The Fukushima accident highlighted the need for clear communication plans in times of crisis, when independent, objective and fact-based information is critically needed, a group of senior regulators said at a two-day international workshop on crisis communication, organized by the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA).

Stakeholders from 25 countries and 7 international organizations met for the 9-10 May workshop in Spain. Three main findings from the meetings were:

Most of the regulators and international organizations sought to communicate authenticated data during the crisis, which proved challenging as reliable information was not always available in a timely manner.

Generally, nuclear regulatory organizations activated crisis communication centers and made ‘outstanding’ efforts to provide information to governments, the public and the media, with several briefings and news items posted daily.

Public demand for information was overwhelming during the first weeks following the accident; inevitably triggering frustration linked primarily to diverging national recommendations on health protection measures.

It was clear from the discussions that regulators should continue to enhance their crisis communication plans. However, regulators should regularly demonstrate their competence and independence in daily activities to help ensure their messages will be listened to in a crisis situation, participants said.

They also insisted that, for events of international significance, crisis communication plans should take into account the globalisation of information and include tools to address the public and media beyond national borders. Several stakeholders added that scenarios and prognoses should be part of these plans, even with uncertain data.

“While new tools, including social media, can significantly help disseminate information, they do not dismiss the need for regulators to formulate clear messages that are understandable by non-experts and delivered on a timely basis.”

NEA said in a statement that since the Fukushima accident, several activities have been undertaken to enhance crisis communication. These were highlighted during the workshop, including the IAEA Action Plan, which inter alia calls upon the IAEA Secretariat to provide information on the potential consequences of an accident as well as an analysis of the information available at the time.