To be published as HC 1742-i i

House of COMMONS





Wednesday 25 January 2012



Evidence heard in Public Questions 41 – 97



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Science and Technology Committee

on Wednesday 25 January 2012

Members present:

Andrew Miller (Chair)

Stephen Mosley

Pamela Nash

Graham Stringer

Roger Williams


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Tracey Brown, Managing Director, Sense about Science, Fiona Fox, Director, Science Media Centre, and Mark Henderson, former Science Editor, The Times, gave evidence.

Q41 Chair: I realise that several people in the room have very busy diaries this morning, so I want to get straight in. I would be grateful if the three of you would introduce yourselves.

Mark Henderson: I am Mark Henderson. Until December I was science editor of The Times. Since then I have started working as head of communications at the Wellcome Trust, though I should stress that my appearance here is in a personal capacity and I am not giving evidence on behalf of that trust.

Fiona Fox: My name is Fiona Fox. I am chief executive of the Science Media Centre, an independent press office for science set up in 2002.

Tracey Brown: I am Tracey Brown, director of the UK charity Sense about Science.

Q42 Chair: Welcome. Mr Henderson, I realise you have to go. At the point you have to go, please leave; we will not be affronted by it. I guess the media sources are the principal sources of information for the public on nuclear risks. Which parts of the media have the most influence over public risk perceptions?

Fiona Fox: I think the most recent survey on this was by BIS, which was published a few months back. It continues to show that the media as a whole, including television, is the main source of information about science for over 80% of the population. Despite the advent of new media and blogging, incredibly that is still the case. They specify that television is probably the biggest source but that newspapers are still 50% to 60%. All the media have a huge influence on public opinion on science and risk.

Mark Henderson: Those statistics came from the MORI survey for BIS, which I am sure we can get you if you do not have it. I believe the question they asked was, "What is your main source for science in general?" About 64% said it was television and about 25% said it was newspapers. The internet was surprisingly low, including only about 2%, who said that science blogs and that kind of thing were the main source, not that they are unimportant in other ways. It is also interesting that people say in every survey they do not trust the media but trust family and friends. From where do they think their family and friends get their information in the first place? Very often there is a cascade of information from the media to other sources that can sometimes become recycled.

Tracey Brown: A new phenomenon is that in similar surveys 80% of people say they get health information on the internet. This is a different kind of information seeking. Whereas the news sets the agenda for discussion, when people have a concern, for example, about radiation exposure and whether to holiday in Japan, they look for information and pull up old news stories and materials in a proactive fashion. They gather it themselves using news portals and things. That is a different phenomenon, which means there is a circulation that continues beyond the day the newspapers are published or the programmes broadcast.

Q43 Chair: In your judgment what are people most concerned about: proximity to power stations, accidents or waste?

Mark Henderson: It is a difficult question, because in the context of nuclear I am sure it varies a great deal by people. One interesting observation about radiation in general-Professor David Spiegelhalter, from whom I hope you will be taking evidence, wrote a very good piece on this in The Times-is that it ticks all the boxes of risks that people find particularly difficult, in that it is invisible; you can’t actually see it. It is not something that is very easily understood; it has had a bad press over the years and is readily connotated with nuclear explosions-Hiroshima, Nagasaki and so on. It is also a risk that appears to be imposed on people rather than one they choose to undergo voluntarily for a clearly defined benefit. In a different context, it is very similar to the risk from GM food in that respect, in that all those factors apply to the same issue.

Q44 Chair: It is the same principle that people have a different view about death on roads from death on railways.

Mark Henderson: Absolutely. The other counter-analogy I often like to make is with mobile phones. People are much more willing to undergo potential risks from mobile phones-not that there is any proof of such risks and, indeed, I think the evidence is poor-because there is such a clearly defined personal utility to them of having the mobile phone that the benefit outweighs the risk.

Q45 Chair: Every MP has scars on his or her back about the location of masts.

Fiona Fox: You ask what scares the public. For me, one interesting thing is the disjuncture between what the media think scares the public and the public. I do not know what really scares the public, but the media believe that the public want to be informed about every possible risk. A really good question for this Committee is whether that is the case. We have done our own survey-I have seen another one-which shows, quite surprisingly, that, when asked whether they would like to hear about every possible risk to the environment and health, immediately the public say they do not want to hear. They would prefer to hear about the risk when it has been proven several times and other experts have replicated those studies. There is a real disjuncture between what the news editor thinks-Mark said that radiation was uniquely terrifying; let’s splash it on the front page-and the public’s desire for the much more cautious approach, "When many scientists in many countries and in many studies have proven that coffee gives me cancer, then tell me, but don’t tell me about a study that includes three mice and it has not been proved before or replicated since."

Tracey Brown: In relation to radiation and some of the concerns about nuclear power, there is a particular issue to do with people’s perception derived from safety guidelines. Safety guidelines are necessarily very conservative about levels of exposure. What happens in a situation like the Fukushima plant in Japan is that there are very low thresholds. Japan sets the threshold for exposure through the water supply very low indeed, but then the news becomes that you have exceeded that. For example, iodine 131 levels in Tokyo’s water supply were about 210 becquerels per kilo. That is more than the limit set by Japan for infant exposure but less than adult exposure. The context is that the adult exposure level set in Japan is about 10 times lower than the level worldwide set by the World Health Organisation as the point of intervention, which is 3,000 becquerels per kilo. Japan sets the adult limit at 300. You end up with a situation where you are trying to explain to a worried population. You have media headlines saying that recommended levels have been exceeded, but there is no evidence that at that level it will cause anybody any harm or anybody will suffer from that. But, of course, it is very worrying for people. What is set out as a precautionary measure to protect the public becomes a source of concern and also a source of alarming newspaper stories. I think that was what happened in that example.

Q46 Chair: Is that an argument for not using becquerels and millisieverts and using multipliers of days on the beach at Benidorm, or something like that, as a way of getting the information to the public more clearly?

Tracey Brown: Those things are always helpful to people to give them some kind of understanding. A similar example is the scanner people go through at airports and then pointing out how much they will be exposed to in the plane after take-off. That puts in perspective their exposure in the scanner. It does help people to give them some context. Whether or not it is enough to stop the kind of reactions and concerns about nuclear, I do not know. There is certainly a job to be done to explain why we set exposure thresholds for environmental hazards at a very low level, and exceeding those does not necessarily mean that people are at risk.

Q47 Chair: Turning back to the media, are there examples of good practice? What are they?

Fiona Fox: Absolutely. I continue to make the point, which I really believe, that our science, health and environment reporters in the UK are among the best journalists in the world and care passionately about accuracy and measured reporting. One of our big problems is what happens between the article and the headline, which is usually devised by the subeditor, and the pressures from the news desk. During Fukushima we had various journalists-I cannot mention their names or where they are from-coming to our briefings with experts saying, "My editor wants a scare story." Newspaper journalists were even taken off this story because they were giving a more measured, balanced, accurate narrative than the ones the news desks wanted. There are thousands of examples of wonderful reporting. We rely on these science journalists to convey very complex, important science stories every single day, but things happen between the story, the editing process and it being splashed on the front page.

Mark Henderson: This brings me to a caveat I want to make to Fiona’s last set of remarks. It is always a mistake to see the media as a whole. There is so much diversity within the media to their approach to questions such as this. I think papers like The Times, The Guardian, the FT and large parts of the BBC take a very different view on this from certain other papers. All of these organisations have as their end goal effectively to sell a product to attract readers, viewers or listeners. They can do it in different ways; they can do it via a more sensational approach or one where they are trying to attract people through a reputation for trustworthiness and accuracy.

During the Fukushima disaster, on which I reported extensively at The Times, I could not have asked for better support from my editor, James Harding, and my head of news, David Taylor, in that from a very early stage they made it clear to me and my colleague Hannah Devlin, who was also covering it, that they wanted a balanced, measured and accurate approach to the risks involved, and they were simply not interested in sensationalising it. They wanted to take a lead from their science specialists, who were more comfortable with some of this risk information than they were, as to what was correct. The approach of taking the lead from the specialists who know a bit more about it is tremendously valuable.

Q48 Chair: As a science editor you will appreciate this question. You said you could not have hoped for better support. That implies you have something against which to measure it. I take it that at some time in your career you have experienced or observed the other end of the spectrum.

Mark Henderson: By and large, I was pretty lucky at The Times, but there were incidents where you had a disagreement with the news editor over that kind of thing. I have certainly observed it elsewhere. Some of my colleagues on other papers have not been as fortunate in that regard. While they may well have wished to provide a measured and evidence-based line, it is unequivocally true that they are often placed under pressure from elsewhere in the organisation.

