The awareness of the public of nuclear and radiation safety issues in Ukraine leaves much to be desired. This is confirmed by opinion polls conducted by national public organizations in order to determine the real situation.
Hanna Holubovska-Onisimova, Head of Coordination Board of the All-Ukrainian Environmental Non-Governmental Organization “MAMA-86”, said that opinion polls in NPP satellite cities showed an identical situation with the public awareness. The level of public awareness of nuclear and radiation safety issues is quite low.
Uatom.org editorial board talked to the press secretaries of Argentine, Canadian and Slovak nuclear regulatory bodies and found out how they raise public awareness in the field.
– Could you, please, briefly describe your work experience at the field of nuclear and radiation safety?
– I work as Head of Communications of the Nuclear Regulatory Authority of Republic Argentine (Autoridad Regulatoria Nuclear, ARN) for more than 2 years. My previous experience as Public Relations professional was in private sector companies, in sensitive industries as electricity and drinking water.
The ARN is the national governmental organization in charge of regulation of nuclear activities in Argentine, in all matters related to radiation and nuclear safety, safeguards, physical protection and nuclear security. As regulators we supervise and control more than 1.200 regulated facilities and their geographical distribution covers the entire country. The facilities regulated by the ARN have different purposes such as energy generation, the manufacture of fuel elements for nuclear reactors, radioisotope production, production of radioactive sources, sterilization of medical supplies and the use and application of ionizing radiation in medicine and industry, and applied research, among others.
Argentine has three Nuclear Power Plants in operation (Atucha I, Atucha II and Embalse). The NPP Embalse is out of service since 31 December 2015 in order to initiate its life extension refurbishment outage. It will be the first lifetime extension experience in our country.
– Is it important for ARN to work with the public organizations and mass-media?
– Yes, it is very important despite not having the role of promoter of the nuclear industry, any technology or kind of fuel, as regulators. Our mission is safety, we control the installations. Consequently, the communication with the public organizations and mass media must be appropriate as a reliable source of information. We believe that the reasonableness of regulatory practices should be explicable and understandable by stakeholders.
– What is the attitude of society to ARN?
– At first sight, we have two different opinions. The local citizens that live near to the NPPs for decades and clearly know us and they are familiar with nuclear technology. The large community has less knowledge about the NPPs, nuclear applications and the regulator. For example, they don’t have information about the safety, regulatory processes or standards. We are working on reducing this misinformation.
– What does ARN do to make the awareness of society higher?
– Every year ARN organize informative and opened talks with the community – authorities, civil society, schools, and neighbours in the framework of the annual emergency plan exercise (simulations).
In digital communications, for instance, we launched in 2016 a specific section within our website to provide technical reports on radiological and nuclear events, and in 2015 ARN opened its official page in Facebook, the social network with more followers in Argentine. The presence of ARN in social networks aims to open new channels of communication to reach with information on regulatory actions, important news of the nuclear industry, events and courses, and to promote more public information for citizen participation through messages, suggestions and comments.
– How many people work at Nuclear Regulatory Authority of Republica Argentina?
– In ARN we have 460 people in 2016, in my Department we are 10.
– How often do representatives from ARN participate in TV-shows and radio-programs?
– The Board of Directors and the technical experts are the speakers of our organization, besides myself as spokesperson. I think once a month some of us participate on radio or TV programs. Nevertheless, there are much more requests from digital channels as website or social media, and printed mass media in this sphere.
– Did you have some cases when mass media distorted the information? What did you do?
– Yes, we had. In Argentine there are a lot of general journalists and fewer scientific and technical ones working in mass and local media, so there is a misunderstanding about nuclear technologies, real risks and radiation safety. In my experience, every response to press should be adecuate to journalist’s understanding, for example giving an extra explanation about regulatory processes, licences, radiation, environmental monitoring, among other topics. Just to give a basic nuclear technology and regulotory role understanding. I have to admit that this is long term labour, because we have a frequent journalists rotation in Argentine.
– Could you, please, describe your work experience at the field of nuclear and radiation safety?
– I have worked for the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) more than 9 years. There are 15 people total working in the Strategic, Regulatory and e-Communications Division, 8 of whom are on my team. The CNSC regulates the use of nuclear energy and materials to protect health, safety, security and the environment. We are also charged with disseminating objective scientific, technical and regulatory information to the public. We are not pro-nuclear, we are not anti-nuclear. We are pro-safety.
– How do you cooperate with mass media?
– We have many ways to reach out to the public and our stakeholders.
We have an email subscription list; there are 3,900 people and organizations on it. All of these people sign up to receive the information from our organization. We push out information about Commission proceedings, publications, consultations, regulatory actions, presentations by staff, as well as new science and studies. We also develop and share videos and infographics about everything from radiation to nuclear power plant safety.
Our website is very comprehensive and presents information on the entire nuclear fuel cycle. For transparency, we webcast our CNSC hearings and meetings on the website, so people can watch it live.
Moreover, we use Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to reach out to our audiences. One of our videos on YouTube has more than 275,000 views. This is the second most popular video about the basics of radiation on YouTube.
– Does CNSC have any conflict situations with the public organizations or ecologists (greens)?
– The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has regular interactions with NGOs and they are invited to be the part of our process. Everything that we do is transparent; we have open Commission hearings, where we make licensing decisions about the nuclear facilities. Therefore, we invite the public, including NGOs to participate in these hearings.
