Publications on the internet
UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 1742-i
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY Committee
RISK PERCEPTION AND ENERGY INFRASTRUCTURE
Wednesday 18 January 2012
Andrew Bloodworth, Professor Nick Pidgeon
and Professor David Spiegelhalter
Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 40
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.
Any public use of, or reference to, the contents should make clear that neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.
Members who receive this for the purpose of correcting questions addressed by them to witnesses are asked to send corrections to the Committee Assistant.
Prospective witnesses may receive this in preparation for any written or oral evidence they may in due course give to the Committee.
Taken before the Science and Technology Committee
on Wednesday 18 January 2012
Andrew Miller (Chair)
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Andrew Bloodworth, Head of Science, Minerals and Waste, British Geological Survey, Professor Nick Pidgeon, Director of Understanding Risk Programme, Cardiff University, and Professor David Spiegelhalter, Royal Statistical Society, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Welcome, gentlemen. Thank you very much for coming in this morning. Perhaps for the record you would kindly introduce yourselves.
Andrew Bloodworth: I am Andrew Bloodworth, Head of Science for Minerals and Waste at the British Geological Survey. Part of my direct responsibility is for research into radioactive waste disposal.
Professor Pidgeon: I am Professor Nick Pidgeon. I am an applied psychologist at the School of Psychology at Cardiff university.
Professor Spiegelhalter: I am David Spiegelhalter, a statistician from the university of Cambridge. I am here representing the Royal Statistical Society.
Q2 Chair: Thank you very much. Generally speaking, how would you define risk?
Professor Spiegelhalter: Risk is a tricky topic to define. There are many technical definitions. I am a statistician and we have our own technical definition, but it is used very widely in terms of ordinary public discourse. I tend to think of it as just the possibility that something bad might happen, and that is usually deconstructed into the likelihood of something happening and the impact if it actually does. I am sure we will come on to this, but some attempt is made to quantify the magnitude of these two dimensions.
Q3 Chair: You would put it as something bad might happen as distinct from uncertainty.
Professor Spiegelhalter: I think of it as uncertainty, but people tend to use the word "chance" when it has an upside to it and there is an opportunity for something good to happen. In usual public discourse, risk is associated with rather negative events that might happen.
Professor Pidgeon: A number of years ago I reviewed this for the Royal Society. Initially, they were taken aback that, when you look into the literature, there are a number of definitions of risk. Some people call it purely uncertainty and likelihood; others would say it is a combination of uncertainty and consequence that you can measure in various ways. There are also other definitions. There is no single definition of risk. It becomes more complicated when one starts to talk about deeper forms of uncertainty, which are less measurable.
Sometimes we view things as risky even though maybe there have not been negative consequences yet. Thinking of quite complicated technical systems with the potential for failure, if all the safety systems, be they soft, human or technical, have failed, or all but the last one have failed, or the main assumptions used to keep the system safe have failed, even though nobody has actually died at this point in time-we would think of that as a risky situation. The Fukushima accident is interesting in this respect. We do not know what the consequences to individuals will be in the long term of radiological exposure, but all the safety assumptions-that power would be kept on to working reactors-were undermined by that event. I would say that was a full failure of a complex system and a very risky situation.
Andrew Bloodworth: As a geologist and not a specialist in risk, the interesting thing to come out of Fukushima is the re-emphasis of interest in low probability, high consequence events like tsunamis. The nuclear sector has been aware of these things for some time, but the community has woken up to the fact that, every now and again, these very low probability events happen and they can have extremely serious consequences. It is a change in the mindset of the community. Until the tsunami in the Indian ocean in 2004, very few people had heard the word "tsunami" and did not really know what it was. Like London buses, two have come along quite close together and, all of a sudden, people have woken up to the fact that these things can happen. There are other low probability, high consequence effects which might impact on installations.
Q4 Chair: Indeed. I guess this is one for the statistician, Professor Spiegelhalter. Can any risk be measured by purely quantitative methods, or will it always be subject to qualitative assessments?
Professor Spiegelhalter: There is always a quantitative and qualitative aspect. Any number that is put on anything is always dependent on some assumptions that you make. You narrow down your focus to an average case or particular class of individual. The normal ones that people feel they can put numbers on are everyday risks to do with the sort of things against which you insure yourself: car accidents and risk of getting diseases. I have about a 12% chance of getting a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years according to my medical condition. I can put a number on that, but that is not my true risk; it takes into account only a few of my features. You cannot open me up and read my risk. In many ways, people would argue that these numbers do not really exist; we construct them on the basis of our knowledge and judgment. There is always a qualitative element to do with the quality of the evidence available and the robustness of the number you put on it. As a statistician, I am keen that we try to put numbers and magnitudes on things. However, we have to be aware of the limitations in how far we can go, the sorts of qualifications we have to add to those numbers and acknowledge the fact that we cannot put numbers on everything.
Q5 Chair: One of the inquiries we have been conducting recently caused us to go and see the Met Office. It was very interesting that they were arguing that probabilities should be dealt with in a different way by the media. Is it the way the numbers are dealt with that causes confusion in the minds of the public?
