With Britain in sensitive Brexit discussions about the Irish border ‘backstop’, the GDF may have inadvertently become a new diplomatic point of contention between the two countries.
This is one of several running stories in the UK media this week, that underline the complexities and sensitivities of finding a site for a geological disposal facility:
There is a common thread running through these stories, of people rushing to judgement and hyperbole before checking their facts. For example, the reaction in Northern Ireland was driven by an otherwise-innocuous RWM information video describing geological features of the County Armagh area. There are similar short videos for every region of England, Wales and N Ireland.
A local newspaper decided to fact-check the allegations that the British government was considering an area near Newry for nuclear waste disposal. The newspaper concluded that while the claims have elements of truth, they also have elements of falsehood, saying: “Preliminary work has been carried out to see if the site in Northern Ireland could work, but we are far, far away from a GDF in the North being a reality given how much would have to happen before it could be built.”
This, more nuanced view, was also expressed by an Irish politician living just across the border. Fine Gael councillor for Dundalk, John McGahon, said the initial report was likely nothing more than a “fishing expedition”, that the probability of any plan being approved was “extremely remote”, that it was important politicians on both sides of the Border were not “asleep on the issue”, but equally that local representatives did not engage in “scaremongering”.
The reactions, particularly in Wales and in N Ireland, were predictable, and are wholly understandable, particularly in the context of nationalist politics. However, they also underline some other common themes underpinning media coverage and political reaction, eg:
This week has seen the first salvos in what will become a prolonged period of media, public and political discussion. The initial media and political reaction was to be expected. It will now be interesting to see how RWM accommodates anticipatable reactions and moves forward to construct a more positive environment in which to nurture informed public debate.
A full list of UK media articles can be found in our international news pages.
A new opinion revealing the depth of public despair at how our current democracy operates is published on the same day as GDFWatch argues in a leading community sector magazine that the GDF siting process could also be a major social infrastructure change programme to help address the local democracy deficit.
Communities in Control: a local democracy laboratory
A Government policy announced without fanfare just before Christmas potentially has implications for everyone working to enhance local democracy and empower local decision-making, writes Roy Payne, executive director of GDFWatch.
The new policy, called Working With Communities, provides a framework — and more critically, the funding – to help communities exert more influence over, and be more involved in, long-term social, environmental and economic planning in their area.
Although created to support delivery of a major nationally-significant energy infrastructure programme, the new policy is effectively a huge social infrastructure change project.
It establishes a new and unique Community Partnership framework designed to proactively and pragmatic solutions to some fundamental issues of community representation and engagement. For example, how do we best:
The Government has also made significant commitments to fund a wide range of activities, including:
The policy framework and funding might be in place, but the project currently lacks any flesh for these barebone principles. That’s where the localism, local wealth creation, local democracy and community development sectors might now have a role to play.
Cynics will observe this all seems too good to be true. To be sure, there are inevitable caveats. But what makes this policy different from anything that has gone before, and why it might pique the sector’s interest, is that the Government requires a community’s ‘consent’ throughout this process.
Let that sink in for a moment. The Government requires your consent. You can walk away, without obligation, at any time. That changes the whole negotiating and power-balance dynamic. It provides the community sector with new and unique leverage to secure an equitable and meaningful partnership with central and local governments.
So, what are the caveats and constraints? First of all, over the 10-30 year lifecycle of the project, it is likely that no more than 10-12 areas will be involved. Any area in the country could be involved, but only a handful are likely to be actually involved. This offers the opportunity to create ‘mega pilot projects’ in which new ideas and techniques around community participation and empowerment can be trialled and evaluated. The lessons learned applied to other areas of public policy. The evidence built to show central government that local people can be trusted with decision-making responsibilities.
But the biggest hurdle is the subject matter. Nuclear waste. The international scientific consensus, on a par with that behind climate change, is that every country needs to build a specialised facility deep underground. The international political consensus is that any site must have the approval of the local community. These are huge projects. The UK’s facility is likely to cost around £20 billion, with an operating life in excess of 150 years. Wherever it is sited it will have profound long-term implications for the surrounding communities and economy.
Finland, France, Sweden, Switzerland and Canada are all well ahead of us in securing community consent to build such a facility. The UK has learned from their experiences. The requirement to gain a community’s consent is the driving force behind the Working With Communities policy. It is a radical and new approach in the UK to how communities can shape and determine infrastructure projects. But the principles of ‘consent’, and experience learned from direct community involvement, could be applied across a wide range of public policy challenges.
