Swedish Nuclear Regulator Shares Experiences in Public Relations

Sara Brandt Zaric has been working at the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) for more than two years. Sara manages SSM’s official website and social media accounts. As a representative of the Communication Section, Sara knows perfectly well how important it is for the Authority to establish contact with the public.

“The SSM mission is to protect Swedish society against harmful effects of radiation, now and in the future. It is hardly possible to accomplish our mission without a proper level of trust and confidence,” Sara said.

The Uatom.org Editorial Board spoke to Sara Brandt Zaric, webmaster of the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority, to learn about SSM’s structure, main tasks and priorities, as well as the importance of establishing dialogue with the public.

Sara Brandt Zaric, webmaster of the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority

– Sara, please tell our readers about the structure of the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority. What department do you work for?

The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority, or SSM, has five departments and a secretariat, the Office for International Relations. The departments are as follows: Department of Nuclear Power Plant Safety, Department of Radioactive Materials, Department of Radiation Protection, and the Development Department and Organisational Services Department.

I represent the Communication Section, which belongs to the Development Department. Besides our section, the Development Department includes the Legal Services, Research and Internal Security sections.  

Our team works very coherently. Our section consists of only seven people. We have the following allocation of responsibilities: two employees are strategic communication experts, one deals with the mass media, prepares news items and is responsible for crisis communication, and one employee works with internal communication and graphic design. The section also has a translator to English, and, of course, a Director of Communication who runs the section. My role is the webmaster of SSM’s website. I also work with the Authority’s social media accounts, as well as different communication projects.

– How many people work at SSM?

– We have around 300 employees.

 – What is SSM’s mission? What are the most important tasks and priorities?

  SSM’s mission is to protect Swedish society against harmful effects of radiation, now and in the future. SSM also provides expertise and financial support for international projects.

SSM works to ensure nuclear and radiation safety at Swedish nuclear facilities by applying three instruments: rulemaking, regulatory supervision and licensing. SSM also works to ensure safe management of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste, supervises medical institutions by looking into the safety of X-ray diagnostics, and arranges educational activities for the public on topics such as the impact of naturally occurring radiation sources on the human body.

– Describe the management of SSM. Who appoints the Director General and for what period?

– The Director General is appointed by the Government. Mats Persson, our present Director General, has this appointment up until the end of 2018.

According to a Government decision, SSM will have two office locations as of October 2018: the headquarters of the Authority and several sections will be relocated to Katrineholm, with our present offices in Solna (Stockholm) remaining in place. A part of the management team, including our Director General, will be transferred from Stockholm to Katrineholm.

Mats Persson is responsible for SSM’s reorganisation work and relocation. He will keep his position until he completes this process.

– Why does the Government require this?

– The decision was political. The Government wants to demonstrate that proper attention is paid not only to the capital or other major cities, but also to rural areas, where Katrineholm is located.

– How does Sweden manage to ensure the political and financial independence of the nuclear regulator?

 SSM reports its activities to the Ministry of the Environment and Energy of Sweden. Nevertheless, decisions on SSM’s overall priorities and budget are made by the Government and Parliament. This does not affect the independence of SSM. SSM makes independent decisions on matters within its mandates.

 SSM’s budget is over 400 million SEK per year.

– Sara, please tell us about the National Metrology Laboratory.

The National Metrology Laboratory is also part of SSM. There, laboratory experts conduct metrological research and calibrate equipment used for radiotherapy, X-ray diagnostics and radiation protection purposes.

– Is it important for SSM to collaborate with public organisations and the mass media?

 – As a representative of the Communication Section, I can say with certainty that it is important. Public organisations and the mass media are irreplaceable links belonging to the process of communicating information to broad circles of the public.

– How is SSM’s relationship to the mass media?

– It depends on the specific nature of our communication to them.

It is important to be recognisable as a public authority. Surveys show that SSM is not the most well-known government agency in Sweden. However, our target audiences trust us.

In addition to communication with the mass media, SSM finds it important to communicate with citizens. We sometimes do this through public information campaigns in social media channels that focus on protection of the population against radon and ultraviolet radiation.

– Why does SSM have a major focus on protection against radon?  

 – SSM experts have estimated that radon in residential buildings leads to about 500 cases of lung cancer per year in Sweden. Radon can enter buildings through the soil, building materials and household water. Measurements are the only way to identify this radionuclide.

SSM is concerned about this situation, so we make all efforts to improve it. Each year, from the beginning of October to the end of April, municipalities and specialised companies in Sweden measure radon in residential buildings. Moreover, anyone can buy individual detectors and install them in their house through their municipalities or the specialised companies. SSM helps to promote such preventive measures and arranges information campaigns in social media and offline.

– What social media do you use?

– We have two Facebook pages. One is devoted to radon and the other to protection against ultraviolet radiation.

We also have Twitter and YouTube accounts, plus two free apps on Apple Store and Google Play: one that can help you to identify your personal sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation. With this app, you can perform daily monitoring of your local UV index. The app can tell you how long you can stay in the sun. The other app is a book about the sun, targeting small children.

– Please tell us how you establish internal communication at SSM.

– Establishment of internal communication is no less important than establishment of external communication.

One important event in the area includes information meetings with the Director General. We have them approximately once a month. Mats Persson holds a presentation for all SSM staff and discusses key organisational issues. The audience is welcome to comment or ask questions.

The intranet is also a popular channel at SSM. I think it will become even more important when SSM has two office locations.

– Sara, what interesting communication projects were implemented in 2017?

– As the webmaster, I would have to say the launch of the new SSM website. For this purpose, we conducted a number of studies that showed that website visitors had some problems searching for the information they needed. The reason for this was the insufficiently convenient website structure. We decided to rectify the situation, so we launched a new website with improved structure and design.

The website is continuously undergoing construction in terms of content and functionality. Our aim is to develop this website to achieve a higher standard, better functionality, improved content and easier navigation. Another goal is to make the website as accessible as possible for all visitors.

Uatom.org Editorial Board