Professor Spiegelhalter: I have been working with the Met Office on communicating uncertainty about weather forecasts on a daily basis. I think it is absolutely vital. The empirical evidence-Nick will know this better than I-is that, given the appropriate form of communication, the general public are able to take on board ideas of chance and probability. However, they are very ill-served at the moment with the way these things tend to be explained. An increasing amount of research has been done on the best way to explain things to people. In the medical world, where there is the development of the idea of shared care in which an informed joint decision is made about medical treatments, it is becoming increasingly important that numbers like the one I quoted-my 12% chance-are communicated in a clear way to an individual, and also it is recognised that, if I take statins every day for 10 years, there are side-effects and a trade-off of risks and benefits, and that those should be communicated in a transparent and consistent way. There is big emphasis on that in medicine; it is called uniform reporting of benefits and harms. The submission of the Royal Statistical Society essentially argues in this context that, in any decision making, whether by an individual or Government, there should be uniform transparent reporting of benefits and harms. You cannot always put numbers on everything, but we could have a good go.
Professor Pidgeon: There is now a large research base out there built up over about 40 years based on work by statisticians and psychologists. Economists have also done work in this area. David is absolutely right that risk communication and presentation of numbers has to be done using the right formats. To give you a good example, it might be said that a procedure doubles your risk of x. That is a risk comparison. It is quite easy to understand, but it may be completely misleading if the baseline is very low. One of the first lessons from all this research is that trying to simplify things always gets you into trouble, and it is better to try to get across the risk estimates as they are. Therefore, rather than double the risk, we say it goes from one in 200,000 to two in 200,000. That said, you would want to use various techniques, maybe visual diagrams and contextualising of the risk. What does one in 200,000 mean in terms of one person in a large town or small city? All these techniques have been researched. The problem is that many of the people who try to communicate risks do not connect with that research evidence. There is a problem in getting the research evidence into the policy domain and the communicators in practical situations.
Andrew Bloodworth: I am not sure I am desperately well qualified to talk on this topic, so perhaps I will pass on the use of numbers in communicating risks.
Q6 Chair: There are responsibilities in the world of geology. Just think of the volcanic ash episodes and the tsunamis. How do you as a geologist get your message across to the public?
Andrew Bloodworth: It is colossally difficult sometimes to deal with very long periods of time. Recently, somebody made the point that, although the volcanoes in Iceland have been very active over the last 200,000 years, there has been a period of quiescence since the second world war and up until last year, which has coincided almost entirely with the major growth in aviation across the north Atlantic. It is very difficult to communicate to people that that is quite an unusual event geologically.
As to risk and hazard of tsunamis, they happen all the time but usually in places where people do not live. It is only when an event like that comes up against a densely-populated coastline of the Indian ocean or Japan that you start to see real problems. It is complicated. As geologists, we can attempt to communicate the science, although I might mention a few things about that later, but sometimes that is extremely difficult to do when dealing with very complex systems, like radioactive waste disposal.
Q7 Pamela Nash: Professor Pidgeon, in your written evidence you helpfully explained different factors that affect public concern which are not in traditional risk assessments. Will you illuminate us a little on what you think are the most significant factors that affect the public perception of nuclear power in the UK?
Professor Pidgeon: If I may answer it in a generic sense first, perceptions are moved by a number of factors. You have to take into account that as to the risk issue, if something is thought to be hazardous, that will come into the equation, and whatever benefits are attached to the risk also come into it. In nuclear power it is interesting because, if you went back 20 years and asked people whether they thought nuclear power had benefits, you would get a uniform "no" after Chernobyl. That has changed over the last 10 years or so as the discourse about climate change and energy security has entered the public realm.
Stepping back with nuclear power, we know there are generic factors which make things seem more risky: whether the risk is unknown and uncontrollable by the individual, and the idea of radiation, or potential large accidents, which we cannot control.
There is a kind of "dread" factor which has now been theorised more carefully than when it was first studied in terms of an effective response. It is always open to interpretation to say it is an emotional response, but it is. We do not like that. That also affects your perception of risk.
The research evidence shows that emotional responses are very important, because we would not be good decision makers if we did not have those responses to things in the environment. You need analytic reasoning, emotion and affect, as it is called. Probably underlying all this, the most important thing is distrust. If you do not trust the parties who manage the risk, you are not likely to have confidence that the risk is being safely managed. Distrust comes from a number of sources. With the nuclear industry, it has happened over a very long period of time. There was this initial hubris, almost, around the industry: it would be too cheap to meter; it would be a wonderful technology; and it was safe. For many years people felt that was the case. We then had the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, so faith in management of risk was undermined. Distrust is a rather more subtle and social factor.
Interestingly, on local nuclear sites where we have done a lot of work over the years, local people say they have confidence in their local plant because they know the people who manage it. They meet them in the pub; their kids go to school with the kids of the operators, and they believe they are doing a good job managing the risk at the plant. A trust factor comes into why local populations tend to be more positive about nuclear power compared with national samples. I hope that answers that question.
Q8 Pamela Nash: It is interesting that you talk about those people who live in close proximity to the plants. Are there any other specific population groups you have looked at that are affected differently by these factors?