We live in the most centralised ‘democracy’ in Europe. Despite paying lip-service to devolved decision-making, Westminster does not yield power easily. The Government have been required to introduce the ‘community consent’ principle because it is international best practice. The consent principle offers a foot in the door to wider local democracy reform, if we can show Government hard evidence that people can actually be trusted to evaluate complex issues and make pragmatic decisions.
Rebalancing power and bringing decision-making closer to those affected is one of the key challenges we face as we look to a society beyond Brexit. Nuclear waste may not be the issue you would choose to engage with. But if we are to develop new and more democratic ways to govern our affairs in the 21st Century, perhaps resolving one of our ‘dirtiest’ intergenerational problems is the best place to start.
There was a lot to unpack from the Government’s surprise announcement on the eve of Christmas, and try to understand what that might mean for the GDF siting process in 2019, and beyond.
Announced by way of a Written Ministerial Statement, the Government published:
RWM’s supplementary announcements
In addition to the Government’s announcement, RWM also published a suite of information as the first steps in the re-opening of the siting process:
Working With Communities policy
Following public consultation, there have been subtle changes to the policy which clarify the role of local authorities, and also ease entry into or withdrawal from the siting process. The Government appears to have listened to consultation comments, which were more focused on improving practical implementation of the policy.
Local authorities now have more formal roles in the Community Partnership. For example, they would lead the decision on community withdrawal from the siting process, or of moving to the Test of Public Support (ToPS) stage. These changes reflect the reality of local authorities having wider statutory obligations and functions, but remove the risk that one local authority could stop community interests even discussing participation in the siting process. Also, one local authority cannot now over-rule another (avoiding a “Cumbria 2” scenario).
The Government also seems to have understood that more flexibility in timing and availability of engagement funding is required to support community-level interests from the very earliest stages. The policy has done away with the “formative engagement” phase. The policy now envisages initial ‘Working Groups’, which do not require local authority participation or approval.
There is also now an explicit commitment to providing separate funding to local authorities, to cover any costs associated with participating in the GDF siting process — so that local taxpayers are not be required to bear any financial burden. With the parlous state of local government finances, and the politically contentious and speculative nature of entering the GDF process, this is an important concession by the Government, to reduce real or perceived barriers to participation.
The GDF siting policy, and RWM’s subsequent Community Guidance, sets out an ambitious list of activities for the Community Partnership around citizen engagement and participation, and promises to fund these and other relevant activities. Fulfilling these commitments will be vital if the siting process is to succeed. However, no mention is made of budgets. This is going to be an inevitable area of contention. Communities’ wishlists are likely to exceed HM Treasury’s willingness to pay. But in a consent-based process, the balance of negotiating power does shift away from those who are soliciting the goodwill and participation of a potential partner. Some interesting discussions ahead!
On balance, the new GDF siting policy has gone as far as might reasonably be expected in developing a flexible framework that might help start and sustain discussions. The difficulty lies in implementation.
The Year Ahead
So how will all of this roll-out in the coming year, and what can we expect during 2019?
In making the announcement before Christmas, the Government have gone some way to protecting the geological disposal programme from any political inertia or fall-out from Brexit.
The consent-based process is unique and untested, and critics are sceptical that Government will actually adhere to its principles. People are used to a “DAD” (Decide, Act, Defend) process for the siting of major infrastructure projects — a process which has tended to make local people feel marginalised and that key decisions affecting where they live are actually taken elsewhere. Significant effort and discussion will be required during 2019 to explain and explore with the wider community sector how the principles of the consent-based process can be implemented in a way that builds public confidence in the fairness of the GDF siting process and the effectiveness of community involvement in decision-making.
Nobody underestimates the challenge ahead. It should be an interesting 2019!
Communities or organisations seeking their own independent informed advice on the GDF siting process can contact GDFWatch for guidance on how and where to find it. Email us at email@example.com
Not entirely sure why this public consultation is being held. There is nothing new in it. However, if it’s an indication of a cautious, inclusive approach by RWM to taking wider civil society opinion with it, then it is to be welcomed.
The consultation document brings together all the existing legal, regulatory, environmental, planning and other requirements RWM is obliged to fulfil during the GDF siting process. In some ways it reads a bit like a ‘roadmap’ for communities. It helps:
At this stage, the six headline factors appear sufficiently broad to encompass a wide range of more detailed issues. Understandably the selected criteria are presented from the perspective of delivering the GDF programme, and of creating the necessary transparent platform on which comparative analyses of potential sites and host communities can be made. However, they also read like the basis of a framework for community discussions, which will need to be continually updated and amended.