Q49 Roger Williams: It is one question where the public get their information from and whether they trust it or are able to filter it, so to speak, and make their own judgment. In general, do you think the public trust the media to give a balanced view on risk and also to represent the uncertainties where issues are not entirely clear at the moment?

Mark Henderson: I suspect probably not, by and large. I am not familiar with the latest polling, but, generally speaking, it is the case that journalists come just above you guys on the trust register. That said, to go back to what I said right at the beginning, although people say they do not trust the media, they repeat to their family, friends and so on a lot of statistics and information they read in the media. It then acquires trust by being transmitted through a trust figure. Very often, the media, while people say they do not trust it, is the original source of information given to people by figures they do trust.

Fiona Fox: It would be amazing to get some rigorous research on this. As Mark says, the truth is that we do not know. Very often, the MORI polls just ask the straight question, as BIS did, "Do you get your information about science from the media?"-end of question. Somebody needs to invest in some real research into whether Mark is right and that, even though they say they do not trust it, it becomes their main source of information. I believe Emily Shuckburgh, who is doing some work on climate at the minute, has run quite a few focus groups with the public about that subject. She tells me that they are very literate about the media; they say, "I never read the headlines any more because I know they are sensational." If true, that is fantastic for us, but it is just a few focus groups. There is research about 20 years old, which keeps being cited and I hope is not true, that people read only the headline and the first two lines and then get bored and give up. That is terrible for us, because usually the nice accurate and measured bit from the third-party expert the Science Media Centre has offered is toward the bottom. We do not know. There is a real gap in the whole public engagement work for some proper research as to the impact of these things.

Tracey Brown: We need to be quite careful. There are a couple of caveats about the media and the communication of risk. One is that we should not assume that the public’s perception of risk is the same as the media story. People are fairly canny about how they read things. Many people who read The Sun for its football news know very well how biased it can be in the report of a football match. Everybody recognises that is the case. People take what they want from the media; they do not consume it in a very passive way, but, as Fiona says, that needs research.

I am not trying to let the media’s responsibility slip away here, but when a senior official says something really irresponsible what are the media supposed to do? Commissioner Oettinger called it "the apocalypse". He said, "I think the word is particularly well chosen", describing the situation at Fukushima in Japan. One could argue that it would be irresponsible of the media not to report to us that the person in charge of energy in Europe is saying that this is the apocalypse. What can you do? It is the right thing to do to tell us what people in that kind of senior position say. I was very frustrated by that experience because it led to huge numbers of headlines. I am afraid that to this day the commissioner and his staff have refused to recognise that that was an irresponsible approach. When we finally got them to answer the question, they said they preferred not to dwell on semantic details, which is a very flippant approach to risk communication. When that happens, you cannot look at the role of the media but at the commentators the media report to us.

Q50 Roger Williams: Once it gets into the public mind these things can have very serious implications. I was at Syngenta on Friday. Its GM plant-breeding operation has moved to America, and I understand that about a month ago BASF’s GM operation in Germany also moved to America, so they have real implications. In general, who do the public believe most? Is it Government, campaigning organisations, the media, independent scientists-people who pop up and have an individualist view on matters?

Mark Henderson: The polling out there suggests that independent and academically-funded scientists do quite well on the trust spectrum. Industry-funded scientists are lower. As to NGOs, it depends. Some people hang on their every word; some are very sceptical of them. With regard to the Fukushima incident specifically, to pick up something Tracey said, a very interesting poll was published last September by the British Science Association. It showed that public support for nuclear power at least in the UK had gone up since Fukushima, the best explanation for which seemed to be that a natural disaster of biblical proportions had thrown everything it had against a 40-year-old power station and nobody died. That suggests, as Tracey said, that very often the public can work it out for themselves by weighing up all the different sources mentioned by you, Roger, and come to a reasoned, measured decision.

Something else that was desperately unhelpful during the Fukushima incident, just like the commissioner’s remarks, was the IAEA’s scale for rating the seriousness and severity of a disaster which only went up to seven. Once it got to seven it was as serious as Chernobyl. I do not think even Greenpeace would claim that the Fukushima accident was as serious as Chernobyl. That scale made it tremendously difficult for reporters to convey the nuance of what was happening at Fukushima versus what had happened previously at Chernobyl, because the scale was not fit for purpose.

Fiona Fox: There is probably a range of sources that people believe. Again, there is not very rigorous research, but a few years ago the Association of Medical Research Charities looked into this and discovered that when people came to their focus group they came with a cutting from the Daily Mail that their mother-in-law had sent them, a piece from The Guardian that their father-in-law had sent them, and stuff from the internet. People look to a range of sources, especially when it is a risk that affects them.

The thing the Science Media Centre was really proud of during Fukushima was that it almost physically pushed out hundreds of experts into every single media outlet. Richard Wakeford, Jim Smith and Paddy Regan, very good experts with 30 or 40 years’ expertise, did back-to-back television programmes. Estelle Morris, whom all of you know, said recently how much she and her partner had learned about the basics of radiation at the end of Fukushima from access to all of these experts. Within all these things there is an opportunity. Mark is right. At the end of Climategate there were polls. Everybody in the scientific community was in despair that they were losing the argument and were all going down. Then all these polls said that 90% of the British public think that the climate is warming, despite three months of headlines saying it is all a hoax. That was what did not happen in GM. In GM you had the headlines and the frenzy, but you did not hear from the wonderful plant scientists who were doing the research. There was a huge gap.

As to whom we believe, we know from lots of surveys that independent scientists are believed. John Beddington and Mike Weightman played a really important role in this. I think we could have heard more from them. People trust John Beddington, who is independent. He was being advised the whole time by SAGE, and yet there were only a couple of occasions during the whole two or three months on which John came out and spoke. When he did, it was powerful and influential. Journalists packed into the briefing with Mike Weightman and trusted and respected what he had to say. These were arm’s length advisers to Government. Sadly, there were many, like the Health Protection Agency, the Met Office and the National Nuclear Laboratory, who told us they were not allowed to speak during that phase. They were giving advice to Government but they did not want to do media interviews. There is a big lesson there about arm’s length independent experts being made available to advise Government but also the media and the public.

Mark Henderson: To be fair, John Beddington was pretty visible during the first few weeks.

Q51 Chair: He certainly was in Japan.

Mark Henderson: Yes.

Q52 Pamela Nash: Just before we move on from public trust, we have been concentrating on national media and stories, to which I understand the Science Media Centre was set up to respond. Last week it was highlighted by Professor Pidgeon that there was evidence to show that populations living near nuclear sites and nuclear power stations, for example, had much more trust in their local power station than might be seen elsewhere. I found that quite interesting. I do not believe that for local populations that is always the case with new projects. Have you had any experience of local press and how they respond to science stories? Are they geared up to make that response in a way that the public can understand? In what way do you think we can give them greater support to do that when there is a wide range of campaigning organisations with whom they will have links that may have different or varying levels of scientific knowledge about the project they are looking at?

Tracey Brown: Do you want to say something about the local press?

Fiona Fox: I think they are incredibly important, but it is the same issue that we have nationally. Where the local paper is big enough and has enough resources to employ a specialist, the coverage is better. We have the names of every science or health specialist on every local paper, but there are probably only about 20 out of hundreds and hundreds. They take a lot of copy from PA, so they still get good coverage of science where the scientists make themselves available, but it is mostly local correspondents with no knowledge of how the science works and who the local scientists are, and they are very much led by campaigning organisations. You are right that, in the local areas where there are nuclear power stations, people love their local nuclear power station because it has given them employment and a high standard of living for many years. They have a different attitude. Equally, the local papers are almost singly responsible for the scares about mobile phone masts and so on. I think we should be doing more to support them, but it is quite difficult to know how to do that.

Tracey Brown: There are lots of other kinds of media. I would extend that even to intermediaries. There are lots of other places from which people get their information or supplementary information. One area of publication that is often neglected is the professional press. All health and safety officials in their staff rooms have copies of the professional weeklies; midwives have their midwifery magazines and news; nurses have the Nursing
. Professionals have a press that often reflects that broader news agenda, usually on a weekly but sometimes monthly or bi-weekly basis. That is another opportunity. We are talking about an audience of people who are themselves communicating on to many others. I was always very frustrated in terms of communication of risk issues during the early part of the MMR debacle that so little attention was paid to it and communicated through papers like the Nursing Times.

To take the example of nuclear power, we also have an opportunity through a lot of online discussion, including the traditional media. You can get people to set the agenda of questions they still have. Having read those articles, what questions do they still have? We put Paddy Regan on Mumsnet. People asked questions like, "Is it okay to take my children on holiday to Japan?" They were trying to weigh up the implications for themselves. They said, "My husband is working away in Japan. Should he come home?" "Should I buy pills from NukePills.com?", which was a particular fashion, or, "Should I buy salt?" Those were the sorts of questions people were asking as a result of looking at the coverage. I know that a lot of newspapers-certainly the BBC sometimes do it-will run a Q and A. It is almost like a radio phone-in but online. It is now becoming quite common for people to take part in those kinds of things.

