16 February 2020
By Dr David Lowry, Management board member of Nuclear Transparency Watch
Last spring I applied to attend the 2nd NEA [Nuclear Energy Agency of the OECD] Workshop on Stakeholder Involvement: Risk Communication titled Dialogues towards a Shared Understanding of Radiological Risks, held at the NEA headquarters in Paris, 24 to 26 September 2019.
On 6 September 2019 I wrote to the conference secretariat: “As an independent consultant working with civil society groups on nuclear risk and uncertainty, I wonder if you can inform me what resources NEA has set aside to support non-institutionally based researchers – such as myself – to participate in this stakeholder meeting, in respect of travel, accommodation and subsistence costs? Access to appropriate resources is always the key issue for engagement of stakeholders.”
The secretariat replied shortly after: “I understand this issue. Unfortunately, the costs associated to participate in this workshop, such as travel and accommodation, are to be covered by the participants. The NEA is not set up in such a way as to provide funding for participants. Please do know that there are no conference fees. I hope you will still be able to attend the workshop.”
I responded on 9 September: “I am very disappointed in your negative reply. I do not have the resources to pay for travel and accommodation – as well as providing my 40 years of expertise in nuclear policy analysis free to NEA, to assist NEA in formulating its approach to stakeholders and risk. I find it very hard to understand how the NEA thinks it is able to attract a wide range of (usually very under-resourced) interested stakeholders to a meeting on stakeholder involvement without allocating a resource budget in support of the workshop to ensure their attendance to allow them to be involved. By excluding a budget you will succeed in attracting only the more wealthy stakeholders, or those based in the Paris region, which will be very far from representative.”
I then wondered just how representative the invited stakeholders were to this stakeholder conference, so I asked NEA for the full attendance list of participants, plus copies of the presentations made to the meeting.
I received the following negative response from the conference secretariat: “I have been informed that all documents relating to the workshop are reserved to the participants, including the participants list, unless made publicly available with the Committee’s prior approval.”
On 10 October 2019, and by now increasingly frustrated by the lack of co-operative engagement by NEA, I responded:“I am both very surprised and disappointed at your curt and unhelpful email this morning.”
I then stressed: ”In an NEA information briefing on ‘Stakeholder Confidence and Transparency’ the NEA asserts in the very first paragraph: ‘Transparency is achieved with an ongoing process if stakeholders are given access to information… transparency as a practice is fostered by implementing clear and observable institutional frameworks and ensuring openness and authenticity in behaviour.’
Prima facie, NEA is in breach of its own dictum on disclosure in refusing to provide the attendee list, which, to be sure, is hardly the most security sensitive document in the nuclear domain.”
NEA clearly were now feeling uncomfortable about convening an international meeting on a theme of working with stakeholders, but barely inviting any stakeholders to participate. But when I asked British nuclear regulator ONR to ask for the info on my behalf, as they had two platform speakers, they were refused twice. I persuaded ONR to escalate it to NEA D-G Magwood. Apparently they did, and I got the list four months after requesting it!
I asked the UK ONR whether could I have a copy of their presentation. ONR told me: “ONR didn’t make any formal presentations at this event. [We] moderated two panel sessions, as described in the programme available on the NEA website, but those were without powerpoint (or otherwise) and focused on introducing the panel topics and members. We then chaired the sessions, dealing with questions from the floor.”
Then on 22 November, ONR let me know that it had spoken to NEA and suggested a release of at least the names of organisations that attended. “But it seems that NEA has taken a policy decision not to release the information (names or organisations) more widely. I realise this is disappointing, but there is no further action we can take – it is NEA’s call, not ONR’s.”
The bizarre thing about all this is I had a place at this event, but had to turn it down when NEA told me no funds had been allocated to support travel or accommodation for NGO stakeholders. Had I been able to afford to participate, I could have legitimately picked up the participants list.
Then, out of the blue, on 7 February 2020, I received a message from the NEA conference secretariat:“Please find attached a revised list. As noted in my previous message, the first list was generated from our database which had some organisations registered as “miscellaneous”. You will now find these highlighted in yellow in the attached document. I also note that the participant from Iceland was not able to attend, hence I have taken that organisation off the list.”
I have reproduced the list in full as Annex A below. The list reveals that out of a total 109 participating organisations, only 9 were in any way describable as non-official stakeholders, eg CSOs. This shows a massive and utterly unjustifiable imbalance towards pro-nuclear interests.
NEA cannot make publicity it is hosting an international meeting on stakeholder engagement, but only allow well-resourced stakeholders to participate, having allocated no budget line for accommodation or travel for civil society organisations (CSOs).
Initially, NEA refused to reveal which Civil Society / NGO groups had shown up to participate, because – I believe – they were embarrassed that so few were there. Aside from representatives of civil society groups invited (and remunerated) as speakers, there was virtually no civil society representation. The final list of attendees, released after four months of pressure from me, shows the balance of participants was about 95% pro nuclear institutional interests, 5% civil society or non-aligned interested parties. To label such an imbalanced event a “Stakeholder Engagement” meeting is an abuse of language.
The nuclear industry cannot be allowed to pretend they believe in transparency, then practice secrecy, as NEA did in this sorry saga. Because, like a dog with a bone, I refused to let go in this, I finally forced disclosure. But this should have come automatically.
NEA needs to learn the lessons: the first is, it needs to abide by the dictionary definition of transparency, and deliver it in future!