Nuclear Industry Radioactive Waste Executive (Nirex)

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This article is part of a series on the
2005-2006 national debate on nuclear
power in the UK

For more articles on this topic,
see the NuclearSpin website

Nirex (the Nuclear Industry Radioactive Waste Executive) is the UK's radioactive waste management agency. It describes its mission as follows:

"In support of Government policy, develop and advise on safe, environmentally sound and publicly acceptable options for the long-term management of radioactive materials in the UK." [1]

Nirex was established in 1980 to oversee the storage of radioactive waste. It is charged with finding a long-term repository for the waste which will remain deadly for millions of years.

Use of PR Firms

It currently retains the following public relations firms: Promise [2], Good Relations [3], and Fleishman-Hillard [4].

Ian Price represents Nirex on the Scottish Parliament's Civil Nuclear Industry CPG [5]. It seems likely that this is the same Ian Price who is a member of staff of Fleishman-Hillard, based in the PR firm's Edinburgh office [6], and is seconded to Nirex [7]. If this is the case, the fact that he is a public relations professional is not disclosed on the CPG's website [8].

Classic Public Relations Techniques Used to Spin the Case for Nuclear

Nuclear Spin has acquired a Nirex public relations and media strategy document from October 2004. Many of the strategies are classic PR techniques. In the Section 'the Way Forward,' Nirex outlines a new slogan:

A New Slogan

'UK Nirex Limited is responsible for providing safe, environmentally friendly sound and publicly acceptable options for the long-term management of radioactive materials'

Despite this Nirex still has a problem with its 'perceived image'. The documents note that 'With this declared and worthwhile aim it is surprising that Nirex does not have a more positive image in both Parliament and the wider community. Why should this be so?'

"Is it because Nirex is perceived as

  • An arm of the nuclear power industry and as such is perpetuating an undesirable industry;
  • The potential bringer of bad news, the NIMBY syndrome fear;
  • An organization that hasn't always been open and forthright in the past."

Target Groups

To rectify its image problem, Nirex identified key target groups to win over. These included

  • Government
  • Parliament
  • General public and communities
  • NIMBY areas

The strategy document notes that 'this process must be put in place NOW. It can't be high profile but must consist of a number of elements implemented in a sensitive and appropriate way'.

Use Third Parties to Change Image

Other Actions to be investigated included 'Embarking on an Image Change for Nirex'. Here the company used two classic PR techniques: the third party and divide and rule. The first is the third party tactic, where a company with no or little credibility on an issue gets someone else to be their mouthpiece. It is routinely used by oil, pharmaceutical and tobacco companies who use front groups, think tanks, journalists or others to act on their behalf.

Several statements from the documents are telling:

'We must first establish what are the best lines of action to be followed particularly whether 'direct' or 'indirect' methods would be better'

'Use local and regional media to progress arguments, not necessarily by Nirex'

'We have to be sure that 'opinion leaders are carefully recruited and groomed.'

The documents then state that:

'After a careful identification of the people we want to deal with, the key is to:

  • Evaluate their views and influence people
  • To recruit them to specially designed relationship activities and then
  • Provide them with a programme of appropriate communications messages and platforms.'

Divide and Rule

One of the groups targeted by Nirex was 'Parliament and government'. Nirex was going to use another classic PR technique to win over MPs: Divide and rule, whereby you recruit favourable people and isolate those against you. So the strategy for Nirex was to:

  • 'Bolster and if possible enlist those MPs who support our policy;
  • Convince those MPs who are indifferent or soft against;
  • Isolate or convince those MPs who are against.'

If All Else Fails: Change your Name

So Nirex was using the third party technique, the divide and rule technique. But if all else failed there was one strategy left. Change your addresss, funding and name. Under Nirex Image and Reputation the strategy was to:

'Embark on programme to change the image of Nirex so it will be considered a concerned, caring, soundly based scientifically founded organization:

  • Correct public perception, so Nirex is not seen as the producer of the problem
  • Change public address so that Nirex is not associated with Harwell and radioactive waste production
  • Change funding basis, so Nirex is not seen as being funded by the radioactive waste producing industries
  • Change name!'[1]

Still Thinking About Changing Its Name

In February 2005, Nirex held a workshop with members of the Women's Institute, that was facilitated by the independent consultant Sue Tibballs who has worked for Nirex for a number of years. A copy of the report of the Workshop has been obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Under the heading "The Future and Feed-back" it states "A Proposed name change". The document reads:

"The workshop closed with a more in-depth discussion of the implications of Nirex's soon to be (at the time of writing, actual) independence from the nuclear industrry. Nirex took the opportunity to ask participants about one consequence that was currently being discussed - the question of whether Nirex should change its name to reflect its new status.

"Nirex explained that given originally the acronym 'NIREX' stands for Nuclear Industry Radioactive Waste Executive, the company felt it was no longer accurate to keep this same name. However, Nirex also said it is aware that name changes can arouse suspicion and it was vital that its audiences did not seee any change as a 'whitewash' or 're-brand'"...[2]

But the name change is exactly that: a re-brand designed as a public relations strategy.