– Do you organize any promotion campaigns with society in case of emergency?
– Being prepared in the event of an emergency is an essential part of being a responsible nuclear regulator. The CNSC has a comprehensive emergency preparedness program in place, and works with nuclear operators, municipal, provincial and federal government agencies, first responders and international organizations to always be ready.
As a condition of their licenses, all operators of nuclear power plants and major nuclear facilities are required to have emergency response plans in place. CNSC’s expert staff conduct reviews of licensees’ emergency response plans, conduct inspections and observe and evaluate emergency drills to verify licensees’ response capabilities.
Communicating with the public regarding emergency preparedness is the jurisdiction of each provincial government.
– Could you, please, briefly describe your work experience at the field of nuclear and radiation safety?
– As a 22 year old, while studying at the University, I worked at the press department of the Ministry of Justice of SR. It was an interesting experience for me. From 2013 I have been working as a spokesperson of UJD SR, and I am very proud of it. At the beginning it was a bit challenging, particularly when it comes to orientation in these expert issues. However, it was a huge challenge for me, to create – from this highly expert topic – easily understandable information for the general public. With hindsight, and also in connection with the positive response from journalists and from the public I think that I managed quite well, and it makes me happy.
For me, communication is one of the most important and at the same time one of the most difficult “things” in life. I think that 99% of relationships, whether personal, professional or any other, depends on communication. I see communication as my mission, and I try to continuously educate myself and broaden my knowledge base. I have this opportunity also thanks to the Authority, since it places great emphasis on training its employees.
– How does the Nuclear Regulatory Authority of the Slovak Republic cooperate with the public organizations?
– The open communication with the public is very important for the Authority. Through regular communication, whether in the form of press releases, by communicating on the social network (Facebook), and last but not least by regular updating of information on our website, we are trying to build positive relationships with the public and media, and to inform the general public about the activities of the Authority.
– What about the cooperation with mass media?
– This follows from the communication strategy of the Authority. Our main goal is to inform domestic, but also the foreign public about events within the scope of competence of the Authority through current, objective and comprehensible information.
– Did you experience the situations when mass media distorted the information? How did you react?
– During my work at the Authority I do not recall any significant “conflict”, when the journalists would reformulate the information that we provided to them. Naturally, there were situations, when the journalists deliberately picked from our opinion only certain information and the resulting effect was negative for the Authority. Although, I personally felt sorry about it, but this information was not of a nature that could significantly influence nuclear safety, and that was important. It was rather a targeted article, where greater room for opinion was given to the “greens“.
In this case we issued a press release and published this information also on our website and debunked the information.
– Do you organize public awareness campaigns or promotions with the population?
– Yes, as part of our educational activities we organize meetings with the students of secondary schools on a regular basis, where we introduce to them our Authority and we inform them about our work.
We would like to take part also at the biggest and popular Slovak Festival “POHODA”, which is held annually. During this festival they organize various types of discussions and debates, which are most visited especially by the age category between 25 and 40 years, which is our target group that we want to approach in the context of raising awareness about the Authority.
– How many people work at press-service of NRA SR? What are their main tasks?
– At the Authority we do not have a communication department as such. External communication falls under the competence of the Authority´s Office, and directly reports to the Chairperson.
I am responsible for the communication with the public and the media. In cooperation with an external company I developed a communication strategy that is tailor-made for the Authority. I maintain regular communication with the journalists, organize press conferences, publish information about the activities of the Authority´s representatives (press releases), provide media monitoring, photographic documentation of external and internal events, I prepare and I am responsible for contracts related to communication activities, I provide for the communication on the social net (Facebook), I clear requests under the law on free access to information and I prepare annual reports and information materials of the Authority.
In addition, I am responsible for the Authority´s website. In 2012 I was working on redesigning the website, but in response to the fact that information technology develops very rapidly, we decided to create a completely new website, which will be even more transparent and adapted to today´s challenging times.
Currently I am working on preparing a new design manual and logo of the Authority.
I consider a great success the information kiosk, which we have set up directly at the headquarters of the Authority. It works as a notice board. Anyone can come and view our website, the Authority´s decisions and administrative proceedings. Since it is located on the outside of the building, it is accessible 24 hours a day.
– In Ukraine the awareness of society in sphere of nuclear and radiation safety is too low. What about the Slovak Republic?
– Each year we organize opinion polls regarding public information in the field of nuclear safety in Slovakia.
The polls are carried out on the national level – across Slovakia and in locations, where there are nuclear power plants (Mochovce and Bohunice). From the recent site survey realized in 2016 it showed that the information level, when compared to previous results of surveys, have slightly decreased.
However, I do not see this as negative; it is a challenge to raise public awareness. Another possible view is that thanks to Authority´s activities the power plants in Slovakia operate in a safe and reliable manner, and that is why people do not notice them.
– Who has to make the awareness of society in sphere of nuclear and radiation higher?
– I think that raising awareness – public information on nuclear and radiation issues should be about mutual communication and cooperation between the public authorities and operators of nuclear power plants and installations in Slovakia, and also anyone who feels to be involved in the issue (NGOs, public, etc.).
And again, going back to what I mentioned in my first answer: it´s all about mutual communication.
Uatom.org editorial board