Nuclear power consultation 'flawed'

A PUBLIC consultation about plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations has been criticised for breaching industry guidelines.

David Green

A PUBLIC consultation about plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations has been criticised for breaching industry guidelines.

The Market Research Standards Board (MRSB) said some of the material given to focus groups as part of the consultation - carried out by Opinion Leader Research - was “inaccurately or misleadingly presented or was imbalanced.”

The board, the market research industry's official trade body, said this has created “a material risk of respondents being led towards a particular answer.”

It dismissed four other grounds of complaint but ruled that the public consultation was in breach of the official industry code of conduct and that it was “not a minor or trivial breach.”

However, Opinion Leader Research said it did not accept the ruling and was completely satisfied that the consultation was sound and fair.

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The ruling from the MRSB followed a complaint by the Greenpeace environment group which claims no genuine attempt is being made by the Government to obtain an accurate assessment of public opinion over the nuclear issue.

Ministers were forced to commission a second public consultation over plans to build on existing nuclear sites, including those at Sizewell and Bradwell, after a High Court judge declared the first process had been “seriously flawed.”

However, the latest consultation, in which selected members of the public were asked their views on nuclear power, has now also come in for criticism.

Among the aspects of the consultation which has annoyed critics is the alleged inclusion in one document given to focus groups of a statement that nuclear power was “substantially cheaper” than wind power.

Greenpeace denounced the consultation as “a sham and an insult to the British public.”

Mike Taylor, spokesman for the Suffolk-based Communities Against Nuclear Expansion (CANE), said: “CANE has long contended that the questions asked during the recent consultation, which led up to the publication of the government Energy White Paper, were loaded in favour of nuclear power.”

Charles Barnett, chairman of the Shut Down Sizewell Campaign, added: “These public opinion agencies are paid to give the answer the people who employ them want. We applaud the ruling of the standards board.”

Dr Andy Blowers, chairman of the Blackwater Against New Nuclear Group, set up to oppose plans for a Bradwell B nuclear power station, said poor public consultation wasted people's time and could undermine trust in Government.

“We want a more open process, one which genuinely tries to engage people and get them to participate,” said Prof. Blowers, who is also a member of the Nuclear Consultation Working Group, a consortium of senior UK academics from 17 universities.

Viki Cooke, chief executive of Opinion Leader Research, said the company did not accept the ruling from the MRSB and did not think that body was competent to assess new forms of “deliberative engagement.”

She claimed Greenpeace had acted from a “pre-determined” point of view and was seeking to damage the project's reputation to support that view.

“We are completely satisfied that the project was sound and fair and are proud of the Opinion Leader team's work on this and more generally in developing these innovative methods,” she added.

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