The 31 March public consultation deadline therefore seems a little arbitrary and pointless, since these issues will evolve over time, not least to include issues of relevance to those communities eventually engaged in the siting process.
A more basic concern is that civil society and community organisations will not have the capacity to make meaningful responses to the consultation by the end of March.
RWM have indicated that there will be a series of regional workshops to help explain the consultation and support better-informed response submissions. These workshops are expected to be held around the country during February. We are awaiting event details from RWM.
However, experience from regional workshops for the National Geological Screening, National Policy Statement and Working With Communities consultations suggest that it is the same organisations which tend to attend these events. While useful for those attending, the workshops are not always the most effective means of reaching out beyond historical core-engaged stakeholders.
RWM are to be applauded for taking an open and inclusive approach, especially when it’s not, procedurally, even technically necessary. We hope that they will continue to keep these issues open as the siting process progresses, rather than a draw a line under them on 31 March 2019.
For a copy of the consultation document and to find out more about the consultation, visit the RWM siting website.
Because radioactive waste management is a devolved responsibility, RWM will be holding a separate but parallel public consultation in Wales. They have produced specific Welsh consultation documents (in both English and Welsh languages). The Welsh public consultation ends on 14 April 2019.
Want to find out whether your region, geologically, could host a GDF? Then check out this information from RWM, the public body responsible for overseeing the GDF process.
I’d suggest watching the video for your area before reading the pamphlet. The videos, in a weather-forecast format, present the same information as the associated leaflet, but in a much more understandable way. The more detailed text in the leaflets can be a little daunting (even off-putting) for the non-geologists amongst us (in whom I include myself). But the videos will help you grasp the overall picture and key issues for your area.
Anyone expecting to determine whether a GDF could be built under their garden, village or town are going to be disappointed. But that has been the case from the very start. RWM and the wider expert geological community have been at pains over the past 4 years of consultation and data collection to make clear that there is insufficient geological information to provide detailed location-specific analyses at this time.
The videos provide simple summaries which indicate the likelihood and ease of finding a suitable GDF location in your area. In some places, like South Wales, RWM make clear it is less likely that a suitable geology can be found — in part because previous coal mining allows groundwater to move more easily through the rock, in part because some areas in the region have mineral resources that might be commercially exploitable, and the presence of thermal springs indicates water flowing from depth. Conversely, there is a broad band of rock running right across southern-central England, from the Severn Estuary to the coasts of Suffolk and Essex, which looks more promising in terms of being able to host a GDF.
Essentially, with the information currently available, most parts of England, Wales and Northern Ireland could host a GDF, geologically-speaking. But as RWM make clear, a lot more detailed localised investigation will be required wherever a site is proposed. What looks like good geology now may prove to be unsuitable.
From a community perspective, the information is most useful in starting a conversation with RWM about the implications and impact of prolonged, detailed geological investigations in your area. In some areas the physical intrusion of deep borehole drilling rigs, and securing the required planning permissions, may be easier to do compared with another place. In other areas, the presence of National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) may complicate investigations. Coastal communities can look to potential undersea sites for the GDF, easing the need for intrusive land-based local geological investigations in populated areas.
There will be those who question the validity and truthfulness of the geological information. But the data has been collated and prepared by Britain’s world-leading expert institution, the British Geological Survey (BGS); the issues have been extensively debated by the Geological Society learned society; and the process has been overseen and interrogated by an independent international expert panel of geologists — some of whose work was conducted in public and streamed live.
If you go to the RWM website, you will find all the regional summaries and videos. From the maps provided, select your region (based on the BGS’s geological regions of the UK), which will then take you to the sub-regions within each region. This is where you will find information most relevant (but not specific) to your village or town. RWM have said they are planning to update the webpages, so that it is easier for you to find the sub-region video and summary which interests you.
There are many sources of additional information and advice to help you make sense of these analyses. Contact GDFWatch at firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance in sourcing further information.
The country briefs below provide a headline overview of anticipated geological disposal and related activity across the world in 2019. From a socio-political perspective, it could be a very interesting year for geological disposal.
