Nuclear Decommissioning Authority Rejects Proposed Transparency Reforms

NEW guidelines which campaigners say could benefit communities around nuclear sites have been boycotted by a UK government nuclear agency.

Internal documents seen by The Ferret reveal that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) rejected the proposed reforms because they had caused “a great deal of unease”.

Guidelines to make local nuclear site safety meetings across the UK more transparent, accountable and representative have been set out in a nuclear industry report.

The report condemned liaison groups on some sites for “poor practices” and for “lack of accountability”. The nuclear industry must shed its “secret” reputation by being “open and honest”, he said.

Activists slammed the NDA for trying to block the guidelines, which had “much to commend them”. At many meetings at nuclear sites, dissenting voices were absent or marginalized, they said.

READ MORE: Tories plan to build a new nuclear power station in Scotland – despite Scottish government opposition

But the NDA, which backs more than half of the nuclear site stakeholder groups, defended their independence. He said local communities should decide how to organize their meetings, not the nuclear industry.

There are 29 licensed nuclear sites in the UK, including six in Scotland. These include nuclear power plants in operation and being decommissioned, nuclear submarine bases, and waste treatment and management plants.

All sites have stakeholder or liaison groups aimed at keeping local communities informed of events, including shutdowns, breakdowns and radioactive leaks – but they differ significantly in how they are managed.

Sixteen stakeholder groups at decommissioning sites are supported by the NDA, including Hunterston in North Ayrshire, Dounreay in Caithness and Chapelcross in Dumfries and Galloway. They have websites, publish their minutes and are open to the public.

Four other groups are supported by the Ministry of Defence, including those at Faslane and Coulport on the Clyde and Rosyth in Fife. Only a few details about their composition are in the public domain and information about their meetings is scarce.

Electricity company EDF Energy is convening local groups at three operating nuclear power stations, including Torness in East Lothian. Six other nuclear sites operated by other companies and one college have different arrangements.

In 2017, the group of 50 nuclear-free local authorities in the UK published a report questioning whether local stakeholder and liaison groups were “fit for purpose”. He concluded that there was an “urgent need” to reform them.

This is why the Nuclear Industry Safety Directors Forum, which brings together senior managers from all civilian and military nuclear sites, commissioned a report. It has been researched and written by the Forum of Young Nuclear Industry Professionals.

The resulting “Good Practice Guide” was released in November 2021. “Nuclear sites often have a reputation for being opaque, secretive and unwilling to engage with the public,” he said.

“This negative reputation is actively damaging, ranging from open opposition to the site’s existence to a general lack of understanding. Active engagement is essential to undo this, the nuclear industry must be open and honest.

The report claimed that local liaison groups at several unidentified nuclear sites had “no responsibility”. This included “no terms of reference in place, no clear process for managing actions, inadequate minute-taking and infrequent meetings”.

He pointed out that while some meetings were open to the public, others were not. Some groups only invited “selected stakeholders” and “diversity and inclusion is not always encouraged”.

Some groups did not have websites.

“Meetings are not always accessible and, in some cases, incomprehensible due to heavy use of acronyms, especially for those who do not work in the nuclear industry,” the report adds.

The report recommended that the groups all have websites, clear and published constitutions and a “diverse range of stakeholders”. There should be an independent industry co-chair and members of the public should be allowed to ask questions.

But correspondence released under freedom of information laws revealed how the report upset the NDA and some of the existing groups.

“This release continues to cause much discontent among the NDA’s Independent Site Stakeholder Groups (SSGs),” NDA Stakeholder Engagement Manager John McNamara wrote on November 15, 2021.

He warned that this had “a detrimental effect” on the NDA’s relationship with stakeholders. “The SSG Forum, which represents all SSG meetings at our sites, has unanimously decided not to participate in this report, nor to acknowledge its findings,” he added.

“As the responsible party for funding these meetings, we support their independent right to make this decision.”

According to McNamara, the SSG Forum was unhappy that the report gave the impression that the forum supported nuclear industry “regulation” of community-owned meetings. “It was an extremely sensitive point that led to the creation of the SSG Forum in the first place,” he said.

McNamara then sent a circular to all SSG chairs and vice chairs disassociating the NDA and the SSG Forum from the guidelines. He said: ‘For the nuclear industry to review independent SSG meetings without its consent is not acceptable.’

The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) group called on the NDA to reconsider its boycott.

NFLA President and Leeds Green Councilor David Blackburn said: “The NFLA is disappointed that neither the NDA nor the SSG Forum are willing to engage with the draft guidelines published by the Young Nuclear Professionals’ Forum.

“The NFLA has made it clear that while we believe these guidelines contain many good practice recommendations, they fall short of our own aspirations to improve accountability, democracy and inclusiveness. We have made a number of additional recommendations to improve best practices across all site stakeholder groups. »

Rita Holmes, chair of the Hunterston Site Stakeholders Group, but speaking in a personal capacity, pointed out that groups have been set up to allow local communities to look carefully at nuclear sites and their emergency plans. To work, they needed members willing to ask “research questions,” she argued.

“This is more likely to happen if local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community council representatives are members. If the SSGs are very numerous with politically minded local authority representatives or nuclear lobbyists, then there is no real control,” she told The Ferret.

“I believe that regulators and site managers welcome rational challenges and constructive dialogues from members who are genuinely interested in safe production and decommissioning. Too often the control job is left unsatisfied for lack of challenge because NGOs are absent from some of the SSGs.

Tor Justad, pictured above, an activist with Highlands Against Nuclear Transport and member of the Dounreay Stakeholder Group, expressed “concerns” about the group’s ability to effectively challenge the proposals. »

Most of the group members are directly tied to the site and depend on it for employment or support through grants,” he said.

“The meeting format, with often technical reports, makes it difficult for laypersons and the public to question reports and offer alternative solutions. Reviews of the site’s operations are considered negative and not as favorable as expected.

Justad described the layout of the meetings as “intimidating” and argued that it deterred the public.

He added: “As the Dounreay Stakeholder Group is directly funded and administered by the NDA, it is difficult for it to be fully independent.

“Many changes could be made to make the group more inclusive and effective, including more members who may be critical of the nuclear industry.”

The NDA defended the site’s stakeholder groups as “independent” community meetings. “The community itself – not the nuclear industry – appoints the chair and members of meetings, and establishes its own terms of reference,” an NDA spokesperson said.

“Meetings are open to the public and the media. The independent chairs of these meetings also agree to a set of guidelines with the NDA that reflect this independence from industry, but set expectations for how industry should communicate and report progress or any another problem to the community.

The role of the NDA was only to facilitate the meetings by funding them and providing administrative assistance, he stressed. She confirmed that the chairs of the stakeholder groups had decided not to participate in the review by the Security Managers Forum.

“The NDA supports their decision and their view that local communities themselves should decide how they organize their meetings,” the spokesperson added.

EDF Energy claimed to have “positive relations” with the communities around its nuclear plants. “EDF maintains an open and transparent dialogue with its stakeholders on each of the sites it has operated for several decades,” said a company spokesperson.

“Participation in groups such as Site Stakeholder Groups, which are sponsored by the NDA, and Local Community Liaison Groups are just one part of a wide range of engagement activities in which we are involved.”

The Department of Defense said its nuclear sites had “routine engagements” with local stakeholders.

A spokesperson added, “When managing stakeholder engagement, our goal is to maximize transparency while balancing the need to protect our capabilities from exploitation by potential adversaries.”

The nuclear industry safety directors forum did not respond to requests for comment.

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