Professor Pidgeon: Generally, if you look at things like values and age, there is not a huge effect. The one effect, which is not confined to nuclear power, is the gender difference. There has always been a gender difference, and it is there in the literature. If you look at hazards like nuclear and chemical pollution-local environmental hazards that would affect a community or town-women tend to be more cautious than men about technologies that pose those risks. There has been a lot of theorising about this. It is not a biological difference as far as I can see. It is to do with the way women and men are socialised or are taught in school to think about technology and how these high-technical solutions to energy problems, say, are seen as the preserve of the male. There must be an engineer in this room. That is why there are not many women in engineering because it is not seen as the type of role for women to go into. That probably puts off some girls from going into engineering very early on. That spills over into the way people of different gender interpret risk, if it is a high-tech risk question, but gender is a very interesting question. That is the main one.
Interestingly, in the response to Fukushima, it is not the case that nothing has changed. In the UK, the polls show there has not been a collapse in support for nuclear energy, but some things underlying that have changed. Women again have become more cautious than they were before about nuclear energy as a result of Fukushima.
Q9 Pamela Nash: That is in the UK?
Professor Pidgeon: Yes; there is some data in the UK to show that. That is the main demographic factor. There are other demographic factors one would take into account aside from familiarity and location in relation to an existing nuclear facility.
Q10 Pamela Nash: Do you have anything to add to that?
Professor Spiegelhalter: No.
Andrew Bloodworth: Our experience of trust is that it is a huge issue with nuclear. People are very suspicious, particularly of the industry and also of Government on this issue. That is our experience as a body that has worked in the middle of all that. The regulators are nowhere on this; the public are not aware they even exist. That is quite an interesting point. What Nick said about local trust of existing operations is quite true. If you look at the approach taken by radioactive waste management organisations particularly in Scandinavia, one of their deliberate tactics is to base themselves in the communities which may take this material. They set up an office and come to live there. That is a deliberate tactic on their part to build trust. It takes a long time, but certainly in Finland and Sweden that is very much the approach they have used.
Q11 Pamela Nash: Is there evidence to show that there is a higher level of trust in Scandinavian countries than in the UK?
Andrew Bloodworth: I do not know whether there is any poll evidence, but certainly the fact that the site in Finland is going ahead and the site in Sweden is likely to go ahead, with the acceptance of the local population, shows that perhaps they have succeeded in building a level of trust. These sites are located in areas where there is already a nuclear site. Again, there are lessons to be learned there.
Q12 Pamela Nash: Are you aware of any other evidence to show that there are any significant differences between the perception of the UK population of nuclear power compared with other countries? Are there significant global differences?
Professor Pidgeon: There is quite a lot of polling evidence, but as soon as you start to do cross-national comparative polls you tend to get very simple questions asked, so you cannot dig much below the surface that this percentage is for or against. The best study I can quote was completed about 20 years ago and was a comparison between France and the United States. The reason you can use the US as a good comparator with the UK is that there are quite similar cultural views on technology; the views on nuclear have been fairly similar in the two countries for many years. Comparing France and the US, it was quite clear that there was greater faith in the nuclear industry in France at that time. One of the key variables they found was greater trust in the risk management and engineering process in France compared with the US. That is a good example of that. It would be interesting to do a big cross-national survey that had more than just headline for or against questions on it.
Q13 Pamela Nash: Do you feel that the factors that affect people’s perception of nuclear have changed over time? I am thinking about climate change as a new factor. Have any other factors changed perception in your view?
Professor Pidgeon: These things ebb and flow. It is a strange way to put it, but there is a core set of constructs that nuclear has built up over time: association with atomic weapons; initial secrecy; hubris in the industry; and accidents. Therefore, can we trust it? Do we need it? I guess that would have been the question 20 years ago that people would have asked, given the potential risks and perhaps what they had seen about Chernobyl. In the last 10 years the discourse, certainly in the UK, about reframing the industry, as it is called, in terms of climate change and energy security has clearly impacted perceptions; they are less negative. But, underlying that, our research has shown that there is a sense in which they are still ambivalent.
I will give you a very good quote. In 2002, when we first started doing work on this and we asked, "Would you want climate change or nuclear power?", they said, "That’s a bad choice, because if I am going to run my car into a truck or a tree and kill myself"-it would be nuclear versus climate change, because they both have bad risks-"I guess I would choose the tree, but I don’t want either." Nuclear is seen as a kind of devil’s bargain, which is a phrase I use. I do not think anybody quite used that in our focus group, but it summed up what many people said. There is essentially an ambivalence still about the case for nuclear energy in many people’s minds.
The other thing that has ebbed and flowed is that, if you went back a year ago and asked what the top 10 concerns were about nuclear energy, radioactive waste, maybe disposal, or local things such as transportation of fuel and so on would come up. Accidents would be way down. As a result of Fukushima, we now see accidents are right at the top again. Accidents have become prominent again in the public mind. That is important if there were to be another accident anywhere in the world. Let us hope not. Three Mile Island and Chernobyl came very close to each other in terms of media reporting and public response. That is why, after Chernobyl, there was a very high level of opposition to nuclear energy in many countries across the globe. One of the lessons is not about communication but risk management. The industry as it goes forward in this country and elsewhere has to make absolutely sure it manages its nuclear plants as safely as possible.
Q14 Pamela Nash: Just looking at recent events, has terrorism become a high-risk factor?
Professor Pidgeon: It did following the events in the United States and also London. If you look at the polling, it has become less important. In the last three or four years the thing people worry most about is the economy. I do a lot of work on climate change beliefs. That has certainly subsided in people’s minds in relation to day-to-day worry about jobs and how ends will be met. The economy and personal finances are much more important to people. That suppressed a number of other concerns that people had about the environment.