Anyway Greenpeace and Others Asked Us To Change Our Name

In an FOI request response in January 2006, David Wild from Nirex argued that "There have been a number of requests from stakeholders, including Greenpeace, that Nirex should change its name, and we ourselves are concerned that the Nirex name no longer relects our new corporate governance structure and ownership. However, this is necessarily a highly senstive area.." [3]

Oops, Maybe They Didn't

When challenged by Greenpeace to provide evidence that the environmental organisation had requested Nirex change its name, Daivd Wild replied that "an initial search of our records reveals no record of a written request from Greenpeace".[4]

Suppressing information

According to Greenpeace, Nirex refused to release a list of some 537 areas identified as potential nuclear dump sites in the UK, despite repeated requests to do so under the Freedom of Information Act. When it finally acquiesced, Greenpeace says, Nirex "admitted it withheld releasing the dump-site list until after the May 2005 General Election. It admitted it held on to the list in order to avoid any politicians being able to make statements of opposition to a dump site in their area during the election. Nirex denied people the opportunity to discuss this issue with prospective MPs - which may have influenced how they voted. It is also suspected that media debate on the prospects of new reactors - which are heavily dependent on a solution to being found to nuclear waste if they are to get the go-ahead - coloured NIREX's view on whether or not to publish the list before the election." [9]

Sexing up Nukes

Nirex has also been accused of "sexing up" a report on nuclear dumping, according to The Guardian[10]. The paper had obtained a leaked copy of an Environment Agency document sent to Ministers that concluded "Nirex present an overly optimistic view," of dumping. Nirex presented arguments in which the agency says: "The positive arguments are given prominence and corresponding negative arguments are not examined." The papers notes that "[c]hief among the concerns is that the proposed concrete and steel containers used to bury waste could leak within 500 years. Despite that, the agency says the report has not identified any 'major' issues that would scupper such an underground store and declares the concept 'viable'.

Nuclear Spinners Working for Nirex

The Following PR Companies have provided PR advice to Nirex since 2003:

  • Promise PR - To provide Professional Consultancy regarding a posssible change in company name - £45,000
  • Kingsmead Communications Limited - To provide professional consultancy and support in the area of media relations and corporate communications - £25,000
  • Good Relations -To provide professional consultancy and support in the area of media relations and corporate communications - £375,000
  • Fleishman Hillard - (formerly GPC) - To provide corporate communications advice in relation to the Scottish Parliament - £129,900
  • Fleishman Hillard - To provide corporate communications advice in relation to the European Parliament - £53,200
  • Connect - To provide corporate communications advice in relation to Westminster and the National Assembly for Wales - £72,200
  • Bell Pottinger - To provide commmunications advice related to the Nirex pension fund - £24,000
  • International Futures Forum - Praxis Limited - To provide Corporate Communications advice in relation to the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) consultation programme - £32,000
  • ForthRoad Limited - To help facilitate external events - £29,000
  • Facilitating Change Limited - To help facilitate external events - £14,800
  • The Future Foundation - To help facilitate external events and to help draft corporate communications materials - £31,500
  • ERM - To undertake an asssement of stakeholder views of Nirex - £32,600
  • MORI - To undertake a public opinion survey - £30,000 - due to be repeated in 2005/06
  • Women's Insitute - To participate in a workshop to discuss radioactive waste management - £5,000[5]

Good Relations list Nirex as a client on its website [11]. According to Good Relations, "it has advised Nirex, the UK's nuclear waste agency, during the last five years as it moved to become an independent body. This has been a highly sensitive project requiring a co-ordinated media, stakeholder and political communications strategy. It has involved working closely with a number of Government departments including the MoD (in particular on the ISOLUS nuclear submarine project); DTI, Defra and No10.

Key Personnel

Chairman: Cliff Williams
Chief Executive: Chris Murray
Non-Executive Director: Margaret Ramsay
Non-Executive Director: John Kempster
Non-Executive Director: Jason Nisse
Executive Director: Ann McCall

Corporate memberships

Directors

As of January 2006, the members of the Nirex Board are [12]:

Contact information

David Wild
Nirex Ltd
Curie Avenue, Harwell
Oxfordshire, OX11 0RH
Tel: +44 1235 825 500
Fax: +44 1235 825 469
Email: info AT nirex.co.uk
Website: http://www.nirex.co.uk/
(source)

Resources

References

  1. Nirex Report, October, 2004.
  2. Sue Tibballs, Report of the Workshop Held With Members of the Women's Institute, Report Produced for Nirex, February 25, 2005.
  3. David Wild, Letter to Jean McSorley, January 20, 2006.
  4. David Wild, Letter to Jean McSorley, April 10, 2006
  5. David Wild, Freedom of Information Request, Letter to Jean McSorley, Senior Advisor to Greenpeace UK, July 15, 2005.

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