PIME 2004 sets an attendance record

ENS PIME 2004 – the latest in the annual series of conferences for nuclear communicators – took place in Barcelona on 8-12 February, and achieved record attendance, with about 180 participants registering from some 30 countries.

This year, the main themes were nuclear and politics, public opinion, public acceptance, strategy and messages, stakeholder dialogue, nuclear safety, sustainable development and corporate social responsibility, experiences of the Spanish nuclear sector, media relations, crisis communications, communicating locally and the future of nuclear.

At PIME 2003 in Malta, a new and highly successful formula was introduced for the event – morning plenary sessions, followed by afternoon workshops and round-tables. The same tried-and-tested format was followed in Barcelona, giving ample opportunity for ‘PIMERs’ to exchange experiences and discuss possible new strategies.

Opening the conference, ENS President Bertrand Barré said resistance to nuclear in several countries could not be underestimated. However, it was also true that in many parts of the world, Europe included, nuclear's prospects were either secure or on a pathway towards growth.

A keynote speech was delivered soon after the start of the conference by the Vice President of the European Parliament, Alejo Vidal-Quadras Roca, who called for greater political leadership on energy issues.

He said: “It is clear that Europe must take extremely important decisions in relation to energy policy in a very short time... Electricity production in nuclear fission plants, which has always been a complex economic and technological issue, has increasingly become a political one. And it is not an exaggeration to say that nuclear energy still arises in some European countries as one of the most emotional, bitter and polarised political debates of today."

Concluding his presentation, Mr Vidal-Quadras Roca stated: “It is obvious that in a future of energy shortages, deep concerns about global warming and poor performance of renewables, nuclear power will be seen with very different eyes... The unknowns are too many, and the consequences of making the wrong forecast will be too terrible. That is why decisions must be taken immediately, and that means that the politicians of today have the obligation to raise their vision and their leadership to face the challenges of tomorrow."

There were also important contributions from senior officials from the European Commission – Mr Michel Poireau from the Directorate-General (DG) for Research and Mr Derek Taylor from the DG for Energy and Transport (TREN). Other highlights included presentations by Dr Peter Hählen (SVA, Switzerland) on last year's Swiss referendum success and Patrice Bernard (CEA) on new reactor types.

In his closing remarks, ENS’s secretary general, Dr Peter Haug, urged all those involved in nuclear communication to strip their main external messages of all complex formulations and jargon – favouring brevity, simplicity and succinctness. “Nuclear technology is indeed complex and difficult for lay people to understand,” said Dr Haug. “It makes no sense to reflect this complexity in our communication activities.”

On nuclear’s context in the broader concepts of an ‘energy chain’ and the economy as a whole, Dr Haug stressed that, to the outside world, nuclear should not be promoted as being particularly special. Rather, it should be presented as one of a range of options that must be used, in the interests of a sustainable future for humanity.

Conceding that many people had still to be convinced of this, Dr Haug relegated those against nuclear to “a twilight world, where everything will come right if we build more wind farms and use less energy”. “It is our task to show that this view of the future is totally unrealistic,” he added.

For the second year in succession, the IAEA committed significant support to the event, sponsoring 20 participants, staging a workshop and organising a short course on communication techniques, which took take place straight after the PIME conference.

The final element of the PIME programme was a technical tour to view the Vandellòs-1 nuclear plant site, where decommissioning work has made excellent progress. The tour also included a visit to a nearby training centre.

This year's PIME was sponsored by the Spanish Nuclear Industry Forum and the Spanish Nuclear Society, as well as FORATOM. The next PIME is due to be held in the Paris area on 13-16 February 2005.

Virtually all the presentations given at the event in Barcelona are available on the conference website: www.pime2004.org. In addition, a free CD containing a wide range of computer files related to the conference has been produced to give participants a user-friendly record of the event for reference purposes.

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