Whatever the decision on Poland’s nuclear energy plant will be, everything should be done to make sure that the debate on this topic is based on facts and is impacted by as little disinformation as possible. This was one of the issues raised by scientists who gathered at a conference in Kraków – writes Wojciech Jakóbik, BiznesAlert.pl’s editor in chief.
Facts against propaganda
During a Polish-Japanese conference on nuclear energy, the participants talked about disinformation which poses a threat to strategic projects, such as a nuclear power plants. Despite the fact that the society is favorable to nuclear energy, disinformation is winning against a reliable response from the sector, which usually requires time.
A survey conducted by France’s EDF in 2014 revealed that the majority of the French would be favorable to a construction of a nuclear power plant in the vicinity of their homes. The “not in my backyard” attitude was not exposed. As many as 43 percent of the respondents who lived in an area close to a nuclear power plant supported the usage of such installations, 23 percent were hesitant, 22 percent did not have any opinion, and only 11 percent were against. The nation-wide results were a little worse, but still favored nuclear power plants. A survey by Poland’s CBOS conducted in three locations where a nuclear power plant may be constructed, showed the same results. About 80 percent of inhabitants of Choczewo and Gniewino were in favor, and so were about 60 percent of people who live in Krokowa.
Paweł Gajda, PhD, from the Department of Nuclear Energy at the AGH University of Science and Technology in Kraków, argues that new nuclear disasters and terror attacks outside of the sector (Chernobyl, 9/11, Fukushima), temporarily increase aversion to this kind of power generation, but in general this is not a significant topic in the public debate, which was revealed by the EDF research. Only 4 percent of respondents believe this is an important topic. 24 percent of people out of that group point that the security of nuclear power plants is an important part of the issue. According to Gajda, the way nuclear energy is perceived may be different from facts. Since the end of World War II there have been media broadcasts that fuelled fear of nuclear energy. Even the Japanese movie “Godzilla” from the 1950s could be an example here. At the same time, the speed of news reports in the media is often quicker than the need for reliability, and the search for an attractive topic encourages to promote negative content. The facts on nuclear energy are usually less interesting than shocking lies. The impact of social media is also important, because they make it possible to quickly spread fake news.
Appeal to the media
The scientists at the Polish-Japanese conference called for the media to be fair and reliable. “The press needs to care for the clarity of the message,” Józef Sobolewski Head of the Nuclear Energy Department at the Ministry of Energy argued. Doctor Gajda recommended the statements published by the Polish National Atomic Energy Agency, which reacts to every instance of fake news about radiation threats in Poland, as a good example. “It is enough to publish data, which can be then easily compared,” he said in Kraków.
I have previously written about such incidents on BiznesAlert.pl. A case in point was the disinformation about a radioactive cloud caused by micro-cracks at Belgium’s Tihange nuclear power plant, that was approaching Poland . The problems at the plant were reported on by some of the media as a nuclear disaster equal in size to the Fukushima catastrophe in Japan. The Atomic Energy Agency challenged this information by quickly contacting the media and publishing a fact-based statement for the press. “This is a matter of national security. Everything depends on the responsibility of the media,” Jerzy Cetnar, PhD, Eng., from the Department of Nuclear Energy at the AGH University of Science and Technology said.
Based on my experience with the Agency and the National Centre for Nuclear Research I may only suggest that both institutions should improve the attractiveness of the statements released to calm down the public opinion. Perhaps the press releases should include infographics or use appropriate formatting for better data presentation. The ball is in the media court. In case disturbing information on nuclear energy appears, they should verify it with the above institutions instead of blindly copying untrue data. This will make it possible to base the debate on Poland’s nuclear energy on facts and keep it as far away from disinformation as possible.