Public engagement by nuclear regulatory bodies benefits the regulators as well as the public.
So highlighted Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) director general: strategic planning Liane Sauer in her keynote address to the National Nuclear Regulator's second Nuclear Regulatory Information Conference on Friday.
(Sauer's responsibilities include consulting with Canada's Indigenous Peoples. This is their official designation in Canada, and they are composed of three main groups: the First Nations, the Inuit and the Métis.)
Public engagement allowed regulators to make more informed decisions, she pointed out. "It is also important for us, keeping us ready for change," including societal change. "It helps build trust in the regulatory system."
"We engage constantly on all major projects and initiatives," she noted. The CNSC also engaged when requested by groups or communities or organisations.
"We actually invest quite a bit of time on in-person outreach," she explained. This form of outreach included the holding of open houses, presentations at museums, setting up booths at conferences, and meetings with communities.
Her agency also engaged in digital outreach, mainly through its website, but also by email distribution, webinars, and the use of social media platforms. This was complemented by articles and letters in the print media. "We try and make it quite engaging for people, particularly young people."
The CNSC also had a funding programme to promote public engagement. That is, the agency funded people, especially members of the indigenous communities, so that they could attend CNSC public participation events. (Canada, geographically, is a gigantic country.)
"We also have a public information and disclosure policy," she reported. This meant that organisations and facilities licensed by the commission had to inform the public about both planned and unplanned events at their operations and facilities. This built public trust.
All decisions on licensing any and all nuclear activities and facilities in Canada were taken by the CNSC's Independent Commission. This was an administrative tribunal, at "arm's length" from the federal government and with no ties to the nuclear industry. "The Independent Commission holds all its meetings in public and they are webcast live," emphasised Sauer.
The CNSC still faced a number of challenges. The bulk of the Canadian population was not really interested in things nuclear (the pro- and anti-nuclear parts of the population were both small). Social media allowed false information to be spread rapidly and widely. And, unless there was an emergency, few people turned to the nuclear regulator for information.