Q15 Stephen Metcalfe: What is the overall purpose of risk communication? Professor Pidgeon, you talked about the dread factors. Is it to mitigate those, or is it to be open and transparent and put the information out so that the public can make their own decisions?
Professor Pidgeon: The simple answer is that it is absolutely the latter. I am sure my colleagues will back me up when I say that the former view was the one 40 years ago when opposition to nuclear started in this country, the US and elsewhere. The simple view was, "We’ll just tell people the facts about the engineering and technical side of it and how safe it is, and everybody will come along and be very happy about it." That clearly failed. The House of Lords held an inquiry about 10 years ago, and the analysis now is as robust as it was then. It has shown that that thinking-a very simple, one-way deficit model of science communication, as it is called-just does not work. What happens is that the quality of the debate goes up and you get polarisation. Some people become more positive about something; others become extremely upset if you just try to throw science at them. The received wisdom from the research is that it is much more about a dialogue between people generating informed discussion and choice about science, technology and the risk issues. You cannot force an opinion on people, particularly about a hotly-contested technology.
Andrew Bloodworth: It has had a huge impact on my part of the business, which is the approach to radioactive waste disposal. Ten years ago, the general model in the west was: decide, announce, defend. You decide where you are going to put it for scientific and technical reasons; you announce it to the local population; and then you defend it. That became: decide; announce; defend; abandon. All those plans for nuclear waste failed. The Americans, the UK and the French failed.
Q16 Stephen Metcalfe: Failed in what sense?
Andrew Bloodworth: Failed in the sense that sites were announced for more investigation and it attracted enormous levels of opposition.
Q17 Stephen Metcalfe: Was that a failure to communicate the risk adequately or effectively and engage in that two-way conversation?
Andrew Bloodworth: It was a failure to engage in the two-way conversation. The approach now is: inform; review; decide. You inform the general population that this is what you want to do and basically ask for volunteers. That is what the Scandinavians and French have done and what the Japanese are doing, and that is what we are doing now through DECC’s MRWS process.
Q18 Stephen Metcalfe: Has that resulted in a change in the way that the risk is perceived by the public?
Andrew Bloodworth: I think it has. Nick will know more about this than I do, but it seems to me that, if you involve people more in the decision making, their emotional response to the risk changes because of a whole range of factors. The previous paradigm was to fire lots of scientific information at people. There is some evidence that the more information you give them the more risk-averse they become.
Professor Pidgeon: It depends on the issue, but yes.
Q19 Stephen Metcalfe: You talked about how this has worked in other countries. Are there any particular factors in this country that make it more difficult to communicate a balanced risk?
Andrew Bloodworth: My experience of public acceptance of, say, difficult uses of land is much more on the mining side. My experience from that is that the big factor that is different in this country from most others is that we are a very densely populated island. That makes it difficult for two reasons. One is that in some countries you can find places to put things away from people, whether they are nuclear installations or other things people do not like. We do not have that option in this country. The other big thing is slightly more subtle than that, which is that, because we live in a densely populated country, we value our landscape very highly. That is the general public perception of landscape or things like national parks. If you look at West Cumbria, for instance, you are right next door to the Lake District national park. The previous attempts at deep disposal of radioactive waste in West Cumbria attracted enormous amounts of opposition from people who live near or, more correctly, value the park because they visit it. It is not just about coming up against the direct population; it is also about the perception of the rest of the population about what you are doing.
Q20 Stephen Metcalfe: How much importance should policymakers place upon that perception, even if it is inaccurate, when determining policy?
Andrew Bloodworth: As somebody who has been very intimately involved with land use planning over the last decade, policymakers take enormous account of people’s feelings.
Q21 Stephen Metcalfe: Is that right?
Andrew Bloodworth: I think it is right. It is incredibly hard to get a balance between economic development, which is what we are talking about-energy security-and people’s feelings about where they live. This country has one of the strongest land use regulatory regimes in the world, and almost all of the reason for it is that a lot of us are living in a very small space.
Professor Spiegelhalter: I would like to draw a medical analogy. In the past, risk communication medicine was seen largely as a way of trying to persuade people to do what you thought was best for them. That paternalistic approach is undergoing a deep change to the idea of transparent communication in which it is felt there is an ethical duty to communicate clearly but also to enhance trust and improve dialogue. Basically, I feel that is desperately needed in this area as well, because this information is just not available in order to have a reasoned debate. People will still be affected by emotions, feelings and their cultural beliefs. There is no way of avoiding that, and quite right too, but I regard the provision of information in a transparent way, which is not propaganda-as some of the sources are at the moment, frankly-not as a sufficient condition to have a reasoned debate but certainly a necessary one.
Q22 Stephen Metcalfe: But, to be able to have a reasoned debate, do you not need to make sure that the emotional reaction to the risk is not so great that you cannot get beyond that to start to be able to debate it?
Professor Spiegelhalter: As Nick said, it is unavoidable that it will be there and it has to be respected. We have all got it. This is not just something the poor ignorant public out there have; we are all subject to our feelings in this area. It is unavoidable; it is there; it has to be acknowledged and respected. However, it must also be balanced by an analytic approach as far as we can go, but without the pretence that this is the only way and this will tell people what is best for them.