The country summaries are not ‘technical’, but place national geological disposal programmes within the context of wider political and social discourse. The nuclear sector has long-accepted that the barriers to progressing geological disposal are political and social rather than technical, and these summaries are designed to help foster evolving thought on these issues.
A review of media output from around the world highlights a coherent global geological disposal narrative, with key common socio-political themes threading their way through geological disposal programmes, eg:
Some of these issues may be confronted head-on during 2019, for example:
What will also be interesting to observe in 2019 is the impact of the wider political and social challenges occurring in many countries around the world. Geological disposal clearly does not operate in a political or social vacuum. Public sentiment towards it can be driven by wider ‘non-nuclear’ issues. For example, the disconnect felt between the governed and their current political infrastructures seems to be a feature of ‘populism’ planet-wide. In this context, geological disposal could be seen negatively as a totemic example of that wider general public perception of national government making decisions without reference to the needs and concerns of people at a local level. But as societies discuss resolving these broader political governance grievances, public attitudes and behaviours will have to shift, with potentially positive implications for geological disposal if the programmes can be aligned with broader societal ambitions such as those for improved local democracy and public accountability, intergenerational decision-making, etc.
The attached country summaries are not a comprehensive review of all geological disposal and repository programmes. They only cover countries for which there is credible or verified information. Some countries not covered by the summaries will have interesting stories to tell. If your country is not mentioned, please do tell your story. We want to be as accurate as possible but rely upon your input for veracity.
These summaries will be updated during the year. Please alert us if there are any factual inaccuracies, other errors, or country programme updates, by emailing email@example.com
COUNTRY SUMMARIES: 2019
|Progress in 2019 for Australia’s repository program will hinge on the outcome of a court case initiated by a South Australian Aboriginal group. The group wants their people to be included in a community ballot to determine whether the proposed radioactive waste management facility for the disposal of Australian low-level waste and the interim storage of the country’s intermediate-level waste (which is slated to be situated in the Kimba or Hawker areas) should proceed.
There is a Federal Court Hearing on 30 January. No judgement is expected on that date. With the possibility for appeals, and potential further legal actions brought by other interest groups, the Australian repository program could yet be a protracted process. For example, over Christmas, another Aboriginal group tabled a new, separate law suit claiming they were not properly involved during the public consultation process.
The current federal Australian government is seeking to negotiate an out-of-court agreement, to build trust and to avoid a potentially protracted delay in the siting process. However, there are federal government elections due in 2019 (expected to be held by May). While there is bipartisan agreement on the need for a national radioactive waste management facility, the results of the election could further complicate political decision-making.
|In 2018, ONDRAF made recommendations to the Belgian Government advising that geological disposal is the best available option for managing the country’s higher-level radioactive wastes. The Government was also advised to conduct an extensive public engagement programme before final decisions are taken on the siting of any repository. However, the Belgian Government has not yet reached any decisions. The coalition government is not stable, and it is uncertain when the Belgian Government will make a decision on geological disposal.
In the meantime, construction progresses on the low-level waste repository in Dessel (due for completion in the first half of the 2020s).
|There are three separate repository programmes in Canada. The Nuclear Waste Management Organization Organisation (NWMO) is responsible for the national deep geological repository for higher-activity radioactive waste; Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is planning a deep geological repository for low and intermediate wastes; Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) seeks a near-surface facility for low-level radioactive waste.
Each project is deeply engaged in conversations with local communities. There are no major project milestones in 2019 for any of the planned repositories. It is an on-going process of working with affected communities, paying particular attention to the needs and concerns of indigenous peoples. Canada has led the way in early and proactive community engagement – vital for building public acceptance, but necessarily moving at a pace with which the communities feel comfortable.
NWMO have started the deep borehole drilling phase of their geological investigations, and this will continue through 2019.
The added complication for Canada are the cross-border concerns of environmentalists in Canada and the US about building radioactive waste repositories close to the Great Lakes.
|Croatia (see also Slovenia)|
|Croatia’s Krsko nuclear power plant is located in Slovenia and is shared with Slovenia. Discussions continue between the two countries on finding a site for the deep geological disposal of higher activity radioactive waste.
In the meantime, Croatia is pressing ahead with a low-level radioactive waste facility despite objections from Bosnia-Herzogevina that the proposed facility is located too close to their shared border and that there has been too little consultation and engagement with Bosnia.
|In 2019 the Czech Republic are expected to finalise the shortlist of areas which could potentially host a deep geological repository. Advice and recommendations will be put to the Czech Government, but no further decisions or activity is planned in 2019. The siting process and geological investigations will start after the government has finalised the shortlist of areas.|
|The Finns continue with the excavation and construction of their deep geological repository. The process is governed by regular reviews and staged regulatory licensing approvals. No significant events are expected in 2019.|
|French authorities remain confident that a general licence application for the proposed repository at Bure will be submitted by the end of 2019.