Q53 Stephen Mosley: I think all of you have mentioned the word "sensationalist" at some point during the presentation so far. There seems to be the perception that the media do sensationalise things. Are there any particularly good examples where Government and media work together well, or does sensationalism tend to take over and lead the way?

Mark Henderson: I know Fiona will say exactly the same thing. There have been some very good examples that spring to mind, not so much in risk but perhaps in communication of difficult and potentially controversial areas of research. Partly through organisations like Fiona’s and Tracey’s, scientists have increasingly tried to get out in front of the issue and communicate with the media, parliamentarians and the public before something comes to a head in a sensational crisis.

There are a couple of very good examples of that. One is the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill a few years ago, on which many of you will have voted. In that case scientists engaged very proactively in all of those issues from a very early stage. One of the big issues was the question of whether or not one should be allowed to create hybrid embryos. People like Steven Minger and Robin Lovell-Badge got out in front and explained what the research was and was not. That meant the rationale for it and the scientific accuracy of what was being proposed led the debate for most of that period and was tremendously influential at the end of it. That was a very good example of how it can be done well in a slightly different context. I realise it is not a direct example of risk communication as such, but it is analogous in different ways.

Fiona Fox: I would refer to the recent debate on shale gas. The narrative on shale gas looked really grim. We talked to quite a few people and ran a background briefing. There was no announcement or news story; there was nothing shocking or sensational. The room was packed. All the science and environment journalists of the national newspapers came, even though there was not a story. We had two of the leading experts in the UK. All of the headlines next day were about the low risk from shale gas. You would assume that in a room like this they would find something scary to say, but they did not; they even had headlines about the low risk.

Q54 Chair: So Blackpool tower is not going to fall down.

Fiona Fox: Apparently not-not because of fracking anyway. It was very honest. There are risks; there are earthquakes. These were independent geologists, not with the company, and they were very open about the risks. Every journalist in that room-they are the ones who will cover shale gas over the next couple of years-got to hear a balanced, accurate and measured view. At the end I felt very strongly that we had to push those experts out there because this could be another GM. We could end up saying no to shale gas and import it from Poland or wherever. That is fine if it is justified, but, if we are saying no to it as a society based on exaggerated risks from campaign groups and poor science, that is what we want to avoid.

Q55 Stephen Mosley: What you are suggesting is that, looking forward, you need to get the expert opinion behind it before you can work on the public opinion, or do you need to do it the other way round? Do you need to make sure you have the experts there before you come up with policy and go out to the public?

Fiona Fox: Lots of people have the right to a say in these debates. What we must not do is ever have these debates without the expert voice of the people who have spent 30 years working on them and know most about the risks. In the case of GM we had celebrity scientists weighing in to defend GM, and good for them. Susan Greenfield and Robert Winston saw these attacks on GM as anti-science, but they were not plant scientists and so they were not doing experiments in a lab which showed that GM presented potential risks to the environment. Therefore, it looked like pro and anti-science. The key thing is to get expertise into the debate and for the media, policymakers and the public to have easy access, and then they can make their judgment. That is democracy.

Mark Henderson: In the case of risks specifically, a lot can be done, first, through risk literacy education, which is quite important. I do not think we get taught at school to think productively in weighing up risk and benefit and assessing risks against one another. David Spiegelhalter has done some very good work on using things like the Premiership football table, national lottery and things like that to communicate what risk and probability actually are.

Tracey Brown: In a sense this is what Sense about Science is trying to do but reaches the limits of this, but there is a limit to inoculating the public in preparation for a media frenzy. If the media go into a frenzy about something, they will usually set it out in terms that will reach past whether or not you had a science education and will capture people’s imagination in some way. In those situations you have to do all you can to get through. Every paper has frenzies. Everyone wants to talk about the Daily Mail. There are eight pages in The Independent sensationalising nuclear stories. There is not one mention in eight pages of the 20,000 people who died and the hundreds of thousands who were displaced. A potentially different sensational story, a very real one, could have been there. When they go into that it is hard to get through.

We must not assume that it is always like that in trying to get across the message. Among policymakers and scientists I often find there is an overstatement of how much the media only want bad news or a sensational story. The examples given by Fiona and Mark are just some of the many that show that is not the case. Whatever the issue, whether it is the risk of schizophrenia from drug use or whatever, it is difficult in a frenzy, and a paper goes into that kind of world. I suspect there is editorial pressure behind a lot of those things, but that is not to say it is always like that or there is not scope for an enormous amount of risk communication based on sound evidence.

Mark Henderson: Andrew, I give my apologies.

Chair: Thank you, Mark.

Q56 Graham Stringer: You have actually answered a lot of the questions I was going to ask. I would like to know what were the best and worst examples of media reporting on the Fukushima incident.

Tracey Brown: To elaborate a little on the one I just mentioned, I found an interesting contrast. I think the Daily Mail has an awful lot to answer for in communication, but, to its credit, on the day after, the front page had a picture and put across a story, which was an incredibly important one, where 20,000 people were dead or missing, with massive displacement of people from their homes, and dysentery had returned to an industrial nation. In these eight pages we have "Nuclear explosions"; "Nuclear mistrust"; "Thousands told to stay inside as plant leaks radiation"; "Decades of lies"; "Nuclear reassurances fall on deaf ears"; "Clean-up crews who risk everything"; and "Safety checks on nuclear power station". It is page after page. I did not realise it was possible to write that many headlines on one story.

Q57 Graham Stringer: I take it that is your worst example.

Tracey Brown: Yes. There are times when a strong editorial line seems to take things off in a certain direction. I think that was one of the worst examples. I am sorry to keep harping back to it, but I found it to be one of the most inexcusable examples because it was happening at a time when there was a very reportable story. Even from the science and health side of things, it was of great interest to look at what was happening in terms of the logistics, dealing with the issues and the health effects of the mass displacement of people. I find it amazing that that can be thoroughly ignored in favour of this. It was not a quiet news day is what I am saying.

Fiona Fox: It is a good question. I read Alastair Campbell’s evidence to Leveson the other day. In his introductory comments he makes the point that we have the worst and best of journalism within the same newspapers, which is absolutely true. This was one of the lowest days for my team in 10 years. The earthquake and tsunami were on the Friday. We lined up earthquake and tsunami experts-we have many on our database-and called an emergency briefing for the Tuesday morning. It was packed with journalists. By Saturday literally the only story in town was Fukushima, so we had to drop all of the earthquake experts, apart from one poor guy, who was not asked a single question, and we gave them five nuclear experts on everything on the engineering and radiation side. We covered every possible angle. It was a fantastic briefing and it was absolutely packed. We then sent some of the scientists in to the BBC to do a further briefing. On Wednesday we got all the newspapers. Every one of us was riffling through them, and it was the same day as the "apocalypse" comment. We could not find anything from the briefing. There were a couple of little fact boxes. Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. Those journalists had all those facts and measured, accurate information, but very little of it was in the papers.

Equally, over the next couple of weeks we saw some amazing journalism, for example, from Richard Black on the BBC News website. There were incredible articles. You would understand lots about the way we build our nuclear power stations. Fergus Walsh had bits of radiation with references to millisieverts and the fact that you would have greater exposure in Cornwall. It was amazingly good public education. The media say they do not do that; they entertain, but there was some really good journalism. Kate Kelland fought within Reuters to get incredibly good journalism, as did The Guardian as well. There was a real mix. It may be that Mike Hanlon, science editor of the Daily Mail, has given evidence to this Committee. He made a fantastic analysis of some of the trends and opportunism being displayed very early by anti-nuclear activists, sweeping in on this tragedy to make an argument against nuclear. There are some great examples and some depressing days.

Q58 Graham Stringer: Both in answer to this question and previously, we have been through the mechanics of how things worked in this country. How difficult was it getting information from Japan, which is a long way away, and having faith that what came in was reliable? How did that work?

Fiona Fox: It was almost impossible. One of the biggest challenges in risk communication is talking about risk situations in the absence of information. There was no information. On the day to which I referred, when there was a panel of six experts, the lead expert opened his remarks by telling 35 journalists, "I’m really sorry but all the comments we are going to make today are based on what we have seen on Sky News", at which stage the journalists laughed and pretended they were going to walk out. The difference, of course, was that that was true; they did not have any source of information that was any better than the journalists in front of them, but they did have 30 or 40 years of expertise, so they did know what they were talking about. There was not a single question about that, but it is about intelligent speculation and saying, "I can’t answer that question based on information coming from Japan, but I can tell you about the level at which these nuclear power stations were built and what they are capable of withstanding", so imparting a huge amount of information.

