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What will a new Siting Process look like? Issues & Hurdles

i Oct 28th 3 Comments by

There’s no doubting the commitment in Whitehall to try and finalise GDF siting policy before Christmas.  But if you ask about timing, you get the same silent stoic smiles revealing the lack of certainty across Whitehall about getting Ministerial decisions on anything at the moment.

As we await policy finalisation, discussion has turned to what a siting process relaunch might look like.  There will be those quick to declare the process a failure if no communities come forward within the first few months.  However, it is much more likely that it will be many months before we see any sign of active community participation.

We can be confident about this because those most likely to lead their communities into the siting process say so.  Local Authority, Trades Union and Civil Society organisations share common observations and concerns that explain the likely longer-timescale scenario.  The issues and hurdles they believe still need addressing include:

Public awareness

Awareness of the siting policy and the issues is barely known outside the existing “GDF community” of policymakers, regulators, nuclear sector, and informed observers.  Nobody on the community-side feels confident about dropping their neighbours into this debate ‘cold’.  There will need to be a lot of non-geographic awareness-raising — ie building understanding of the issues without making any particular community feel they are the object of RWM’s desire.

Delivery body/developer as ‘adversary’

There are worries that RWM’s role as delivery body, or developer, may prejudice public reaction when ‘first contact’ is made with a community.  Traditional British ways of managing political discourse or decision-making tend to be adversarial, rather than about building consensus.  With the best engagement and goodwill in the world, RWM’s ‘neutrality’ in the debate is going to be questioned.  Like SKB in Sweden, RWM are going to have to earn communities’ respect through many years of deeds, not through early promises.  Initial awareness-raising and trust-building therefore may be better managed by a visibly independent body — could this be a revamped role for CoRWM?

Partnership proposals not developed in partnership with prospective partners

A widespread feeling that how the Working With Communities policy is to be implemented has not been developed in partnership with those RWM seeks to partner.  There is significant knowledge, and much existing activity, within the civil society sector around the development of community partnerships and involving communities in long-term planning and decision-making.  On the community-side of the equation there is a sense that little if any of this expertise has been utilised by RWM.  Thus there may be need for prolonged discussions with the sector to shape a workable siting partnership framework in which communities have confidence, before any individual community enters into the process.

Engagement funding prior to formal engagement

Currently there is no engagement funding until a community formally enters the siting process.  But if a community is to enter the preliminary ‘formative engagement’ phase, it will require some form of advance discussion within that community.  Given the current parlous state of local authority and community sector budgets, justifying the allocation of scarce resources to a speculative and highly-contentious proposal may forestall a community coming forward.  Unless additional funding is made available.

 

Some of these issues may be addressed in the final policy, as they were all raised during the pubic consultation.  RWM have certainly been investing in their community, engagement and communications function, so they may have solutions we’re not yet aware of.

Whatever happens, speed of movement in the siting process is not to be expected.  Nor is it necessarily desirable.  Leading anti-nuclear campaigner Prof Andy Blowers has cautioned against a hasty approach.  It seems unlikely his fears will be realised.  Government may have its policies and processes to move forward, but in a consent and partnership-based process it can only proceed at the pace of its prospective community partners.

Comments

  1. Phil Richardson
    5th November 2018 at 9:44 am

    When discussing Sweden in the context of a consent-based process, it’s always important to remember that even after the failures of ‘directed siting’ in northern Sweden in the early 90s, SKB only approached existing nuclear communities asking if they would accept feasibility studies. We did discuss the possibility of doing something similar here in the CRWG if I recall, but the nuclear industry here does not have the same level of confidence as exists in Sweden.

    When I helped the pre-Trump DoE start to develop a consent-based process (now abandoned), the similar low level of trust even around existing sites was exactly what caused such difficulty.

    As to whether a ‘community’ will come forward here and ask to be involved is clearly uncertain, and the need for funding during the formative engagement stage is well made. What is also really needed is a major public information campaign from RWM and BEIS to raise awareness and let people see those involved and discuss their concerns, rather than just pressing the starter button and wondering why the naysayers step into the information vacuum. It took several years of NWMO roadshows in Canada before communities started taking an interest. We seem to be missing a stage and still not learning from our and others’ experiences.

    Reply
  2. Colin Megson
    5th November 2018 at 10:20 am

    It’s quite easy to argue that a GDF will never happen because ‘nuclear waste’ is a precious energy resource that can be used as fuel in Gen IV reactors. We have enough of this energy resource in the UK to supply all of our low-carbon energy needs for at least 500 years. So that’s unparalleled levels of energy security and independence for many generations to come.

    And there’s a new kid on the block with walk-away-safe characteristics that will allow our politicians to assure the general public that the poisonous/radioactive cloud that can ‘wipe out’ families, friends and communities in the blink of an eye has gone forever.

    Ed Pheil is today’s most pragmatic nuclear-power-reactor designer and his Molten Chloride Salt Fast Reactor [MCSFR] will be available in the mid 2020s, with a simplicity of cost-effective, low-pressure design that will be at least half the overnight cost of existing ‘big nuclear’.

    In this video, Ed explains the MCSFR’s potential at taking care of ‘nuclear waste’ to delegates at the recent International Nuclear Materials Management Conference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHsljVnY6oI&t=2839s

    Reply
    • rpayne
      5th November 2018 at 4:43 pm

      As I understand, geological disposal is the internationally-supported best available option — currently. However, if technology emerges that can utilise current “waste” so there is no “disposal” requirement, then priorities and policy will move on beyond geological disposal. Everyone desires a situation where there is no radioactive waste, but no matter how efficient we make reactors there will always likely be some residual waste that will require disposal in a GDF or deep borehole. Look forward to future technologies (like MCSFR) that significantly reduce waste — but until that time will still advocate pressing ahead with geological disposal, rather than halting the process and keeping our fingers crossed scientists will find solutions for everything.

      Reply

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