Above: This image of Azby making a key point was tweeted by Sebastian Hueber, Head of Communications at Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate.
Azby spent the first week of October this year in Vienna in order to participate in a major IAEA conference called CNREP2018 (International Symposium on Communicating Nuclear and Radiological Emergencies to the Public). This conference brought together approximately 400 experts, the majority of them female, from 74 member states and 13 international organizations, for five days of discussions. When we first accepted an invitation to present at the IAEA in 2014, we explained to the Safecast community that our end goal was to gain acceptance for citizen science-based data gathering like ours among the official nuclear regulatory and emergency preparedness communities. As we recounted on our blog at the time, we encountered skepticism and criticism from the assembled experts, but also found significant support. Since that time we’ve taken many opportunities to present at radiation safety, communication, and preparedness conferences. We tell the expert community about our growth and successes, identify our shared concerns, and continue to stress the need for clear policy guidelines stipulating the inclusion of citizen groups in planning and preparedness. The response to Azby’s presentation at CNREP2018 was a clear indication that experts at national and international agencies increasingly “get it.” The expert community as a whole recognizes that since the Fukushima accident in particular, a crisis of trust exists which is amplified by misinformation circulating within social media, and that this has clear safety implications. In the event of a future accident or incident, people are likely to be inundated with conflicting messages, some of them malicious, and will have difficulty knowing who to believe.
At the conferences and meetings we attend, we describe our approach towards trust-building, in which public participation and openness are essential from the outset. We make the case that citizens should be included as information sharing and planning partners before an accident occurs, and that the peer-based trust-building strengths of open citizen-science monitoring efforts like Safecast’s should be acknowledged and utilized. During the Q&A following his IAEA presentation last Friday, Azby explained:
“We envision a world in the future where everyone is doing this kind of monitoring and sharing this kind of information as a matter of course. And in that kind of future, the notion of expertise changes, and we think that if the system is well-designed, it can be trustworthy and credible no matter if the people involved trust each other or not.”
Changing policy and regulations in this sphere is a very slow process. Our efforts have focussed primarily on talking to people, listening to them, clearing up misconceptions about how Safecast works and what we are all about. We make sure our long-term commitment to the issues of openness and public participation is understood. Members of the expert community have gradually emerged as supporters and advocates. And little by little we see headway being made. We just learned that new radiation safety policy recommendations for the European Community to which we provided input stipulate that all EC member states should support citizen-science radiation monitoring projects. The approval process for these recommendations will now begin. This important change could still fail to find sufficient political support to be implemented, but the inclusion of this language at such a high level is an achievement in itself. We’re not taking credit for it, which goes primarily to the many European experts and advisors who organized the discussions and drafted the proposals. But they have let us know that Safecast’s input and example have been key.
(Video of Azby’s session from Friday Oct 5th can be found here. His talk begins at 40:09. The Q&A starts at 1:20:00)