In addition to lack of information, the other problem was different kinds of experts. People said to me, "Yes, but my mother said that scientists don’t agree on this." There was an incredible amount of consensus among mainstream science, but there were some scientists who did not declare they were working for campaign groups. They were saying very different things and were being much more alarmist and apocalyptic. There is an issue to do with the media being open about the sourcing of these scientists.

Tracey Brown: Sometimes it can just be a matter of luck. The American press put across some really good stuff about risk. One of the reasons, I suspect, was that a day or two after the earthquake a Japanese American professor flew back from a visit to Japan. There were crowds at the airport to meet people coming from Japan looking for information about their experience, whether they had been in the area of the tsunami, and so on. They seized upon him as a Japanese face. It turned out that he was a professor of risk and was able to hold forth to the assembled media on the likelihood of all the things they were worried about. I suspect that was a rather lucky situation, the States not having an active science media centre in quite the same way, but it led to some very good communication of the risk issues.

Q59 Graham Stringer: It has been mentioned before that people’s trust in nuclear power has increased slightly. That might be English/British phlegmatism, or is it Fukushima fading from view? Things that are immense and catastrophic one week are forgotten about three months later. Is it still in people’s minds?

Tracey Brown: There are a couple of things that perhaps give some context to that. One is that, as Mark mentioned earlier, the big fears around nuclear are about the invisible menace and the idea of a proposal to expose ourselves to something that is not very tangible. In a bizarre way, what happened at Fukushima made it all very tangible and physical. Here is a physical installation to which you must do physical things in order to control an out-of-control situation. It throws at us ancient machinery, problems with inspections and everything else, and we realise that as a result there is not an apocalypse. Then it makes it all much more tangible. That is one element of it.

However, we have to account for the fact that there is quite a big difference between how that has been experienced in the UK and people’s attitude to nuclear and places like Germany, for example. In Germany it happened during election time, which was rather awkward because people were grandstanding politically around the issue in order to win the green vote. They have cancelled their nuclear programme. I do not know, but I would be interested to find out whether at the same time as this discussion there has been an escalation of concern about measures being taken to reduce reliance on coal as an energy source, and whether the environmental agenda and concerns about climate change are also what is driving people to think that nuclear is an option they need to look at. There was at the time quite a lot of commentary on the need for nuclear on that basis. Germany has cancelled its nuclear power programme, and we have seen similar things around the world. I think I have put in my evidence the calculation of the increased CO2 emissions as a result of that. That led to a commentary about the implications and dangers of cancelling the nuclear programme in this country; it might also have influenced the discussion.

Q60 Graham Stringer: You may not be able to answer this question, but do you think the German decision has influenced public perceptions and opinions in this country?

Tracey Brown: Conversely, though, because it has been a discussion. I hesitate to say it has happened in a wide, popular way because I think it has been perceived at the level of readers of the Financial Times. I think it has led to a discussion about the impact of the German decision in terms of the increase in CO2. Not just Germany but seven other countries have reviewed their nuclear programmes.

Q61 Graham Stringer: You mentioned the Weightman report earlier. His briefing has been very useful. The report came out in phases, did it not? Do you think the fact there was a period of cooling off and waiting and then an objective assessment helped in that?

Fiona Fox: The interesting thing, as you have just said, is that when we ran the interim report at the Science Media Centre it was packed with hundreds of journalists with international interest. The final report we did not run, in part because we did not think we would have enough space for all the people they wanted to invite, and it got hardly any coverage. It was hopefully an influential report within Government and other circles, but by that time the media interest had moved on.

I would like to emphasise one point to this particular audience, which goes back to the issue of people like Weightman, who are arm’s length, trusted experts and are seen by the media as independent. They do not say, "They would say that, wouldn’t they?", which might be said of Government and industry.

The only point on which I disagree slightly with Mark is that we could have heard a lot from those at the coal face. Every day we were using about 40 independent academics, who were doing a brilliant job but who had no official information. Yet John Beddington, Mike Weightman, the National Nuclear Laboratory, the Met Office and the Health Protection Agency were very reluctant to speak. You are absolutely right that Beddington did a wonderful job, but in Japan. We sent out an interview he had conducted with a Japanese journalist that got loads of coverage. We read it, found it brilliant and sent it to every UK journalist. I do not think his Government press office sent it out. The fact that he played such a good role, as Mark said, makes me want him to play a bigger role. There was reluctance with people saying, "Sorry, Fiona. We are briefing Government but not the media." That is crazy. If you have any information or expertise to brief Government, do it, but also brief the media, who will brief the public, because then Government might have a much more balanced assessment but a public who are demanding the end of nuclear because of their less balanced view. I would like the message to get out that we need to use our independent agencies, which are trusted and respected. They do not know exactly what is happening, but they know a heck of a lot.

Q62 Graham Stringer: My final question arises only because it was on the "Today" programme last week. Do films like "Dr No" influence people’s perception of the risks from nuclear power and installations?

Tracey Brown: I think they become part of our common language in a way that is perhaps less direct than that. Some films do influence people. For example, people are very influenced about the environmental risks by film, but what happens is that words start to enter our language and take on a different meaning in a popular sense. For example, there is now almost a jokey reference to "genetically modified". Anything that is large, misshapen, or a real baddie in a superhero film, will be described as "genetically modified". Radiation has taken on the same kind of usage; it is used to describe all the bad things that bad people do in films without any proper scientific explanation. Sometimes you are suffering a little with those wider perceptions when talking about these issues quite seriously and scientifically, but by and large I think people are pretty good at distinguishing fiction from reality.

Q63 Stephen Mosley: Has the Science Media Centre found it generally easy to get scientists to put themselves forward to you on the media? I know you said some of them were saying, "We are briefing Government and not the media." Was that because they did not want to or did not feel they could brief the media? Was it the case they were not able to because they had signed the Official Secrets Act or something?

Fiona Fox: Correct. I do not know the answer to that. As with animal research, you never quite know whether the scientist is scared to speak or never wants to speak to the media anyway, because of the threat from extremists. With the official agencies, the fact that this time so many were saying the same thing indicates they had been asked not to speculate in the absence of information but were having regular meetings in Government and sharing more general information. My point is that that is general information, even if they had just given it to us to impart to the 25 independent scientists who were on Sky News every hour.

We are celebrating our 10th birthday this April, and I can honestly say there has been a dramatic change during those years. When we opened, I remember massive stories and tearing my hair out. When Prince Charles said nanotechnology was grey goo, I phoned every nanotechnology expert on the database. It was controversial; it was Prince Charles and the Daily Mail. Now I think they would be queuing up. There are many scientists out there who have watched what happened on GM and the way failure to engage can lead to no research. I imagine that anybody who thinks shale gas is a possible option in this country now will realise there is a debate. Although "Gasland" is not a movie but a documentary about shale gas, it has been very influential. The media quite often show a little clip of it before they run their piece on shale gas, so there is a real debate to be had. Scientists recognise that, if they do not engage, the public will not hear and the outcome is decided. I am very positive about that. We do not have a shortage, but when there is a shortage it is at moments like this. It is when the frenzy is on.

As to Climategate, I think we were eight years into our existence. As a team we said, "Gosh, this feels like 10 years ago." People said, "What if they ask me if Pachauri should resign? What if they ask me if Phil Jones was a liar?" I do not want to ask these questions. We were back to the basics of saying, "Refuse to answer them. Go on television and say you cannot tell them whether Pachauri should resign, but this is what you know about the mounting evidence of climate change." The more the political it is and the greater the frenzy, the more reluctant scientists are, but it is not a problem.

Q64 Stephen Mosley: I understand that you run media training courses for scientists. How many people have gone through those courses in the past 10 years?

Fiona Fox: We have run quite a lot. One of the reasons we do not run more is that now all the universities, research councils and the Royal Society run them. Twice a year we run an event called Introduction to the Media, which is the stage before the media training. We have 200 scientists-don’t tell them this-who are there because somebody has identified that they are hostile to the media, scared of the media or are just not media savvy. Therefore, they are identified as people who need that kind of four-hour introduction. We have a panel of people like Mark Henderson, Ian Sample from The Guardian and Mike Swain from the Daily Mirror. They get a basic introduction to the fact that science journalists in our newspapers and broadcasting institutions want to get it right, and then they move from that to the more intense one-to-one media training.

