In May 1995 Roger Hayes, director general of the British Nuclear
Industry Forum, said: ’Five years ago the industry was a joke. We had
the worst reactors in the world and nobody trusted us. What we said was
as reliable as our plants. PR has helped us. We now have some of the
most sophisticated communications of any industry in Britain.’
And yet last week PR Week reported that Roger Hayes is to step down,
after four years in the post, as part of cost-cutting at the forum.
Much of the nuclear industry has now transferred to private
Last summer saw the sale of generating companies Nuclear Electric and
Scottish Nuclear under the umbrella of British Energy. Technology
services company AEA Technology was also privatised around the same
With this fragmentation the forum’s annual budget has steadily declined,
from pounds 3.5 million four years ago to pounds 1 million today
Staffing has also dropped from 25 to 16.
However, BNIF chairman Dr Bill Wilkinson denies there is any less
commitment to communication and claims that Hayes’ departure is merely a
reflection of a ’restructuring to make the forum a leaner and meaner
’Since the privatisation of Nuclear Electric and Scottish Nuclear into
British Energy last summer we have stepped back from PR and lobbying and
are taking on a more strategic style,’ he says.
Inevitably privatisation has led to a ’normalisation’ of the nuclear
industry. The parts in private sector hands become answerable to
shareholders rather than the public and face a different kind of media
However one communications professional within the nuclear industry sees
the cut-backs at the BNIF as a serious step backwards: ’The nuclear
industry still suffers from an image problem and it is short-sighted to
starve its trade body of funds at this point.’
This insider believes the BNIF plays a valuable role as a conduit for
ideas and can better understand the effects of individual companies’
actions on other parts of the industry: ’There is a danger that the
industry is becoming more insular and inward looking.’
Dr Patrick Green, senior energy campaigner for Friends of the Earth
takes a stronger view. He believes the BNIF is winding down and for a
more fundamental reason - because it has lost the war of ideas. ’It has
nothing to argue for any more. In 1994 the Government’s nuclear review
decided no new reactors were going to be built, and since then the
industry has been in wind down mode,’ he says.
Green says the nuclear industry is living in ’cloud cuckoo land’ if it
thinks more reactors will ever be built and its focus must now be to
clean up the mess it has created.
He believes communications have been key in this victory: ’Fundamentally
the nuclear industry didn’t have the scientific knowledge to overcome
its problems and we have been continually proven right in the public
The nuclear industry was certainly dealt a serious blow in March when
John Gummer, secretary of state for the environment, refused the
go-ahead for the waste site planned by Nirex - the body responsible for
disposing of all intermediate-level UK radioactive wastes.
Writing in the Independent on Sunday, Geoffrey Lean, said: ’This marks a
stunning vindication of the strategy by Friends of the Earth of fighting
the industry on its own ground. The international nuclear power has
suffered one of its biggest set backs since Chernobyl.’
Peter Bingle, managing director of government and political affairs at
the Communication Group, disagrees that either the BNIF or the industry
are winding down. Bingle has provided consultancy for both British
Nuclear Fuels Limited and the BNIF. ’The industry is changing,’ he says.
’The forum was crucial in the run up to privatisation and did its job
rather well. It has won cross-party support for a mixed supply of
Bingle believes the BNIF’s role will become clearer when the industry
has ’settled down’ and it will be able to respond in PR terms to new
opportunities or threats.
Wilkinson confirms the BNIF will continue to play two important roles:
’On one hand we need crisis management for the day-to-day issues that
arise. And longer term we will attempt to influence public opinion.
Although we are not going to build any reactors for at least a decade,
when we do the public needs to accept it’.
Nevertheless he does admit that there have been public opinion
’There’s no doubt we have been caught napping by the anti-nuclear
It’s taken a long time to get on the front foot and we mustn’t reduce
our emphasis now.’
Dr Roger Highfield, science editor on the Daily Telegraph, says: ’The
industry seems to have lost the vigour of the 1950s and 1960s. It has
had to repair the damage done after Chernobyl and one area of expansion
would have been the deep repository plan by Nirex, but this was
defeated.’ He adds: ’Interest is now quite low in the nuclear industry.
It’s gone off the media agenda.’
With seemingly insurmountable problems over waste and a complete lack of
political commitment to build new reactors, the central question remains
- does the industry really have the confidence to shift public opinion
back in favour of nuclear energy?