Professor Pidgeon: Not to confuse matters even further, one of the definitions of risk used by a colleague, a geographer from the United States, is whether it is something that is a threat to people and things they value. Landscape absolutely explains why we have issues over renewable energy projects as well as nuclear. If something is seen as being out of place in the landscape, which is part of your personal identity on which a very high value is placed, you will question why somebody is coming in to develop it in this way. Remember that, in any debate that involves a political or other issue, or a simple question of whether you should vaccinate somebody, questions of value are not about science; they are questions of what people believe and want. They are a legitimate part of the debate about how you take a decision.
Professor Spiegelhalter: Even if it is difficult to put an immediate number on these things, they need to be acknowledged; they are part of the balance.
Professor Pidgeon: This is why sometimes a purely technical view of risk and risk communication fails. It completely neglects the value questions that people want debated. That is why a process approach is better because, even though it might take longer and more resource, you are opening up the space to have a properly rational debate with all the people involved.
Q23 Stephen Mosley: In answer to Pamela, you went into a lot of depth about the perception of risk in regard to the nuclear industry. I do not intend to revisit that ground. Perhaps we may focus on changes in attitude post-Fukushima. Why do you think that in some countries there have been huge shifts? For instance, Germany almost turned its back completely on nuclear power since Fukushima compared with the UK, where we seem to be proceeding.
Professor Pidgeon: There is a sense in which this sets a little puzzle, so it is a research question. That is not a very good answer, but there are some key things over the next few years that the researchers who have studied Germany, here and other countries will try to unravel in more detail. Part of the answer to your question is that you have to look at the history of the particular country and how the energy issue has been positioned and views on energy have built up over time.
In Germany, you had a very strong environmental movement. The experience of devastation in the war and the link with what happened at the end of the war with Japan has always been there in people’s minds in a way that it was not in the UK. Nuclear was always a more touchy subject in Germany from the off-from 1945 onwards. There has always been much greater political pressure against nuclear energy in Germany; there has also been a lot of political momentum for it, because it has a very well developed industry. The decision that has been taken in Germany is an interesting one for energy policy, because it charts a completely different decarbonisation course, if it can be done. There is an experiment going on there that lots of people will be watching with some interest. It goes back to the history of the way the industry was positioned. The support for the nuclear industry was never as stable in a country like Germany as in the US, the UK and France.
Austria is another good example. It has always had a lot of internal opposition because of plants just over the border. They have always felt that those plants threatened the Austrian population, so there has been quite strong anti-nuclear feeling there as well. It is quite complicated to work out in each country why you get particular opposition or support on that. You have to look at the history.
Andrew Bloodworth: There may be more prosaic reasons that I don’t know. I am not an expert on Germany’s energy security, but they may have more energy choices than we have. They have very large resources of brown coal for electricity generation, for instance, which are not particularly environmentally friendly but at least they are available to them. They are much more integrated into the European gas grid than we are. The reasons Nick cited are very powerful ones, and I am sure they are the more powerful ones in this case. It is also the fact that Germany had a lot of nuclear weapons based on its soil during the cold war. There may be a perception here and in countries like France that we have fewer choices in terms of energy security. From a technocratic point of view, it may have been easier for the German Government than our Government to make that choice.
Q24 Stephen Mosley: You have talked about a devil’s bargain between climate change and nuclear energy. There is a third option, which is increased use of renewables. Is there a perception that that is not a realistic option anyway in the UK?
Professor Pidgeon: That is interesting. We have done quite a lot of national surveys on this. If you put renewables against nuclear power, you can ask two questions with which 70% of your sample will agree. We may need nuclear in the future mix because renewables will not be enough for energy security and climate change, but you can also say that we do not really need nuclear power because we would like to have a renewable energy future. Those two look contradictory but in a way they are not. If you do the qualitative work, there is still a very strong belief among the population that we should move to a renewable future. It is seen as the future in the long term, but the devil’s bargain comes up in the medium term. People will then say realistically, "But maybe we need some nuclear in the medium term because we can’t just suddenly change our energy system overnight."
As to whether it is feasible, that is a complicated engineering question that I am not sure I am fully qualified to answer. To go back to Germany, watch that space very carefully because they are now trying to move to a decarbonised future using very high levels of renewables. It will be very interesting to see how they deal with that. One of the technical problems, as I understand it, is that renewables are more intermittent. That does not necessarily mean they are bad. It is just that you need other systems in place to deal with the situation when the wind is blowing too much or there is not enough wind; or there is not enough solar, let us say; or it is the cup final and there is not enough solar-it is a grey day. As I understand it, energy policy must always have a mix of generating sources, which will probably include some fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage-that is the policy choice-to cover the peaks and troughs that a highly renewables-based system will not be able to deal with.
I am not sure whether you want to talk about carbon capture and storage. It was mentioned in the evidence that the Geological Survey gave and is one of the outstanding questions we do not know about. We can focus on nuclear for the time being because of the events of the last year, but policy in the EU and UK depends very heavily upon that technology working. We already have evidence that there are some severe public perception issues about the storage of carbon dioxide certainly onshore in other countries. In a way, the CCS industry, if it is not careful, is about to repeat the mistakes that the nuclear industry made 50 years ago, and in a sense that is an even bigger question for this Committee and for policy.