Tracey Brown: We involve people from the Science Media Centre in running Voice of Young Science workshops with early career researchers. There are two issues. One is that, quite often, if you still have somebody in a senior position in your department who is not a fan of going out and talking to the media, it can be quite difficult to argue against all their negative experiences, for example, "Look what happened to Fred when he tried it; look at the front page that that led to", and that kind of thing. It is about giving them a bit of confidence about how it works and forming those relationships directly with journalists themselves.

The other point is that it also tries to give them a sense that it is not all or nothing. It is not that you wait to the twilight years of your career, when you are the world’s leading expert and you are giving after dinner speeches, to appear on a panel or briefing session, and so on. There are many other forums in which you can cut your teeth. You know your local radio station is advertising that this afternoon there will be a phone-in and questions like, "Are you worried about Japan?", or, "Are you cancelling your holiday?" Phone them and find out whether they have somebody who will be able to talk sensibly about the risk, the radiation aspects of it and so on, and make sure there is someone there. There are so many places in which you can interact with people and a wider audience without necessarily having to start with a major national issue that is breaking and so on. It is quite important for people to try other ways of getting across, experiencing and communicating science at an early stage in their career.

Q65 Stephen Mosley: Most of the things you have talked about have been in the past so that you can say with hindsight what happened and whether or not it worked. I was interested in what you said about shale gas. You are looking forward. Are there any other major areas looking forward on which you think Government, Government Departments and scientists should be focusing to build up their knowledge and experience, because you think that in the next five years this might be an issue and you need to start getting the message across now?

Fiona Fox: We need to reopen the GM debate. I do not think very many people in this country are proud of the way we did it. It could well have the same outcome, but I think we should conduct the debate differently. Geo-engineering is a big one for the SMC. That has all the ingredients of becoming a big scare story. Engineering our planet to adapt to climate change is pretty scary stuff. Already coverage of some of the projects, like SPICE, has not been brilliant. That is a really important one for Government to get their head round. None of the scientists engaged in these geo-engineering products is saying we should geoengineer the planet, but we need to do the research. If we cannot manage our emissions, we have this in our back pocket, which is really important. We have already heard various campaigning organisations calling for a moratorium on the research. Governments should always be nervous at the moment people say, "Let’s not even ask these questions or do the basic research on a whole area of science", closing the door to it. I think those two would be appropriate.

Tracey Brown: I agree about GM, although I do not think we should keep referring to it in future as "the GM debate", because the only thing that will be useful to people is to put GM back in the context of plant breeding. The problem in the first place was that it was taken out artificially and looked at in an isolated way, with no sense of the history and problems of plant breeding, the radiation that is used in a hit-and-miss fashion and the way this would become a much more precise technique, and that it is one technique among a whole range of things that need to be achieved in plant breeding, with lots of public sector scientists working on it. That is the context that is needed. Any discussion about GM in this kind of "Isolate it and talk about it" way will put us in the same intractable situation with lots of misconceptions. I think that is important.

Preparedness for disaster needs to be revisited. Swine flu was a good example of this discussion. We had panic-buying responses and stockpiling. There were discussions in the media about whether the Government were stockpiling enough of anything or had prepared enough for things. Often, it was really driven. You can see the phones ringing off the hook in departmental press offices, with people saying, "What have the Government done to protect us from this, or make sure we have vaccines for that, and so on?" Then you have all the retribution that comes afterwards because the Government have spent millions on doing something that is never needed. I think that Departments in Government have not worked out how to handle effectively those kinds of pressures. That needs to be looked at.

In personalised medicine we are going to see real challenges about risk calculation and communication. They will become much more clearly differentiated for different populations, for example, whether the NHS should provide certain treatments perhaps for only certain groups and so on. We have already seen the trouble in trying to explain why Alzheimer’s drugs were not originally approved and made available on the NHS. It caused all kinds of reactions and problems. It will become much more complicated, and that has a strong risk element to it.

Q66 Chair: Both of your organisations have done a sterling job in helping better understanding. What do you do when things slip through the net? Fiona Fox talked about nanotechnology. I remember in September 2009 speaking to a conference of nanotechnologists about public understanding. Very conveniently, The Guardian had published a letter from the Soil Association, the gist of which was that there had been an accident in a paint factory in China. The conclusion of the letter was, therefore, to close down all nanotechnology research rather than ask why we were importing from China paint made in such dangerous circumstances. When you see things like that what do you do about it? Do you try to influence the editor or write to the letters page?

Tracey Brown: As to that example, we did not do anything ourselves.

Q67 Chair: Nobody did, and that was why I found it so frustrating. I told 300 nanotechnologists that all of them should have written letters.

Tracey Brown: That is the next meeting and discussion with my staff. Do you mean those times when you are chasing an issue that has already come up and you have had no role in it?

Chair: Yes.

Tracey Brown: There are times when you can reset the discussion, even on pretty emotive things. For example, we have had experience working with breast cancer charities to respond to something that came at us completely from left field, which was celebrities raising money to send very ill children to the US for treatments that were not founded in evidence and were quite risky things to do, although you have to look at risk in the context of very ill children, which is a very different issue. In that case we managed to get quite a lot across. We were running after the story. There are other things where it raises issues. Sometimes it is almost impossible and you have to wait for a period. For example, when food additives research was published, which, from a very preliminary study, came to all kinds of big conclusions about the risks of exposure of children to colorants and so forth, it was impossible to change much about the nature of that discussion. It became possible to do that after about three weeks. Sometimes it is possible, even in a frenzy, to reset the discussion.

Fiona Fox: When we started, our philosophy was that the media would do science better when scientists started to do the media better. The reason we came up with that philosophy was that there had been a real culture of complaints. Lots of scientists went to the PCC and wrote to editors. What they had not done was make themselves available. Therefore, the editor of the "Today" programme had hundreds of letters from scientists complaining about the narrative, whether it was MMR or whatever, but had not had many scientists on the programme at that stage because they would write angry letters but not make themselves available. These things will happen, and in some ways they should.

This is not about closing down debate about risks. Many environmental NGOs have put the spotlight on important risks and got good policy changes. We are not about closing down debate. I do not think the SMC has ever said that we should not have the debate on shale gas, GM or nuclear. These debates are opportunities. The key thing is that, within that opportunity and alongside all the stuff we do not like and deem to be inaccurate, the voice of accurate evidence-based science is heard. I go back to Estelle Morris’s point. It is fantastic that, at the end of that horrible time when lots of people despaired of the media with all those apocalyptic headlines, some people out there learned a lot about the real risks of radiation hearing from scientists who communicated that.

Q68 Chair: That is very interesting. We have a letter from a lay person to this inquiry expressing, in exactly the terms Mark used, that she had started off antinuclear but, because the power station had not caused deaths following the natural disaster, she had become pro-nuclear. That was good reporting.

Fiona Fox: You have the famous Jeremy Clarkson column saying, "I would build one in my underpants." We do not necessarily want to quote Jeremy, but there is an element of thinking, "My god, in spite of that level of tsunami and earthquake, there was no explosion."

Chair: It was extraordinary. Thank you very much indeed for your attendance. It has been very enlightening.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Bob Brown, Corporate Director, Sedgemoor District Council, Richard Mayson, Director of Planning and External Affairs for Nuclear New Build, EDF Energy, and Dr Rick Wylie, Executive Director, Applied Policy Sciences Unit, University of Central Lancashire, gave evidence.

Q69 Chair: Good morning, gentlemen. Thank you for coming. Perhaps I can ask the three of you to introduce yourselves.

Bob Brown: I am Bob Brown from Sedgemoor District Council. We have Hinkley Point power station on our doorstep and it will be the first of the new breed of nuclear power stations to come our way.

Richard Mayson: I am Richard Mayson, director of planning and external affairs at EDF Energy. I am a nuclear lifer. I have spent 35 years in the industry, the first 25 on safety and the last 10 on new nuclear.

Dr Wylie: I am Rick Wylie, the executive director of the applied policy sciences unit at the University of Central Lancashire. I look after their Westlakes Campus near Sellafield in West Cumbria.

Q70 Chair: Thank you very much. Perhaps you could all briefly describe how you influence, or, alternatively, are affected by, the Government’s nuclear policies? Clearly, you all have different perspectives on this. Mr Brown, you and I met at another forum recently in which you expressed how your council is seeking to influence the agenda. Perhaps you would start there.

Bob Brown: Indeed. Risk is a key issue in the process, and our communities understand that because they have lived with Hinkley for some time. That said, there is a significant proposal to build two new reactors, which will have a big impact on our communities. One thing we seek is community benefit in order to help engage those communities in the process of assessing what it means to have a nuclear power station in their area. Those communities will carry the risk, and clearly there is some risk because those living immediately adjacent to the nuclear power stations carry iodine tablets. The parish councils know full well from their engagement with the civil contingency agencies that having a nuclear power station is a risk over and above the risk presented by other energy producers. One link we see is a mechanism for engaging in a wider discussion on risk with the communities and, hopefully, building trust through the community benefit model with some compensation for those communities in that way.

