract more participants from civil society by covering travel and accommodation for those who could not afford it themselves, but this did not create sufficient balance against attempts from the Czech and Slovak organisers to create a nuclear promotion event, mainly for the own market. Press conferences lacked translation and focused only on local political issues, not on the role of nuclear energy and its myriad of problematic issues that were to be discussed in the forum. After three years of constructively trying to support the European Commission in its effort to create a real participative and transparent event with open discourse among participants, NTW and the EEB concluded that their efforts were a waste of energy and called on the Council and Commission to find other more inclusive and participative ways to assess the role nuclear power in the future of the Union.
The Commission’s failed attempt to improve ENEF came after Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth Europe and Sortir du nucléaire together with the French umbrella of nuclear information committees ANCCLI in 2007 attempted to support the creation a forum on the basis of inclusion of all stakeholders according to the mandate given by the Council. In 2009 the three NGOs decided to leave the Forum because also then they felt abused by the industry and the organising member states for nuclear propaganda purposes, whereas their input was marginalised in publications related to the forum. This led to the formation of an alternative organised by the European Commission, ANCCLI, Greenpeace, and others in the form of the round-tables on the implementation of the Aarhus Convention in the Nuclear sector (ACN), and annual counter conferences to ENEF in Prague and Linz organised by the government of Upper Austria and Czech and Austrian NGOs. Nuclear Transparency Watch grew out of the ACN round-tables with support from members of the European Parliament and the EEB. In the meantime, ENEF withered away as a Czech and Slovak industry event. The European Council asked the Commission to reform ENEF in 2015, and the Commission invited NTW and the EEB to help in the effort as members of the Steering Committee overseeing ENEF’s organisation. During that period, both organisations several times drew the attention of the Commission during Steering Committee meetings and in formal letters to issues that systematically block fair discourse in the Forum.
Jan Haverkamp, NTW vice-chair and representative in the Steering Committee of ENEF during the last three years: “The initial idea for ENEF is brilliant – a space where industry, governments, nuclear regulators, NGOs, politicians, academics and citizens can meet to seriously discuss issues that determine how nuclear power develops in Europe. A place where the top of the industry, of authorities can meet face to face with important critics from outside their bubble. An open and transparent discussion about all the issues around this technology can only improve the way in which policy making in the European Union can find answers on the challenges of climate change, security of supply, resource needs and environmental protection. But this has to be an honest discussion and not one where make belief and the limited needs of one branch of industry overshadow the overall picture, while pushing out sincere concerns. The host countries did everything they could to make ENEF look as one large confirmation of their very one-sided support policies for the nuclear industry. Such conferences happen already in many places and do not need to be funded by public money.”
David Lowry of the Institute for Resource and Security Studies sat as NTW’s invited expert in the 2018 ENEF conference in a panel on small modular reactor programmes. He noted: “I accepted to participate after one of our colleagues understandably refused to be put into a one critical versus five industry panel set-up. I was then surprised to find that the draft conclusions of the 2018 ENEF did not include any of the detailed criticism on small modular reactor programmes presented, despite the fact that most of the two hour post presentation discussion was taken up by these issues. The European Commission corrected that after NTW and the EEB pointed out this omission, but if every attempt from the side of civil society to be heard has to be this hard fought, it is not an open discussion between all stakeholders.”
Johan Swahn, director of the Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review MKG and the EEB representative in the ENEF steering committee concluded: “Although good in its mandate, ENEF failed to deliver. It is time to move on and assure that the necessary discussions take place where they really can make a difference.”
As reasons for their suspension, NTW and the EEB highlighted the following issues:
- The failure of ENEF to engage all Member States of the Union, including nuclear and non-nuclear countries, resulting in poorly informed one-sided positions on the issue of nuclear energy;
- The failure to engage all stakeholders in the discussion, more specifically the failure to actively and systematically include nuclear regulators, stakeholders from other energy sectors than the nuclear one, stakeholders with a strategic bird-eye view on the overall Union and global energy policy developments;
- The failure to generate wide interest in ENEF among other departments and Directorates of the European Commission than DG ENER’s nuclear ones, as well as other European institutions (incl. the European Parliament, the European Ombudsman, the EIB and others);
- The failure of the organising Member States to position this platform for discussion on nuclear energy as a part of the overall Union energy policy developments;
- The failure to elicit Europe-wide media interest in the discussions concerning issues relevant for the development of nuclear energy within context of the overall Union energy policies;
- The failure to introduce discussion processes that allow all participants to exchange information, viewpoints and opinions in a way that facilitates cross-fertilisation.