A formal public debate organised by the National Commission of Public Debate was expected during 2019. The debate is not intended to review geological disposal policy, but is intended to sustain transparency by staging a further discussion that engages the public in radioactive waste management. However, the Commission’s priorities may be changed following the recent ‘gilets jaunes’ protests in France. Time may now be given to more pressing issues of public interest rather than geological disposal of radioactive waste.
|2019 could be an interesting year for Germany.
Legislation in 2017 laid out a new framework for how Germany would go about selecting a radioactive waste disposal site, and also ensured there would be significant public consultation and engagement in that process.
In the coming year, Germany will initiate a public communications and engagement programme, as a key part of the process of presenting the federal government with a detailed dossier in 2020 of geological information, analysis of public sentiment, and recommendations on the next stage.
|Understandably the Japanese are taking a steady and cautious approach to their repository site selection process. The social and political fall-out from Fukushima only adds to the problems of managing long-established anti-nuclear public sentiment, distrust in politicians and the nuclear sector, and the geological complexity and insecurity of parts of the country.
The Japanese Government published a “Nationwide Map of Scientific Features relevant for Geological Disposal” in 2017, which identified potential geological ‘green areas’ where it could be possible to safely construct a deep geological repository. This map has been the basis on which NUMO (Nuclear Waste Management Organisation) has been building awareness and understanding of the issues and opportunities amongst mayors and municipal officials across the country.
NUMO’s difficulties are evident from separate actions by a number of the Prefectures, which have already indicated that they are not prepared to host a deep geological repository.
The Japanese will continue their cautious consensus-building approach through 2019. Not just with mayors and municipalities, but with a programme of public information events.
It is worth noting that despite broader post-Fukishima anti-nuclear public and political reaction, recent media commentary has been urging decisions be made on radioactive waste disposal. It seems the mainstream Japanese media believe that removing radioactive waste from the surface is a better option.
|South Korea is conducting a significant public consultation and discussion programme, alongside its technical preparations to build a deep geological repository for higher-activity radioactive waste.
These public discussions and the technical analysis will inform subsequent Government decisions on how to select a site for the repository. There are no plans for significant announcements in 2019.
|Luxembourg produces very small quantities of higher-activity radioactive waste, mainly from medical sources. In 2018 the country entered into an agreement with Belgium for the interim storage and final disposal of its radioactive waste. Legislation has been laid before the Belgian parliament.|
|The Saudi’s have not yet published a detailed radioactive waste management programme and timeline. During 2018 Saudi Arabia announced an intention to build their repository in a militarised zone to be established on the border with Qatar. This announcement came at a time of heightened tensions between the two countries. Whether Saudi Arabia persists with its proposal may be subject to wider geopolitical and diplomatic discussions in the region.|
|Slovenia (see also, Croatia)|
|Slovenia and Croatia share a nuclear power plant, at Krško – a legacy from the former Yugoslavia. The countries are planning to build a joint deep geological repository somewhere in Slovenia or Croatia for spent fuel and higher-activity radioactive waste from the Krško plant.
In the meantime, Slovenia is pressing ahead with a facility for low and intermediate level radioactive waste. An environmental impact assessment is to be conducted to secure the necessary environmental consents. With other documentation expected to be completed in the new year, the Slovenian Government is confident a final building permit will be granted during 2019. Construction is planned from 2020-22, with the facility starting operations in 2023.
|Following the decision of the Environmental Court in January 2018, SKB are required to submit further information on copper corrosion to the Swedish Government by 30 April 2019.
However, currently there is effectively no Swedish Government. Discussions continue between the political parties about forming a government, following the results of the September 2018 elections. It remains possible that another election may be necessary, further delaying the formation of a government.
Regardless of the outcome of these political discussions, it is expected that the Government will take 6-9 months to consider and respond to SKB’s copper corrosion evidence. That would mean it would be at the end of 2019 at the earliest before next steps were taken – assuming the Swedish Government are content to proceed.