Q25 Stephen Mosley: Perhaps I may bring you back to nuclear for the moment. You mentioned perceptions in Germany and Japan because of the war, the use of nuclear weapons, the basing of nuclear weapons there and so on. When it comes to nuclear power, that is one thing people do associate with it. However, we also use radiation and other forms of nuclear products in medicine. People are quite happy to go to the hospital and have x-rays and various treatments. Should greater emphasis be placed on the more friendly forms of radiation or use of nuclear to try to defeat the poor image that nuclear power may have?
Andrew Bloodworth: It is a voluntary and involuntary thing. You choose to have an xray. You may choose to travel by air and receive a higher radiation dose, but perhaps you do not choose to live next door to a nuclear power station.
Professor Spiegelhalter: This was done in the risk communication at the time of the Fukushima incident with various lists provided by the BBC and also derived from the HPA on the effects of radiation exposure from everyday occurrences. I have mentioned the bag of Brazil nuts and so on, which represents 0.01 millisieverts; a banana represents a microsievert. In Fukushima, the analogy being made is that there was a bigger radiation dose as a result of people evacuating from Tokyo than if they had just stayed there. Those sorts of comparisons can be made, but they are subject to the problem that people view very differently risks imposed upon them from those they take voluntarily, but when you look at these things you get some quite shocking results.
If you accept the sort of linear no-threshold theory for radiation exposure, basically the risks of radiation go down like that, but even low doses from x-rays carry a small chance of some damage. The calculation shows that, for example, there are 70 million CT scans done every year in the USA. People from the National Cancer Institute reckon that those voluntary CT scans in the US have caused 29,000 cancers a year. It is a staggering imposition. Many people in radiology question the excessive use of diagnostic imaging. I would not have a whole body CT scan unless it was absolutely necessary for my health. I think you are right, but it has to be handled quite carefully. I view this as one part of a full and transparent communication of possible harms and benefits of treatments.
Q26 Chair: Is that not a pretty daft position to adopt? You would not have a full body scan, but I bet you have flown in a few aeroplanes.
Professor Spiegelhalter: Yes. It is not so large with that. Those are risks I am prepared to take because I want to go somewhere. I am not going to pay 800 quid for a whole body CT scan just to check up on me.
Chair: It is not for fun; you do it for a purpose.
Professor Spiegelhalter: Yes. If I was ill I probably would have one, but I try to avoid them, and quite rightly. A lot of screening is not done in the health service because it can lead to more harms than benefits. People recognise that-not from radiation but from prostate screening and so on. We have to weigh these up the whole time, and there are ways to do this in a much more transparent way.
Q27 Stephen Metcalfe: I want to turn to the topic of communication, in particular how good the Government are at communicating. You talked about carbon capture and storage and the public perception of it. It is likely that there will be a trial project based very much on the "decide, announce and defend" model. Have you seen any improvement in the way the Government communicate risk to the public?
Andrew Bloodworth: Given the way DECC approached Managing Radioactive Waste Safely, after the White Paper in 2008, the volunteerism approach they announced is very much based on best practice taken from elsewhere in the world and is much more consensual; it is inform, review, decide. That is DECC. DECC are running the CCS side as well. My colleague Julie, who submitted evidence to this inquiry, has some concerns that the CCS side of things is not learning the lessons that the nuclear sector has learned very hard in the past regarding deep disposal of CO2 in this case and, in the case of nuclear, radioactive waste, but many of the issues are similar. As to public perceptions, there are very difficult technical issues to get across; there are difficulties about siting. The choices about siting CCS projects are quite hard to make.
Q28 Stephen Metcalfe: I think what you are saying is that where parts of the Department have had a lot of experience of trying to do something in the past, whatever it was, they have learned the lessons.
Andrew Bloodworth: Yes.
Q29 Stephen Metcalfe: But those lessons are not being shared across the whole of Government so that other Departments do not make the same mistakes. I am putting words into your mouth.
Andrew Bloodworth: Certainly, the CCS industry-you might include the CCS part of DECC in that-has not necessarily shown it is learning the lessons that the nuclear sector has learned very hard. One thing the CCS side of things is concerned about is contamination. It does not want to be seen to be associated with the nuclear sector in the public’s mind.
Q30 Stephen Metcalfe: The point I am trying to get at is whether the machinery of government, not just this Government, is learning to communicate better about the potential risk. Before you answer that, who do the public trust when it comes to communicating risk? Is it scientists, the Health and Safety Executive, the nuclear industry, or even the media? Professor Pidgeon, you said that women were a particular group who were more susceptible to being swayed by discussion about risk. Where do they come in communicating risk? Are they more reassuring when communicating with the public?
Professor Pidgeon: In terms of trust, a number of factors have been studied. We know the factors that underlie trust in risk management organisations, whether it be Government, industry or elsewhere. One factor would be that people have to believe you are competent; you have some expertise in the area. They also have to believe that you are working in their interests, so there is a stake issue in all this. You can think of it as care for the recipient of the communication. As to whether there is any suggestion that you as the communicator in Government are working with the industry, interestingly this was one of the questions asked in this Committee. I would not advise Government necessarily to link up fully with industry. They would be immediately linking up with one of the stakeholders, and people would then legitimately ask whose interests are being served. You have to look as independent as you can, although, in truth, there is no fully independent body. You must also have a track record of working in people’s interests.