Richard Mayson: You raise a wide question in relation to Government policy. In general, the key thing for us is to make sure that our operations remain safe. Safety is our top priority, and openness and transparency in delivering that is key. We work very hard to make sure we have a full engagement process. We fully support the massive engagement that has happened on nuclear policy over the last eight to 10 years. I have been involved in it since 2001, and clearly it has gone through many shades of grey in that period. In relation to local communities, we have engaged in an enormous amount of debate with them over the last three years on the proposals for Hinkley Point C. That has led to our recent application to the Infrastructure Planning Commission.

Q71 Chair: Do you get beyond the elected council and so on and into the heart of the community?

Richard Mayson: Very much so. We have held over 100 meetings in four official rounds and one preliminary round of consultation. Those meetings comprised 37 exhibitions and 67 public meetings involving parish councils and others, so there is an enormous amount of engagement. We have had over 2,000 responses from the public to our consultations. That amounts to about 33,000 individual points raised. It is perhaps worth mentioning that, of those points raised, roughly 95% of them are not related to nuclear matters-nuclear safety or nuclear waste; only 5% related to nuclear safety and waste. The vast majority of issues that concern the public in the area are about transport and the socio-economic effects of the development. We put an enormous effort into mitigating those risks, as will be seen as we go through the planning process. I believe our mitigation costs alone add up to about £500 million.

Dr Wylie: The applied policy sciences unit has been in existence at the Westlakes Campus for almost 20 years in one form or another. The themes of our work are quite relevant to this: public opinion; perceived risk; attitudes towards the UK civil nuclear industry at local and national levels; and also the importance of community in helping people understand, appreciate and accept, if you will, even nuclear issues. One of the paradoxes we have come up with in our research over almost 20 years is that of proximity. People living close to these things seem to like them. Even though they do not trust them or think they are very risky, they still like them. We are particularly interested in Government policy in this area, particularly with respect to new build and radioactive waste issues, and perhaps even whispers one hears of new reprocessing facilities based, as we are, adjacent to the Sellafield site in the West Cumbrian community, of which I feel I am a member.

Q72 Chair: But what are the folk living near existing or proposed sites most concerned about?

Dr Wylie: We need to distinguish "public" in a number of ways. We talk holistically about "the general public". There is no such thing in terms of nuclear. One has to think about this very carefully. If one asks the West Cumbria community, as we did some years ago, what it is really concerned about, the answer is, "Well, it’s employment, guv. It’s where we and our children are going to work." Of course, there are other issues as well. The West Cumbria area is a very special community. It has been there for 60-odd years under the code name Tube Alloys, in one form or another, from the end of the second world war and the start of the cold war. They are certainly concerned about the nuclear industry, but it is very complex. Nuclear issues and beliefs are amalgamated, if you like, and seen through the lens of the local community of their relationship with where they live and where they are.

Q73 Chair: In your judgment, is there a difference between communities like West Cumbria, which by any standards is fairly remote-it is a long way from the M6 to Sellafield, and I have driven it many a time-and places like Hinkley Point, which today are much more accessible to people in a bigger radius?

Dr Wylie: That sense of isolation is a particular part of the psyche or the Zeitgeist of West Cumbria. It is very connected; it has the internet, things like Westlakes Science Park and new facilities, and multinational organisations operate the Sellafield site.

Q74 Chair: We are not here to advertise the site. I am trying to pin down whether there is any difference between those sites that have bigger connectivity problems and others.

Dr Wylie: That is not something I have researched specifically, but the fact that the area is isolated gives the perception that there is not much else on the map in terms of opportunity. You can overstate that. It is closer to London than Glasgow. It is less far to drive.

Q75 Chair: Yet the point made by Mr Brown we would see also in Heysham, for example, with people saying they would be happy to see a next generation station.

Dr Wylie: Yes, absolutely.

Richard Mayson: I believe that is the case. We have seen a lot of support for new nuclear and a strong desire to attract the enormous economic benefits that would accrue from it. Having worked in Cumbria, lived near Heysham and been very heavily involved in Hinkley, I think I can comment on all three. They would all like a new nuclear power station in the area, principally because of the massive economic benefits.

Q76 Roger Williams: The perception of people living locally differs from the general national perception of these matters. Is that because the people living locally have a better understanding of the risk, or is it because they are committed already in terms of economic opportunities and are more accepting of the risks? Is it a better understanding or more acceptance?

Bob Brown: In Hinkley the experience of our communities is that they are more understanding; they live with it. The parish councils receive iodine tablets and know what they are to be used for. The civil contingency agencies and other experts engage widely with the local communities so that they understand what would happen if there was a catastrophic event. People do understand that, but they live with the risk and understand it because of the benefits that it brings, and has brought to them, and the benefits more widely to the nation from low-carbon energy production. Clearly, there will be a significant impact on those communities again. As Richard rightly says, mitigation is being provided through the planning process, but there is also significant impact in terms of the infrastructure required on which that mitigation will go.

In engaging the wider communities, moving back from those immediately adjacent to Hinkley, the issue is about understanding the risk from a new and larger facility and engaging in that constructively. The planning process does not deal with that. If you look at the national plan, it says that risk and those issues should be dealt with by the other agencies, and it is outing that issue and allowing people to engage in that. One of the issues for our communities would be community benefit as a hook to allow people to understand those risks and see a level of compensation coming to them for accepting them. They are different from the risks associated with, say, wind energy, where there is direct compensation to communities for having wind farms but very little risk. It is low both in terms of its impact but also in terms of its likelihood, whereas these communities understand the low likelihood of nuclear risks, but the impact is of a different magnitude altogether.

Richard Mayson: We put an enormous effort into community relations. We establish community forums around each of our power stations. We are doing a lot of active work online to improve our communication processes. We believe that it is openness and transparency that help to improve people’s perception of risk.

Having said that, I would take issue with one thing Bob said in relation to the planning process. My understanding is that it is a legitimate part of the planning process to consider the perception of risk by the local community. The Government’s national policy statement makes quite clear that they expect the safety regulator to deal with the detailed mechanics of risk in relation to the level of protection provided by the plant, but broader issues in relation to the perception of risk are a legitimate part of the planning process, and that has been manifest in a number of recent inquiries.

Dr Wylie: As to these different levels of analysis of communities in the vicinity of nuclear sites and the perceived risk, in the West Cumbria area-alias Allerdale and Copeland boroughs-the work we did some years ago reveals that people are very risk aware. They think these things are risky, as indeed in some respects they are, but they have something to balance against it. With regard to this proximity in terms of public opinion formation, if something means something to you, you evaluate it quite thoroughly. Our colleagues in the previous session to a certain extent skated over, quite rightly, the issue that for most people this is not very important to them, but, locally, in the vicinity of these things, it is very important. APSU does not think it is just jobs and wealth; we think it is more about the embedding of the relationship, the heritage of the community, over half a century certainly in the West Cumbria area. I guess it would be the same for Dounreay. It is embedded in all elements of the community; it is part of that. It is not just the past of the community but its future as well. People see the importance of these facilities. If you ask a West Cumbrian where he lives, he will say, "Just near the Lake District", or, "Near Whitehaven", or, "Near Sellafield." It is part of the identity. That was revealed when the Calder Hall cooling towers-harmless condensate, they tell me, came out of those-were demolished at Chapelcross and Sellafield. It was a local event for people and they went there. It was sad. Something had changed about the area when the cooling towers were felled, and that was part of it. It is not just about jobs. It is very important, but what did Ruskin say? He said, "There is no wealth but life." It is not just about jobs; it is about people’s living and their daily lives. That is the thing about the West Cumbria area and areas around nuclear facilities. The longer they have been there, the more you get the community dynamic about perceived risk.

I do not think people are reassured about risk to a great extent; it is just that they have something to balance against it. It is like driving a fast motorbike. It is about the risk; that is what it is there for. You do not affect risk; you range things against it. You can diminish risk slightly, but I do not think you can take it away. Our colleagues in the MRWS process have revealed that among the community there is significant support even for the construction of a nuclear waste depository in the West Cumbria area. It would be difficult to think of that in Lewisham, would it not? There is something about the community in these areas. It is like a riser. The nuclear industry sticks up in all sorts of places; it is underneath so many things.

Q77 Chair: What has changed since the Nirex debate?

