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Nuclear Industry ‘Failed After Fukushima’, PIME 2013 Told

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The nuclear industry failed to control or substantially influence the media and public information in the wake of Fukushima-Daiichi, despite being aware that the accident was the result of “relatively simple safety culture questions on several levels in the Japanese nuclear system”, a conference has been told.

In a keynote speech to the PIME 2013 conference in Zurich, Switzerland, Swiss Nuclear Society president Johannis Nöggerath said many questions were raised in the months following the March 2011 accident, such as “where was the communication of WANO’s Tokyo centre during and after the accident?”

Mr Nöggerath said many of his colleagues at nuclear plants were “greatly disappointed” by the lack of communication after Fukushima-Daiichi and up until today.

He said in the days of Chernobyl the nuclear industry had experienced a mentality of “isolation, secrets and lack of information”. Chernobyl marked the beginning of two decades of “negative communication control” by the media and NGOs.

He said communication after Fukushima-Daiichi was from the beginning “controlled and dominated” by a hostile media, sometimes supported by anti-nuclear groups – especially in Germany and Switzerland were governments are planning to phase out the use of nuclear energy.

Communicators in the nuclear industry were frozen, and unable to develop a clear position of defence or propose an alternative message for the public.

He said: “I observed an overcautious tendency to treat the Japanese nuclear sector with a certain care during the short time window when it would have been urgent and sensible to make a clear distinction between Fukushima and the rest of the world.”

Experts recognised the enormous deficits in basic plant safe design at Fukushima-Daiichi, and the sloppiness of organisations, the poor emergency preparedness and the “wheeling and dealing” between the regulator and the operators.

The Fukushima-Daiichi accident was more a question of “an enormous deficit” in relatively simple safety culture questions on several levels in the Japanese nuclear system.

Mr Nöggerath, a nuclear engineer who works at Switzerland’s Leibstadt nuclear plant, said the industry must continue to make clear for politicians and decision makers the “big difference” between Fukushima-Daiichi and other plants.

He said the industry’s best argument is the continued high performance records of its plants, with the huge amounts of electricity produced. He also pointed to nuclear energy’s contribution to “stable, space-saving and carbon-poor production”.

Mr Nöggerath said: “We should warn intensively about irreversible nuclear phase-out experiments”.

PIME, the conference on Public Information Materials Exchange, is for professional nuclear communicators.

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