Nuclear power has a controversial history and many of the relationships between the industry and its stakeholders have been difficult. Six years ago, a small group within senior management at British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) recruited The Environment Council (TEC), an independent charity, to defuse flashpoints, minimise conflict and improve relations. 'We never talked except through the media - shouting would be a better word,' recalls BNFL director David Bonser.
With the aim of informing BNFL's decision-making process and improving its environmental performance, TEC brought together 200 stakeholders from 70 different organisations to discuss nuclear issues in a structured way.
A large conference-style main group met every six months to share information and negotiate. Working groups examined specific subjects in detail, drilling through sticking points, and on hotly disputed topics, working groups were set up to commission research and interpret results.
TEC knew that top-level commitment had to be secured if the process was to succeed. The charity had also to create an atmosphere where participants felt they could discuss issues openly and in confidence. These dialogues resulted in many outcomes, including the commissioning of research on immobilising plutonium (a key change in direction for BNFL), contingency plans for handling spent Magnox fuel, an assessment of BNFL's impact on the Cumbrian economy, and a new corporate focus on waste management and clean-up. The process served as a model for the newly created Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Even the number of hostile press reports reduced in the six-year period.
However, the most significant benefits of the process may be the less tangible ones. 'The gap has definitely narrowed between the attitudes of BNFL and the environment movement,' says Stewart Kemp of the Nuclear Free Local Authorities network. 'Strong relationships have developed between people. Though they still may not agree, they are able to pick up the phone and have a quiet conversation.'
The Environment Council and BNFL improved relationships through well-managed talks.
- Allow plenty of time to build trust and open-mindedness on issues that create conflict.
- Build on common ground. It's there even when viewpoints seem intractable.
- Keep the mediator independent - and demonstrate its independence at every turn.
SHORTLISTED Consultancy: Accenture Client: Accenture Development Partnerships Consultancy: TMI Client: British Airways