A final decision by Osthammar municipality is required before the government can give a permit for the planned repository at Forsmark to proceed. Although a local referendum is not required, it is thought the municipality will hold one before taking their own decision. Nobody is expecting these local votes until 2020 at the earliest.
|The Swiss press ahead with their siting programme, and will be spending 2019 drilling boreholes.
The Swiss Federal government announced in November 2018 that it had approved the third and final stage of the site selection process – deep borehole investigations in the three shortlisted regions. These investigations will take place over the next 3-4 years, and the results analysed to find the region/s considered to be most suitable and safest for the construction of a deep geological repository. Nagra, the organisation responsible for developing the repository, is expected to submit a general licence application for the disposal facility by 2024.
Approval of the licence is then not expected until around 2030. There is still some uncertainty whether a national or local referendum will be required after the federal council and Swiss parliament have approved the general licence. The repository is expected to be operational around 2040, initially taking low and intermediate level wastes, with higher-activity waste ten years later.
|Taiwan updated its geological disposal programme in February 2018, ruling out certain parts of the country on geological grounds, and moving to the next phase of identifying potential areas in which to site a repository. This stage was not expected to be completed until 2028.
The November public referendum result up-ended the Government’s nuclear phase-out policy, and has subsequently brought focus back to bear on the country’s management and disposal of its radioactive waste.
It will take some time in early 2019 for the Government to absorb the referendum result and reassess potential implications for its wider energy strategy – including geological disposal and the interim storage of radioactive waste. It is a possibility that the Taiwanese Government will refocus on and give more impetus to its radioactive waste management and disposal programme.
|United Arab Emirates (UAE)|
|The Government recently announced that radioactive waste will be stored on-site at the UAE’s new nuclear power station for up to 80 years after site closure. The UAE Government has not yet decided its longer-term radioactive waste management policy, and it is unclear whether such an announcement will happen in 2019.|
|United Kingdom (UK)|
|The UK Government announced the re-opening of its geological disposal siting process in a long-awaited, but still surprise announcement just before Christmas 2018.
It is unclear at this stage how the process will proceed. The proposed siting process is complex, and there remains a high-level of public and community unawareness of the issues. The wider UK social and political environment, certainly for the first part of 2019, is also clouded by the uncertainties of Brexit. It is therefore thought unlikely there will be much movement in the GDF siting process until later in the year.
|United States of America (USA)|
|Political uncertainty also shapes the 2019 outlook in the United States, though probably in a more positive fashion from the perspective of the geological disposal programme.
Despite sustained and overwhelming bipartisan support in the House of Representatives, in recent years the US Senate has blocked all attempts to fund the Yucca Mountain programme. However, after the midterm elections, the Republican Party no longer needs to protect the Senator from Nevada. Although the Democrats now control the House of Representatives, there is no reason to suppose bipartisan support will change.
The financial costs of and local political sentiment towards maintaining radioactive waste in interim surface facilities (because the planned disposal repository has not been built) are building pressure for political action/decisions.
|Countries with geological disposal programmes, but for which we have insufficient credible or verified information|
|Belarus : Bulgaria : Estonia : China : Hungary : India : Italy : Latvia : Lithuania : Pakistan : Romania : Russia : Serbia : Slovakia : Ukraine|
|Countries with no known immediate plans to progress a geological disposal process, either because it is too early in their nuclear programmes, the issue has been deferred, or the underpinning policy and legislative frameworks are under development|
|Austria : Azerbaijan : Bangladesh : Denmark : Ghana : Greece : Holland : Indonesia : Iran : Israel : Jordan : Kazakhstan : Kenya : Kuwait : Kyrgyzstan : Lebanon : Moldova : Nigeria : Norway : Poland : Portugal : Philippines : Singapore : South Africa : Spain : Tajikistan : Thailand : Turkey : Uganda : Uzbekistan : Vietnam|
A community’s frustration at not being allowed to even consider hosting a geological repository (a GDF) is amply demonstrated in this interview on Nevada Public Radio.
Dan Schinhofen is vice chairman of the Nye County Commission. It is his community which would host the US’ geological disposal facility at the proposed Yucca Mountain site. He and his fellow residents are angry that their community’s concerns, aspirations and interests are being ignored by a distant urban-based political and commercial elite.
During the interview he makes the following key points:
The written article accompanying the audio interview can be read here.
Entering into the geological disposal process seems like a voyage into the unknown. The complexity and length of the process itself can be a barrier to entry for most communities. However, the recent Environmental Court Hearings in Sweden, and testimony from people involved in the Swedish process provide helpful guidance for UK communities contemplating the journey.
