By Rob Edwards
Internal emails seen by Guardian show PR campaign was launched to protect UK nuclear plans after tsunami in Japan
British government officials approached nuclear companies to draw up a co-ordinated public relations strategy to play down the Fukushima nuclear accident just two days after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and before the extent of the radiation leak was known.
Internal emails seen by the Guardian show how the business and energy departments worked closely behind the scenes with the multinational companies EDF Energy, Areva and Westinghouse to try to ensure the accident did not derail their plans for a new generation of nuclear stations in the UK.
“This has the potential to set the nuclear industry back globally,” wrote one official at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), whose name has been redacted. “We need to ensure the anti-nuclear chaps and chapesses do not gain ground on this. We need to occupy the territory and hold it. We really need to show the safety of nuclear.”
Officials stressed the importance of preventing the incident from undermining public support for nuclear power.
The Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, who sits on the Commons environmental audit committee, condemned the extent of co-ordination between the government and nuclear companies that the emails appear to reveal.
“The government has no business doing PR for the industry and it would be appalling if its departments have played down the impact of Fukushima,” he said.
Louise Hutchins, a spokeswoman for Greenpeace, said the emails looked like “scandalous collusion”. “This highlights the government’s blind obsession with nuclear power and shows neither they, nor the industry, can be trusted when it comes to nuclear,” she said.
The Fukushima accident, triggered by the Japan earthquake and tsunami on 11 March, has forced 80,000 people from their homes. Opinion polls suggest it has dented public support for nuclear power in Britain and around the world, with the governments of Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Thailand and Malaysia cancelling planned nuclear power stations in the wake of the accident.