To take the Health and Safety Executive as an example, a few years ago we did work on how people viewed them. It was very interesting. They were quite well known. People did think they worked in people’s interests and were experts in health and safety at work. It was also because they had observed inspectors over many years in the workplace coming in to sort things out and do things; so there was a track record. Most other Government Departments are not well known at all, for the obvious reasons that they have obscure names which are quite recent and do not get into the public realm. Therefore, competence, care and track record are all really important.
When you ask who people trust, it is independent scientists. If it is an environmental question, it would be environmental organisations; it may be consumer organisations; and friends and family. Government scientists tend to be in the middle. Industry tends to be towards the bottom. I hate to say that politicians are also towards the bottom. You can split Government up into the Executive and politicians. Once you start to think about why those judgments are being made in terms of those factors, you can see that politicians are seen as representing various interests. Scientists are seen as independent, say. The environmental organisations, rightly or wrongly-they have a stake as well-are seen in relative terms as working in the environment’s interests, which people value. Trust is quite a complicated thing, and building it cannot be done overnight. Best practice on the radioactive waste question is to try to build trust over a very long period of time. It is a process of engagement that involves dialogue with people. There is no simple answer to who people trust and who you would ask to do the communication for you.
Q31 Stephen Metcalfe: Where are scientists on that list?
Professor Pidgeon: They are quite high.
Q32 Stephen Metcalfe: How important therefore is it that they are seen as independent and evidence-based?
Professor Pidgeon: Very important.
Q33 Stephen Metcalfe: When people try to pit one scientist against another with perhaps differing views, is that helpful?
Andrew Bloodworth: I think it is helpful, in the sense that it is useful for people to see that there are often two points of view. Scientists do disagree. I am a physical scientist. Physical scientists disagree with one another all the time.
Q34 Stephen Metcalfe: But does that not have the potential to confuse if you have two trusted individuals arguing from different standpoints?
Andrew Bloodworth: Equally from where I sit, it is useful to present pros and cons. Often this is about balancing good things against bad things. If people can say, "We are going to put radioactive waste in your community; it will be there for 100,000 years, but it will be 1,000 metres underground with all the containment we can put around it, and it will provide 150 jobs for the local community for the next 100 years", that is a range of good and bad things. Scientific debate is useful. One of the problems the nuclear sector has had in the past is that it has been very dogmatic about certain scientific issues-for example, that nuclear power is good for you-and has tended to downplay the downsides. I think trust arises where people can be adult about this and can see there are pros and cons. As a Government scientist, I firmly believe that we should not always be seen to be presenting one view, because the honest truth is that very often there is more than one view.
Professor Spiegelhalter: In terms of Government documents, the guidance on risk communication is extremely good. How much notice is taken of them is another matter, but everything we are saying has been very well expressed within Government documents. In terms of trust, I suppose we cannot get David Attenborough out all the time to say things, but he is the archetypal trusted individual. However, Government agencies, or at least arm’s length ones, can do it. I think the Food Standards Agency under John Krebs got a particularly good reputation for risk communication. He would just get up and say, "We don’t know, but we are going to do this. This is what you can do, and we are going to find out." He was extremely good and set a very good standard for openness and transparency about the uncertainty in the science.
As to conflicting science, as long as the two scientists have substantial support in the community and they are not maverick scientists-even senior mad scientists can be very maverick and really odd-I believe they will generally have more in common than the things on which they differ. When an argument has been set up, they can end up agreeing on many things; they will not agree on everything. It is right to have differing views, and we have argued very strongly that, when there are differing views in science, that fact must be expressed. One of the best pieces of communication has been by David MacKay in his book on sustainable energy. In that book, he clearly reports the different safety assessments made by energy sources and tries to identify why they have different opinions. This is part of the dialogue.
Q35 Stephen Mosley: I met people from the nuclear industry yesterday. They said that one of the key things about the UK and why it is so well regarded internationally when it comes to nuclear safety is that we have a regulatory environment where Government, the regulator and the industry are all separate. We have Dr Weightman as regulator, who is internationally recognised as an expert in his field. Industry, Government and politicians all trust the opinion of the regulator, which then allows us to sell that to the wider public. Is that a particular advantage we have in the UK compared with elsewhere in Europe or the world?
Professor Spiegelhalter: My understanding is that the HSE have a good reputation. Their risk communication has recently been reviewed and considered as being sound, but they could engage in even more dialogue. When I was looking at the HSE site I was disappointed that they made a substantial effort to explain the regulatory framework, their risk assessment and risk management procedures, but that was just explaining their work. There was almost no effort, partly because, presumably, it is not their job, to communicate the possible risks and benefits of the different energy sources.
Q36 Pamela Nash: To explore further the responses that you gave to Stephen, do different media outlets provide different opportunities for the industry to get its messages across, or do you think the media have a large influence on public risk perception in general but particularly that relating to nuclear energy?
Andrew Bloodworth: There is some evidence that after Fukushima in Japan the Government and industry were very much behind the curve with the new media, and the people who were extremely concerned about what was going on there were very much using the new media: Facebook, Twitter and all those sorts of things. The industry has been very slow to embrace the internet, and a lot of the stuff on the internet is pretty turgid. There are opportunities, but there is no doubt that the broadcast and print media have a huge influence on the way people think about this. Certainly, our experience in dealing with them is that they want a story, and they want conflict.
