British govt’s role in PR for the nuclear lobby

 The Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, who sits on the Commons environmental audit committee, condemned the extent of co-ordination between the government and nuclear companies that the emails appear to reveal.

“The government has no business doing PR for the industry and it would be appalling if its departments have played down the impact of Fukushima,” he said.

Revealed: British government’s plan to play down Fukushima Internal emails seen by Guardian show PR campaign was launched to protect UK nuclear plans after tsunami in Japan • Read the emails here  Guardian UK, 19 Aug 12, 

British government officials approached nuclear companies to draw up a co-ordinated public relations strategy to play down the Fukushimanuclear accident just two days after the earthquake and tsunami in Japanand before the extent of the radiation leak was known.

Internal emails seen by the Guardian show how the business and energydepartments worked closely behind the scenes with the multinational companies EDF EnergyAreva and Westinghouse to try to ensure the accident did not derail their plans for a new generation of nuclear stations in the UK.

“This has the potential to set the nuclear industry back globally,” wrote one official at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), whose name has been redacted. “We need to ensure the anti-nuclear chaps and chapesses do not gain ground on this. We need to occupy the territory and hold it. We really need to show the safety of nuclear.”

Officials stressed the importance of preventing the incident from undermining public support for nuclear power.

The Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, who sits on the Commons environmental audit committee, condemned the extent of co-ordination between the government and nuclear companies that the emails appear to reveal.

“The government has no business doing PR for the industry and it would be appalling if its departments have played down the impact of Fukushima,” he said.

Louise Hutchins, a spokeswoman for Greenpeace, said the emails looked like “scandalous collusion”. “This highlights the government’s blind obsession with nuclear power and shows neither they, nor the industry, can be trusted when it comes to nuclear,” she said.

The Fukushima accident, triggered by the Japan earthquake and tsunami on 11 March, has forced 80,000 people from their homes. Opinion polls suggest it has dented public support for nuclear power in Britain and around the world, with the governments of GermanyItaly, Switzerland, Thailand and Malaysia cancelling planned nuclear power stations in the wake of the accident.

The business department emailed the nuclear firms and their representative body, the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA), on 13 March, two days after the disaster knocked out nuclear plants and their backup safety systems at Fukushima. The department argued it was not as bad as the “dramatic” TV pictures made it look, even though the consequences of the accident were still unfolding and two major explosions at reactors on the site were yet to happen.

“Radiation released has been controlled – the reactor has been protected,” said the BIS official, whose name has been blacked out. “It is all part of the safety systems to control and manage a situation like this.”

The official suggested that if companies sent in their comments, they could be incorporated into briefs to ministers and government statements. “We need to all be working from the same material to get the message through to the media and the public……

 

On 7 April, the office for nuclear development invited companies to attend a meeting at the NIA’s headquarters in London. The aim was “to discuss a joint communications and engagement strategy aimed at ensuring we maintain confidence among the British public on the safety of nuclear power stations and nuclear new-build policy in light of recent events at the Fukushima nuclear power plant”.

Other documents released by the government’s safety watchdog, theoffice for nuclear regulation, reveal that the text of an announcement on 5 April about the impact of Fukushima on the new nuclear programme was privately cleared with nuclear industry representatives at a meeting the previous week. According to one former regulator, who preferred not to be named, the degree of collusion was “truly shocking”…..

Tom Burke, a former government environmental adviser and visiting professor at Imperial College London, warned that the British government was repeating mistakes made in Japan. “They are too close to industry, concealing problems, rather than revealing and dealing with them,” he said.

“I would be much more reassured if DECC had been worrying about how the government would cope with the $200bn-$300bn of liabilities from a catastrophic nuclear accident in Britain.”

The government last week confirmed plans for eight new nuclear stationsin England and Wales. “If acceptable proposals come forward in appropriate places, they will not face unnecessary holdups,” said the energy minister, Charles Hendry…. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jun/30/british-government-plan-play-down-fukushima

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