Remarks by Angel Gurría,
OECD, Paris, 17 January 2017
(As prepared for delivery)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to welcome you to the first NEA Workshop on Stakeholder Involvement in Nuclear Decision-Making.
This is great opportunity to gather together senior representatives from all NEA committees in one event. The people in this room today have expertise in areas as diverse as nuclear regulation, radioactive waste management, radiological protection, nuclear law, technology and public affairs. Despite the great differences between your respective fields, a common thread which runs through all of your work is the need to build transparency, trust and support with members of the public.
Stakeholders in all our countries have a growing expectation that they will not only be informed about important decisions that affect their lives — but that they will be deeply involved in making those decisions. This bolsters public confidence in those decisions and ensures that they are in the public interest.
This is particularly pertinent to the nuclear sector, where public fears can run high. In particular, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster has transformed the way many citizens view the decision-making processes within governments in this area, making them much more aware of how those decisions can impact their lives. This is why the NEA formed its new Division of Human Aspects of Nuclear Safety in 2015.
Without a high level of stakeholder involvement, whatever the technical, economic or policy merits, the decisions made by governments are increasingly likely to prove unsustainable over time. In the case of disposing of radioactive waste or siting a new nuclear power plant, we have come to recognise that the quality of public involvement in the decision-making process may be as important as the quality of the scientific analysis or the engineering work needed to implement the decision.
Taking a short cut, by skipping serious public engagement, can result in decisions that do not stand the test of time, as stakeholders continue to question the decision after it is made. In the end, taking such short-cuts will cost much more, take much longer, and also damage the credibility of decision makers, and possibly the nuclear sector as a whole.
The principal challenge for governments lies in finding the best ways to involve the public in decisions that involve highly technical and often contentious factors. How can the public be adequately educated about the science behind a decision? Who should provide the information? How should governments balance a quiet majority against a loud and passionate minority opinion? What is the role of social media in engaging with stakeholders? Questions such as these and many more will be addressed in the course of the next few days.
The OECD is the place to do it, with its long tradition of stakeholder engagement, for example through our Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC), our Business and Industry Advisory Committee (BIAC), and our annual OECD Forum, which attracted nearly 3000 stakeholders in 2016, including almost half from civil society, academia and think tanks. And now is the time to do it, as the current public opinion context makes it all the more important to engage citizens and stakeholders on the importance of evidence-based recommendations.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a unique opportunity to get together and share ideas and best practices. There is so much experience to tap in this room, in particular because the nuclear sector has been a leader in public engagement for so many years. But there is always room to do more, engage more people, become more transparent and more dynamic. We are all still learning to navigate this age of stakeholder involvement, and the work you accomplish in the next few days will help chart a course for all our member governments to follow.
I wish you a rich and productive workshop, and I look forward to hearing the results of your discussion. Thank you.