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5 minutes with Shirley Williams

Sellafield Ltd’s Head of Public Affairs

Collaborative working with key decision makers – known as G6 – has helped Sellafield Ltd make progress in high hazard and risk reduction over the past 18 months. Shirley Williams, Sellafield Ltd’s Head of Public Affairs, talks about how communications supports this work.

What is G6?

First of all, G6 isn’t a thing, it’s a way of working agreed between the six key organisations with influence over delivery of the Sellafield Ltd hazard reduction mission – Department for Energy and Climate Change, Shareholder Executive, Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Office for Nuclear Regulation, Environment Agency and Sellafield Ltd.

Reducing the risk and hazard at Sellafield is a national priority, and successful delivery of the mission is also a key enabler to the UK’s future energy policy. Up till recently there was no forum where the site’s operator, customer, regulator and Government could regularly meet to address issues which are hampering the acceleration of risk and hazard reduction. G6 fills that gap by looking collectively at problems that can’t be sorted by Sellafield Ltd alone.

What are you trying to achieve?

The key word is probably challenge. G6 brings together a range of expertise and experience from the different organisations, who can challenge our mind set around the way things have to be done. For example, there are a lot of myths around what the regulators will and will not allow us to do… if there is a blocker stopping us from removing or reducing hazard, G6 can help us find a
safe way to remove it.

What’s the role of communications?

On a very basic level, G6 is a tool and it can only be used if people know it’s in the toolkit! So our first job as a communications team is to raise awareness of what G6 is and how it can support risk and hazard reduction.

One of our key challenges has been to explain the difference between collaborative working – a collective approach to making progress – and the regulators’ role in maintaining strong regulatory discipline.

And myth busting is important, too. The communications team helps create a space in which barriers can be explored and sign post people with ideas to places where they can find or help create answers.

How does it work?

We have a team of communicators from each of the G6 organisations, meeting regularly and sharing “case studies” describing where the approach has delivered benefits.

Each organisation engages with its own set of stakeholders to help spread the message, and of course, we all have communications channels with our employees who are the people who make things happen. Our aim is to ensure all employees and our supply chain are aware of how G6 works, and actively look for new and more effective ways of working.

What benefits does this way of working achieve?

The benefits of G6 are enormous, including a significant contribution to removal of the first radioactive sludge from First Generation Magnox Storage Pond (FGMSP), canned fuel exports from the Pile Fuel Storage Pond (PFSP) and the project that engineered modifications to the Waste Encapsulation Plant to support the processing of Pile Fuel Storage Pond (PFSP) sludge.

In the communications world, working together has led to a better understanding of each other’s roles and issues. Taking our communications colleagues into some of the facilities they write about has really helped them understand, and therefore explain, issues and progress.

I also think there are less tangible but equally important benefits. A few years ago, Sellafield’s public position could be very defensive in the face of regulatory challenge. I hope today that our approach reflects a real recognition that robust regulation is healthy and should be welcomed.

What are your highlights so far?

We had a very successful conference back in July attended by more than 160 people from across the member organisations. There was a real buzz in the room, frankly too much to cover in one day, but it was a great way of raising awareness across the different companies and parts of the business. The key take away for me was there is a huge appetite for the G6 approach, and there were a number of “light bulb” moments where individuals and teams realised how they could use this tool to help remove barriers and move their work forward.

Even better, lots of teams followed picked up the baton and started using G6 in their areas.

What’s next?

One priority is ensuring stakeholders understand that we will face periods of elevated risk while we remove waste from some of our older high hazard facilities, and the contingency plans we’re putting in place to manage that risk.

On a more practical level, we’re launching a G6 section on the Sellafield Ltd intranet site so that employees can share their experiences of collaborative working. The site will contain a latest news section, frequently asked questions, and a “chat” function encouraging people to share ideas and good practice. The G6 ethos is about teams and individuals having the confidence to challenge the way we work and develop better ways of doing things. We’re hoping the intranet site will provide a tool to help us all to do just that.