The Swedish Court Hearings are the culmination of a journey which has taken more than thirty years. The Environmental Court didn’t even exist when the municipality of Östhammar first put itself forward for consideration to host Sweden’s geological disposal facility (GDF). And much else has changed over the period: from the people who now live in Östhammar; to the state of scientific knowledge; to the public’s expectation of, and the laws governing, protection of the environment.
So how do the Environmental Court Hearings and the experience of those involved in the Swedish GDF process help UK communities begin to understand the journey ahead of them?
Firstly, the Court Hearings provide a clear ‘destination point’. The voyage is not into the unknown. After three decades of geological analysis, scientific data gathering, developing technical plans, environmental impact assessments, and dealing with community concerns and aspirations, all of the information is being independently reviewed before Sweden can move on to the next stage of the process – securing local community consent.
The Swedish GDF legal process is of course different to the UK, but the underlying principles are the same. At some point in the future, all of the information will have to be reviewed before a UK community is asked to make an informed decision on whether it wants to proceed. And a community can walk away, without any obligation, at any stage before this point.
Secondly, the experience of those who’ve long participated in the Swedish GDF process offers insight and advice on the journey for those in Britain following their path. It is the testimony of ordinary people tackling an extraordinary issue. Residents, local politicians, environmentalists, and the industry offer their thoughts below. Common themes appear: the need to build trust; an ever-changing world; the importance of openness and honesty; satisfactorily answering every technical and community question before moving to the next stage.
First elected to the local council twenty years ago, Jacob Spangenberg has been Mayor of Östhammar since 2006. Over that time he estimates half the population has changed through death, birth and migration, and notes that very few elected councillors remain from when Östhammar first entered into the GDF process.
“Retaining awareness in the community has not been easy”, he says. “There are long periods, when research and analysis is taking place, when there is little to talk about. Three-year gaps between updates on the project’s progress were the norm.”
But he praises the work of the Regulators and SKB (the Swedish GDF developer) in earning the community’s trust and helping to sustain the community’s engagement with the process, saying: “The Regulators provided neutral advice and information, and took time to regularly speak with community representatives. SKB learned lessons about listening to community concerns, and actively engaged with environmentalists and other opponents, treating their worries with respect.”
Honesty and openness were fundamental to sustaining community support. Spangenberg says everyone knew where everyone stood, and that even if you disagreed there was never any feeling of hidden agendas. He sums up his advice to others: “ask every question because nothing can happen until every question you have asked has been answered to your satisfaction.”
The GDF process in Östhammar has spanned Birgitta Söderberg’s teaching career. When it started she was a young teacher who held strong anti-nuclear opinions. But as she progressed to being Headteacher, and now advising the council on future education services, she says the honesty of the discussions now mean she believes the facility can be built safely and contribute to Östhammar’s community growth and development.
“Chernobyl was a defining moment. We were very affected, even having to ban outside picnics that summer. But it prompted a debate in schools which started to change opinions. If we have waste, we need to keep it safe. Though we were clear from the start, this should only be Sweden’s waste, not anybody else’s.”
Critical to building her trust and providing reassurance has been the honesty of all involved, even shaping how she votes at election time: “People increasingly vote for personality over political party. How someone managed questions about the GDF issue helped determine whether I trusted and respected them.”
Looking ahead to the future Söderberg believes the GDF will play a significant role in helping support expansion of educational provision in Östhammar: “More young people are staying in Östhammar because they can get the qualifications they need, and increasingly there is skilled work available locally. Better educational services will also make it easier to attract inward investment and skilled workers from outside.”
Johan Swahn still has major reservations about the safety of the proposed GDF, but recognises that the process for deciding whether to proceed has been fair, with everyone afforded the opportunity to express their concerns.
Swahn leads MKG, an NGO focused solely on radioactive waste, which is publicly-funded to ensure there is an independent community voice in the GDF process. MKG still has major concerns about the long-term safety of copper canisters and questions their reliability to isolate waste for over 100,000 years. The organisation has successfully shaped the debate and influenced how the process has evolved, with Swahn mentioning community concerns about nature: “SKB were initially focused purely on geology and nuclear waste safety, with no regard to habitat and species protection. This was an issue of great local importance, and we ensured it became integral to the wider GDF process.”
