Robbie Huston, NDA, presentation to InfoArena 2016

Robbie Huston, Nuclear Decommissioning Authority 
“Together we did it!”

Well we’ve come a long way in last 15 years - since the days of protest and confrontation.

Some of you may recall Norwegian Environment Minister Borge Brende publicly praising anti-Sellafield protesters.  You may also recall how Sellafield discharges rose up the political agenda resulting in discussions between Prime Ministers Blair and Bondevik.

And the four of us have been involved throughout that time. (Nils Bøhmer, Bellona, Rex Strong, Sellafield Ltd., Per-Kaare Holdal, GcS and Robbie Huston, NDA)

For my part I first gained interest in environmental disputes during 1995 when Greenpeace challenged Shell UK about their plans to dispose of an oil storage platform at sea.  I understand that Shell’s approach to announcing its decision is known as DAD – Decide, Announce and Defend.  And those that recall the outcome of the dispute will remember it better as a case of DADA – Decide Announce Defend and then Abandon.

One of my first experiences of stakeholder management came during the late 1990’s when, we the BNFL Communications’ team, had to defend the decision of the newly formed BNFL subsidiary Direct Rail Services to set up their marshalling operations at Cricklewood in North London.

DRS had taken the decision and our task was to inform the residents that lived near the railway tracks.  For those residents, who’d had no previous exposure to the nuclear industry,  the prospect of trains carrying spent nuclear fuel being shunted and parked close to their houses gave them great concern and anxiety.

Little did we know how swiftly and professionally they would mount a campaign that would eventually see DRS abandon their plans and change their decision.

But that experience, as difficult as it was at the time, wasn’t without benefit both to BNFL and to me personally.  Working with an organisation called The Environment Council we learnt to how engage with stakeholders in a more meaningful way.  By taking the views and concerns of stakeholders on board we could inform our decision making process.

And this we have tried to do with our Nordic stakeholders.

But it hasn’t always been easy.  During the early days Rex and I met with some sceptical members of management who saw no reason to go to all the effort when we were not breaching discharges nor breaking any laws.  So a big challenge for us was convincing them that we were doing the right thing.

Applying some of the lessons learnt from the Environment Council, to our dialogue with you, we were able to gain an understanding of your interests and concerns.  We started to understand about your culture, your heritage and your economy.

In return you could start to understand about the interests and concerns of our local stakeholders in particular our workers and their families.

And I also hope that over the years you have been able to gain a much better understanding of the Sellafield site and its activities.  And maybe it’s not the demon it once seemed?

I have come to understand that in times of dispute it is the unknown that presents perhaps the greatest threat to any resolution.  It can lead to false assumptions and misconceptions.  That is why the availability and exchange of information is so vital.

When information flows freely, and it doesn’t always have to be positive, then trust develops.

And trust leads to confidence.

I would like to think that we have reached that stage in our dialogue and the InfoArena conferences have been the main vehicle for getting us here.

You may not always agree with our decisions, nor welcome the news that we sometimes bring, but I would hope that you have some confidence in that we are making progress and moving towards a common goal:


Finally I’d like to express my appreciation to my fellow co-organisers with whom I’ve had the pleasure and been fortunate to work with for the last 15 years:

Nils Bohmer from Bellona, Per-Kaare Holdal from Gaurdians of our common seas and my Sellafield colleague Rex Strong.

Throughout the years I’ve looked to all three for advice and guidance.  I think it has been their talents, and their objective approach and cooperation that have provided the essential ingredient in making this a successful dialogue.

Thank you.


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