Dr Wylie: One change since the Nirex effect is the sharpening of the economic situation. Another issue that emerged from our colleagues in Nirex some 20-odd years ago is that they were perceived as outsiders. They did not live there and did not listen to them. It was an invisible process. It was what I would call a science-led process, and undoubtedly a lot of very good science was done there, but one of the main criticisms was that it was an "outsider" process. If you look at public opinion-I did some work with Nirex many years ago at that time-depending on how you asked the question, a majority of the public of West Cumbria, if they were assured on safety issues, were not against that. Those were the bald polling figures. Now it is a much easier process. The MRWS process has learned specifically from the Nirex process. It is stepwise; it is an open and transparent process and it has learned from that experience, but there is still the issue of the insider status.

As to the issue of radioactive waste, we talk of the community of Copeland borough, let’s say. It is very interesting to look at the new build locations. Sellafield is a potential site; Braystones is almost within sight of Sellafield, yet it is not contiguous with the site; and there is Kirksanton. There are significant public opinion issues, some of which are related to perceived risk for a site that is almost a mile from the Sellafield site; and certainly Kirksanton is some miles south of the Sellafield site, but still in the amalgam of Allerdale and Copeland boroughs within West Cumbria. When one looks at the perceived risk, it is the relationship with the heritage and the social, economic and political community of the area that is so important, because it keeps it where it is and what it is now, if you see my meaning. For the community of Braystones, if it had a nuclear facility adjacent to it, however safe it was, they did not want it. It just makes the way these sites have been and are set up very special. One could say it has taken 50 or 60 years to get there.

Q78 Roger Williams: Mr Brown, in the last session of evidence we heard about the press and media frenzy that can be generated by the Fukushima event and pressure groups latching on to that to promote their ideas. Does that have a smaller effect at local level where people have had experience of nuclear facilities and look forward to nuclear facilities in the future?

Bob Brown: Our experience of that debate is that that is the case. People understand their own communities; they have lived there for a long time. They understand the geological differences between Hinkley Point in Somerset and Japan, and the fact we are not regularly subject to earthquakes. They know friends who work at the site and understand the safety issues associated with that. The debate is different and definitely more reasoned because there is a deeper understanding of the risks and issues that may exist more widely in the public.

Given the planning process as it is, the range of issues is significant and detailed and affects different people in different ways. Risk and its perception is a small part of a massive evidence and impact base for such a significant new development. It is a matter of getting the time and space to have a discussion and a debate about that other than issues immediately in front of people as to what the impact will be on the junction to their main A road from the village, and whether they will be able to get across it and into town to do their shopping. We have a disproportionately large elderly population in our area that may not see the benefit of the jobs because they are past working age, but they will see the impact. It is those issues that are playing out for them as well. Finding time and space to have a wider discussion within the bigger and rigorously constrained time frame of the new IPC process is an issue.

Q79 Roger Williams: Mr Mayson, have you had any experience of greater political opposition at sites other than the ones you are dealing with now across the UK? If so, why are there differences between different sites?

Richard Mayson: Most councils we come across on our new build sites are generally very supportive of the principle of the development, but, understandably, they want the best deal possible for the local community, and we fully respect and value that. Once I contradicted Bob about the issue of community benefits. It can be dealt with through the planning process. We very much support the notion that the council should have a slice of the business rates we pay. We will be paying an enormous amount of tax locally, which obviously goes straight to central Government. We think it is only right, proper and fair that the local communities get a slice of that. We believe that should be about promoting growth; it is not for risk perception. We support the Government’s growth agenda, but we think it is important that that is also targeted at communities that host these sorts of facilities. Generally, we have not seen a huge difference in support. Having said that, the further you get into the planning process, not surprisingly tensions tend to rise a little. We find that on sites where we have not yet taken the development forward very far there are more open arms, but I imagine that as the process goes forward a few tensions may arise.

Q80 Graham Stringer: Mr Mayson, you said earlier that it was quite legitimate for the local perception of risk to be taken into account in planning applications. Can you give any examples where the perception of risk has modified planning decisions?

Richard Mayson: The key issue is the extent to which the perception of risk has weight. It is legitimately regarded as a material consideration in planning, but the question is to what extent that has weight. The example I looked at was King’s Cliffe for the development of a very low-level waste facility. The inspector made some interesting remarks about the consideration he had given to the perceptions of risks and the fact that those perceptions were raised by the very act of talking about them in a public inquiry. Nevertheless, he had to take the view-I apologise for paraphrasing, but we can give you the correct words-that what really mattered was the scientific evidence of whether there was a real risk. It was an objective assessment of risk as distinct from a perceived risk. The amount of weight he attached to it was driven exclusively by an objective view of risk, recognising that perceptions are real.

Q81 Graham Stringer: A sensible interpretation of that would be that the inspector or local authority would not rule it out of their discussions and submissions but would then take no notice of it, because they would look at the hard evidence base of what the risk levels were. Is that a fair summary of what you are saying?

Richard Mayson: I do not think that is a fair summary.

Q82 Graham Stringer: Why not?

Richard Mayson: It is a question of whether the perception has any basis in fact. We have heard from the media this morning how people’s perceptions can be influenced, and what really matters is whether there are any facts behind it. For example, looking at opinion polls, we heard this morning from Mr Henderson about Fukushima and the fact that opinion had bounced back within a matter of months of the event. Perceptions change.

Q83 Graham Stringer: They do. On a similar but different point, how should democracy-local and central Government-balance public views with the scientific evidence?

Richard Mayson: The issue is one of healthy debate and airing and sharing issues at inquiries. That is the way it is done. We come back to openness and transparency. The more the issues are discussed, the better people’s perceptions about the objective facts become. Rick would say it far more eloquently than I can.

Bob Brown: From our perspective, it is about objectivising the discussion rather than leaving it as subjective, and the resources you can bring to the community to allow that to support them in having that understanding and discussion so that they can air their issues in a way that is supported but objectivised with assistance from specialist or scientific advice. It is about getting that capacity for those who represent the communities, whether it is at parish or district level, because they are not the decision makers; it will go on to the IPC. You assist those communities in having the resources to do that so that they can accept it and perhaps understand it, rather than it being left to other organisations or agencies that may have a particular view and want to assist them in a specific manner. What assists communities and developers to get the right proposal in the right place is a discussion of these issues that is as objective and reasoned as possible so that the decision makers can take that into account.

Dr Wylie: It is a difficult question. They are categorically different. What is scientifically proven risk might have little bearing at all on perceived risk relating to a topic. To package these together is challenging since they are a publicly perceived risk by individuals. It is very much related to people’s relationship with that particular object and issue. Let us say you have a local authority area and you want to put a low or high-level nuclear waste storage facility there. Somebody will get it in their back yard, so their relationship with that particular object or infrastructure development would be completely different from that of people elsewhere in the community.

One thing about perceived risk relating to facilities-somebody will get this thing near them-is that it is very personal. One issue of planning that we saw at the inquiry into the low-level waste disposal site at Buldoo near Dounreay is how difficult it is for people locally to express these issues. There are not many of them and there is an awful lot of everybody else. It is very difficult to get across those particular meanings. For a generic matter like mobile phone use, where everybody has got one, the perceived risk is a public issue, but with these lumpy goods in a small corner of somewhere or quite a large corner-I notice that the Bure facility is 15 sq km and is quite large-it is a great challenge. I do not think there is a satisfactory way of doing it.

Q84 Graham Stringer: In the context of risk, nuclear safety and nuclear power, people in the business use quite technical terms. What is the best way to go about communicating these complicated concepts to the public?

Dr Wylie: The likelihood of a nuclear event is put as 10 to the minus six. I do not know what that really means in the public sense. Without putting it too strongly, the critical thing is that communities in the vicinity of nuclear sites do not support the facilities because they perceive them as not risky. They perceive them as risky. The regulators, the companies that run them, the local authorities and various organisations that are charged with dealing with them are very important. Yet in a Eurobarometer poll conducted at the very end of last year, a majority of a representative sample of the UK public asked about this category of organisations would not trust any of them in terms of their communication about nuclear power. People make up their own minds about these things. It is easier in a community like Hinkley or West Cumbria around the Sellafield facility because you know the people to ask, and they are there; it is not a faceless organisation. The challenge comes when you try to build a site in an area de novo-from the new. That is one of the things that make these areas so special in those terms. It is very difficult to build that balancing against perceived risk. Look at a national opinion poll. In a sense, it is important policy because it is a very wide poll. It purports to be the UK public, but they are not getting it in their back yard. If you ask those people who are going to get it in their back yards, it would be a very different figure. It is very challenging to do this.

Q85 Stephen Mosley: I was interested in the last point you made about trust. Trust is, surely, the difference between perceived risk and the objective risk. If people have trust in the organisation, they tend to believe the objective risk; if they do not have trust, the perceptions of risk can increase. Mr Mayson, do you think there will always be an element of distrust in the operators of nuclear power stations because there might be a public belief that you are more interested in making profits than in the safety of the site?

