Nuclear energy is truly a globalised industry. Countries and companies across the world share reactor designs, components, and construction techniques. Hand in hand with that, those countries also share design faults, component failures, and construction shortcomings. Witness, for instance, how the EPR reactors currently being built in France and Finland share many of the same fundamental problems in their construction – poor safety standards, cost overruns and missed deadlines.
Add to these lists the way investigations, studies and public consultations are conducted when governments decide to build new nuclear power stations. The same tricks are exported all over the world. Canada and Bulgaria’s nuclear industries both produce woefully inadequate Environmental Impact Assessments. Consultations with the public are regarded as shams and whitewashes in Bulgaria and the UK.
The latest questions to be asked about the transparency of consultations have been asked by the UK’s satire and investigative journalism magazine, Private Eye:
After the high court slammed the government’s public consultation over new nuclear power stations last year as ‘misleading, seriously flawed, manifestly inadequate and procedurally unfair’, you’d think mandarins might have learned. But recent consultations on the siting of nuclear stations suggests not.
An Eye reporter applied to go to one of the meetings but was barred the night before and told that he wasn’t a ‘stakeholder’ in the nuclear debate. The department for business, enterprise and regulatory reform (BERR) clearly believes that protest group Parents Concerned About Hinkley (PCAH) isn’t a stakeholder either – even though it sits on the official site stakeholder group for Hinkley Point in Somerset. The group has made a formal complaint to BERR to ask why it was not invited.
PCAH is not alone. Delegate lists for the three events, in Bristol, Manchester and London, show that out of 117 attendees the vast majority were representatives from nuclear companies, their lobbyists and their consultants, along with a few regulators, while fewer than half a dozen of those opposed to the plans made it in.
Journalists are not ‘stakeholders’? Do they not use electricity? Are they not the eyes and ears of those members of the public unable to attend such events? Is the UK government perhaps worried about the standards of these consultations and therefore unwilling to allow journalists to report the facts? If that isn’t the case some would be forgiven for thinking so. Excluding the PCAH – stakeholders who aren’t stakeholders? – is merely perverse.
This comes along at a time when research by the Royal Society shows that, in the UK, ‘a good deal of fatalism about the legitimacy of any upcoming public consultation on siting of new stations is married with an overwhelming demand for proper consultation well in advance of any siting decisions.’. You can bet in this age of globalisation, that fatalism about consultations’ legitimacy is being exported worldwide.
With a widespread desire for transparency and open scrutiny in the nuclear industry, you would think governments would be anxious to build public confidence, not undermine it. If all is proper, clean, safe and cheap, what have they got to hide?