Q37 Pamela Nash: Have you noticed any particular offenders in the press or even anyone who shows best practice in how to report?
Andrew Bloodworth: I do not have enough direct experience to be able to comment on that.
Professor Pidgeon: One thing I would say about the UK is that a recommendation in the report of the House of Lords 10 years or so ago was that there should be a central body, which is now the Science Media Centre. When a key science story is about to pop up in the media, they will attempt to connect key scientists with the key journalists. That dialogue then goes on between the science, environment or technology reporters and the scientists. That was not there before. It is not there in many countries. It is almost hidden in the science reporting on technical issues. Certainly, they were very active during the first two or three weeks of Fukushima. They talked to a number of us and said, "Could you speak to some of the journalists, because they want to hear evidence about public perception or statistical presentation of risk?" That has been a very good development in this country. They have connected the journalists with the scientists and engineers in a very effective way over many years on many issues. It is kind of unseen because you just read the report, but that work has gone on behind the scenes.
Andrew Bloodworth: We work with them quite a bit, and the Science Media Centre are excellent.
Professor Spiegelhalter: One of the problems is that it is very difficult to characterise the media. If I may mention the Daily Mail as an example, during Fukushima its science correspondent wrote extremely good articles, which were surprisingly supportive of the nuclear industry. You get that from the science correspondents, but, at the same time, you can have the Daily Mail campaign against GM and its reference to Frankenstein foods, which is enormously influential. I would hazard a guess that it was not being driven by science correspondents but by news editors. They can be contradictory, even within the same newspaper. It is very difficult to characterise even what a single newspaper line is, let alone the media line.
Pamela Nash: It is very dependent on the individual journalist.
Professor Spiegelhalter: Within newspapers there is frequently conflict between the science editor, science correspondents and general news writers.
Q38 Pamela Nash: You mentioned the Science Media Centre. I am not familiar with it. Do you believe that at the moment scientists have the communication skills to get the messages across? Would it be helpful to have more media training, and is that something the Science Media Centre help with at all?
Professor Pidgeon: They do carry out media training, and the research councils lay on media training. Not all scientists go to media training, because the incentives are not necessarily there to do the public communication work. All the incentives are to do good science and get published in Nature, or whatever the appropriate journal is. There has always been this difficulty in getting scientists engaged with the media. Quite rightly, they get worried because they think that, if they talk to the press, somebody will distort their results and it is a process they cannot control. There is always a nervousness among scientists and engineers about talking to the media. Getting them involved is a perennial problem. The Science Media Centre has done that very effectively. It has tried to say to many scientists, "How would you do this? What is the best way to do this? Do it once and then once you have talked to the media it is all right."
Andrew Bloodworth: I worked for the Natural Environment Research Council. I have done their media training, which is extremely useful. I would absolutely echo what Nick says. It is difficult to persuade some scientists to do it, and I am not surprised. You guys deal with the media all the time and you know they do not always report what you say. The Science Media Centre has been fantastic in helping us get more professional in terms of the way we present stories to them.
Q39 Chair: Surely this is an area where there is a responsibility both upon our universities and the industry to ensure that scientists are properly equipped to communicate their message to the broader public. Whether it is through the media or one to one in the pub makes no difference.
Professor Spiegelhalter: Absolutely. The Science Media Centre is doing a grand job. I do not think every scientist should be expected to do that. I would not stick some of my colleagues in front of anybody to talk about anything, mentioning no names. I was working on a Science Media Centre workshop before Christmas. There were hundreds of young people who wanted to engage. They are already tweeting and blogging, and they want to engage and do this. This is absolutely vital. For example, I got media training from the Medical Research Council, which was excellent, and I have always been grateful for that. This is an absolute necessity.
Q40 Pamela Nash: It is interesting that you talk about new media and social media, and obviously campaigning organisations use this as well. Are scientists starting to use this to get their message across, and also traditional broadcasters, media and the press? Do you feel that perhaps too much time is given to campaigning organisations or are scientists getting a fair share of air time?
Andrew Bloodworth: Campaigning groups are very good at this sort of thing; it is almost what they do. They will pick a very narrow issue, go for that very strongly and throw lots of resources at it. They have embraced the internet and the new media very well.
I think the rest of us are a bit behind the curve. I echo what David says. My younger colleagues definitely have no fear of going on Facebook, Twitter or whatever to talk about what they do. It just reflects changes in society generally. Scientists are human beings-well, some of us are anyway.
Professor Pidgeon: In my evidence, I made the point that some of these issues were of such national importance, thinking about the debate on climate change, the UEA e-mails, for example, and how that has impacted British climate science, that just giving a few scientists media training is not necessarily going to grapple with all the risk issues involved. I have argued there is a need for a more strategic approach and there is no organisation or body within the universities or elsewhere. Whenever the issue of risk is raised, they will ring David first and then me, but there are not many other people in the UK they can call. That is not to say we are the pure experts on this, but it is just a fact that the capacity is not there. There is an interesting question for the research councils as to how capacity in risk communication work could be put in place.
Chair: Gentlemen, thank you very much for your attendance this morning. It has been extremely interesting.