There are up to 20,000 professionals in Europe's nuclear sector belonging to the ENS - an association of 27 nuclear societies created in 1975.
In addition we have more than 100 corporate members.
One of our main objectives is the exchange of information among society members. This is achieved most effectively at conferences, where science and industry meet, where ideas are checked and challenged and where long-term developments begin. The most important ENS meeting is the European Nuclear Congress (ENC) in Lille, France (see page 17).
ENS did not escape the consequences of industry restructuring in the 1990s. Nuclear companies were merging and looking for savings, so funds for our main activities were scarce. Our magazine was jeopardised and we had to reduce the number of conferences. As a result we decided to move our secretariat from Bern to Brussels. In September 2001 we reached an agreement with Foratom to appoint Peter Haug as secretary general of both organisations and to share resources. But both organisations are aware of the importance of keeping separate identities: ENS as the non-governmental association and Foratom as the industry lobbyist. The move to Belgium will be complete by 2003.
This turbulent restructuring has not changed ENS's objectives. Some needs and interests of our member societies may be far apart. For example, the Finnish Nuclear Society has new nuclear construction on its agenda, while the Italian Nuclear Society has to maintain the country's nuclear knowledge. However, there is a keen interest to continue maintaining ENS common objectives, needed by all members. This was illustrated by the member societies who, in June 2002, almost all attended the foundation of the newly registered ENS association with the legal seat in Brussels.
Today there are many European and global nuclear organisations, each with its own goals. There are so many, and they appear and disappear so frequently, that even nuclear professionals may not be sure who is who and why they exist. But ENS is distinctive. It is needed by every corporate or individual member and it does not compete with any other organisation.
Most importantly, ENS is a non-government organisation: a society created by people who share the same idea. It does not matter where we work, or our employer's objectives. At ENS or in the local societies we can articulate our professional views and try to disseminate them to the public or expose them to the criticism of our colleagues.
Today nuclear technologies are successfully contributing to our quality of life, despite the negative public attitude towards anything connected with radiation. Although we are exposed to many more serious risks, the word "nuclear" is heard as the biggest menace. Coping with this may be our most important task as a nuclear society.
In the past, wise governments developed nuclear. The investment was high and the payback very long, but the benefits were also high and long-term. Today we leave decisions about the future of energy supply to industry. But capital has a very clear mandate - it has to achieve the highest profit in the shortest time. Why invest today in something that could pay a return only after 10 years? Why try to convince the public about a technology they don't like, if money could be earned elsewhere with less risk? Here is where societies must make themselves heard.
ENS members have one thing in common. We believe that these technologies could make the world better - tomorrow, and 20, 30 or 50 years from now. No politician, no investor, likes to think so far in advance.
We have to raise our voice today. We have to inform people about the facts of our technology, about the science, about the long-term perspectives and about its sustainability. We have to create an environment where the public will seriously consider our ideas and make it possible to implement them.
In carrying out these tasks ENS may have more credibility than any other organisation. An industry organisation could be easily accused of promoting nuclear just to assure its profits and government institutions are traditionally not trusted very much.
Nuclear societies have, and should maintain, the status of serious, professional people with an honest concern for the future of the whole world.