Richard Mayson: No. We always make it very clear that safety is the number one priority, and that is in our blood as part of the nuclear industry. We must never be complacent about that. We have to work at it, work at it, work at it. I think people generally respect that, particularly those in the local communities. We live and breathe it. The workers at the plant live in the community, their kids go to the schools in the community, and therefore they are all seen to be part of the community. It is not just about the messages we give as an organisation but the messages the workers give in the pub to their friends and what their kids talk about at school. That is where trust, openness and transparency have to come from. If we were not living and breathing our values in respect of safety, openness and transparency, it would soon cascade into real problems in the community and a real lack of trust.

Q86 Stephen Mosley: On that, we have Bob from one of the local authorities and Dr Wylie.

Bob Brown: Our experience is that those who run the power stations and the operatives live in the communities, and that first-hand experience passed on to people who live around there shows the level of trust in the way they are managed and the way they are operated. Obviously, a new round of power stations is coming our way. They are significantly larger and more powerful. They will be on adjacent sites and there will be new employees and operations that have not been run potentially in this country before. With that comes an additional set of issues that needs to be considered by the host communities. It is slightly different; it is not exactly the same. The local communities have views and concerns. I think the developers deal with those very well through the process so that people get information, but it is such a huge task. The amount of information about the development of new sites is such that it makes it difficult for people to get under the key issues potentially about risk and to see past the individual issues for them about the impact of the development. There is trust, but we need to see how it plays out as the process goes through because it will be different and new.

Dr Wylie: We did some work some years ago in the old BNFL days. A majority of the West Cumbrian community regarded with some scepticism much of the communication from BNFL for all sorts of reasons. I cannot stress enough that people in these communities do not support the nuclear industry or a new facility-I am thinking particularly of the West Cumbrian community-because they trust the operators but because of the extrinsic benefits that the facility will bring to their community. I just leave with you the thought that 13,000 people work at Sellafield and the population of West Cumbria is 165,000.

Q87 Stephen Mosley: Nuclear power stations are long-term projects. Sellafield has been there for 60 or 70 years, so you have to build these relationships over a long period of time. Mr Mayson, how much emphasis do you place on those long-term relationships in the local areas?

Richard Mayson: It is absolutely fundamental. We emphasise that we are part of the community to stay. Probably one of the best examples I can give is in relation to what we currently plan for Hinkley Point C in relation to skills development. We have already announced massive investments in the local colleges in Bridgwater in Sedgemoor in West Somerset to develop skills that will be there not just during the construction phase but the 60-year operation phase. We are here to stay. We have also announced a big investment in relation to a management and leadership college in Bridgwater as well. It is all part of our desire to demonstrate that we want to be part of the community going forward for the long term.

Q88 Stephen Mosley: Do you think there is anything the industry could do to operate in a more open and transparent manner?

Richard Mayson: I felt some frustration personally, going back to the 1970s when I joined it, because the Officials Secrets Act meant you could hardly say anything about what happened on site; it was very strict. We went through a phase when it got progressively more open. Then 9/11 happened and suddenly the shutters came down again on information. Fortunately, in the last few years we are seeing a better balance emerge. We will be reopening our visitor centres at all our nuclear power station sites, which I am sure many of you will be aware were closed shortly after 9/11 because of the security risks associated with them. Those are the sorts of activities.

Bob Brown: From the council’s perspective, another issue is long-term trust. We have been working collectively with the other local authorities that have proposed new builds in their areas. We have been looking at the issue of community benefit. Obviously, we have been holding discussions with EDF and Richard about community benefit. The Government see that as an important issue in terms of the long-term relationship and building of trust. They included relevant paragraphs in the national infrastructure plan through the Treasury and made a commitment to renewing community benefit by 2012. We have not seen anything from that. I have had discussions with those who prepared the national infrastructure plan. They could not tell me what those proposals were, but clearly the Government think that is an issue and the community benefit is important from that perspective.

As Richard said, we were looking to see whether business rate retention would be an avenue. In the consultation, the response from the Government dismissed out of hand business rate retention on new nuclear or low-carbon energy, saying that it was a matter for renewables only. We felt it was disappointing, but that indicates from our perspective that the national infrastructure plan intended there to be a community benefit in the long term for those communities, probably through the proposals that we have been making, if it is not going to come through the business rate retention model.

Q89 Chair: In the previous discussion we heard about the role of Mike Weightman as the regulator. The witnesses suggested there was a high degree of trust. Do you agree with that analysis?

Richard Mayson: I think the safety regulator is trusted because the evidence of the good safety record in nuclear in the UK is very stark.

Q90 Chair: The point being made was that it was his perceived independence that helped him gain that trust.

Richard Mayson: I think you are right. It is fundamental that safety regulators and environmental regulators are independent of Government and are seen to be independent of Government.

Q91 Chair: Stemming from that, would you see it as important for the regulator to engage more proactively in providing better risk information to the public?

Richard Mayson: They do a lot already. All parties have a duty. It is hard to single out whether the safety regulator is worse or better than any other party. You heard the media side of it. A lot depends on where people extract their information. We heard this morning it was the media that was the primary place from which people extract it. The message for me is that everybody can always do more. It would be good if there were more opportunities for people such as Mike Weightman to present the safety case.

Q92 Chair: What about from your perspective, Dr Wylie?

Dr Wylie: The Weightman report was profound and very significant, and the role of the regulator is key. It is a rigorous technical and scientific risk underpinning of so much of what goes on, and it is very important, but it does not address perceived risk. It is like a hybrid; it is so many things. I cannot stress enough that you can still accept something even though you think it is risky. There needs to be a closer look at the relationship of communities to nuclear facilities, or other facilities, and at people who are sick and to whom that issue is salient and proximate.

Q93 Chair: But would you give that function to the independent regulator rather than an arm of government?

Dr Wylie: It is difficult to make it happen. Over the 60 years of the Sellafield operation, nobody went out and said, "We are going to have a long-term community safety/trust relationship with Sellafield." It just happened. How that happened and its parameters, and how it would seem to be done, needs to be looked at very carefully. Perhaps there is a role there for local government, or other levels of government, even parish, because these facilities are very localised. The backdrop of all of that in terms of scientific and technical risk are people like Mike Weightman or my old colleague Laurence Williams when he was at NII. They are the backstop of technical and perceived risk, but it is not the same as perceived risk. You can think something is very risky but still support it.

Q94 Chair: I can see that. I am trying to separate, if there is a reason for separating it, the role of government from that of the independent regulator.

Dr Wylie: The regulator is important, but my feeling is that it would be more to do with locality and place, and wider issues than perceived risk relating to the future.

Q95 Chair: Local leadership is the key.

Dr Wylie: Yes-even sub-local leadership. Some local authorities are quite large and a nuclear facility is relatively small. You need to look at perceived risk at different levels of analysis.

Q96 Chair: Let us go to the very practical and ask Mr Brown. Historically, you have had experience of this. What has impacted upon perceptions and better understanding of risk? Has it been locally-led issues where you have brought in experts, or has it been the external expert who has stepped in uninvited? I think the answer to that is fairly obvious.

Bob Brown: What affects the perception of risk in our communities is the whole range of organisations engaged in this issue. Parish, district, county, the regulators, the Health and Safety Executive and, importantly, the operators of the sites are collectively working with the communities on a regular basis to identify the real risks, the mitigation and the solutions. It is that which builds up trust in the communities, because they get a genuine understanding of the risk because there are real people in those organisations who understand the local issues and can communicate those and access communities and individuals in a real way about real issues. I suppose the issue is how you take that out more widely away from the immediate sites.

Chair: Yes.

Bob Brown: I think it is about all of those agencies working together and being resourced to do that. The further you move away, the less of an issue it becomes for the local authorities, the parish councils and the others. It is a matter of moving that issue with the operators away from the immediate site where it has built up.

Q97 Chair: I take it from those two responses that a fair summary would be that leadership is critical at the local level, but in terms of getting the broader message out to folk living in Manchester or Birmingham-the consumers of electricity-that is where DECC and others have an important role to play.

Bob Brown: Yes.

Dr Wylie: Public opinion about nuclear has moved upwards in the context of messages about security of supply, low carbon and cost control. There is no doubt that that has moved public opinion up at national level, but at a local level public opinion recently in West Cumbria seems to have moved upwards also and become more pronuclear. That might be due in part to that, but the key thing is that the bulk of support locally is about specific local issues, perhaps even below the level of a local authority. That is the key thing, I would say.

Chair: Gentlemen, thank you very much for an informative session.

Prepared 30th January 2012