During the decades since the process in Östhammar started, Swahn points out that national environmental protection attitudes, expectations and legislation changed significantly. He was initially concerned that the Environmental Court might be shackled by other regulators, and be a mere rubber stamp for the GDF. However, experience has proved otherwise: “The Court has not only proved its technical competence, but has challenged the regulators on their approach. The Hearings were extended, and the Court went out of its way to ensure every voice that wanted to speak was heard.”
In offering advice to other communities, Swahn also stresses that the process is not just about geology and safe storage of nuclear waste, but that broader community concerns need to be addressed: “The impact of construction vehicles on local roads, noise pollution, the transport of nuclear waste, as well as protecting the local wildlife and environment are all factors that need to be properly considered. It is important that ordinary day-to-day impacts on the lives of local people are taken into account as well as the long-term safety of the stored waste.”
The Industry Rep
The long, slow GDF process has also had profound impacts on the developer. Apart from the natural turnover of staff any organisation would have over 30 years, Erik Setzman of SKB says planned change management has been critical to ensuring the company was responsive to the needs of local communities:
“At its core this is an engineering and nuclear waste management project, but that doesn’t mean we’ve always been led by engineers and nuclear experts. Developing relationships with communities has meant that over time we’ve had to prioritise resources and recruit senior managers with other skillsets.”
Setzman says SKB learned from early mistakes: “It is important to give communities access to experts. But not every expert should be exposed to a community. It takes particular skill not to come over as arrogant. Building trust requires listening, and then responding sympathetically to community concerns. Even if the issue seemed tangential to the core project, if it concerned the local community, the issue had to be dealt with.”
The project also survived the decades, according to Setzman, because there was a stable long-term national political commitment and financial platform to support community engagement and the necessary detailed technical analysis of the proposed site. He notes that at the recent Court Hearings, no new issues or questions were raised: “It is not surprising that no new issues arose. We’ve had over thirty years of open dialogue and analysis. Everything that needed to be asked had been answered. But it was only at this point that you could start seeking the necessary permissions to proceed to construction.”
Another Resident: The Urban Planner
Torsten Blomé has only recently moved his young family to Östhammar. He knew about the GDF, and it was one of the factors that made the move exciting. Although he has not personally participated in a process which started before he was born, his new job depends on him understanding how Östhammar has changed over the past decades as he helps plan for its future.
Historically Östhammar was an isolated rural community, with educational, employment and wealth indicators below the Swedish average. That has changed. The Forsmark nuclear plant and other factors have contributed, but even the possibility of hosting the GDF has also given the community leverage to secure important infrastructure investment, as Blomé notes:
“The new Route288 has improved road connectivity with Stockholm, opening up new economic opportunities. Not only does it support the growth in tourism – about half the houses in Östhammar are now summer homes owned by people from Stockholm and elsewhere – but we are also diversifying the local economy and attracting interest from overseas investors.”
Such growth has increased land and property values, but with an expanding and increasingly skilled and better-paid community (unemployment is now half the Swedish national average) Blomé is confident about the future: “Increasing revenues will allow us to invest in a range of public services, particularly in education, so that we can create a community which attracts, retains and sustains people and high-skilled, better paid jobs.”
UK communities contemplating a GDF journey can turn to friendly and informed independent sources for advice on the voyage ahead. These ‘experts’ need not be scientists or consultants, they could just be ordinary people like yourselves.
In the next few weeks GDFWatch will be unveiling a range of consultancy and other services. The services we will offer are built on the feedback we got from you in July’s stakeholder survey.
Supporting communities and local authorities: consultancy services
The GDF siting process is novel and untested. The GDFWatch team has a wealth of experience uniquely gained in the development and interpretation of that siting process.
We can help communities and local authorities get to grips with this new system, so that you are actively driving discussions with RWM, equipped to ensure your interests are not just being protected but are being advanced.
We provide access to a wide range of technical/scientific, socioeconomic, environmental, land-use planning, public consultation, community engagement, stakeholder management, and communications expertise. These skills and knowledge will not only help you set up the process in a way which works best for your community, but also offer you independent expert counsel as the process progresses.
News & Information services
Geological disposal is a global issue requiring local solutions. Access to the latest information will be vital in delivering a balanced and informed debate. GDFWatch’s current plans include:
A key and recurring theme from the stakeholder survey was the need for ‘trust’. We absolutely understand this. It’s not just enough to be ‘independent’ – we must be seen to be independent.
There will be times when funding comes from nuclear sector or other vested interests. Each case will be assessed on its own merits, and a full declaration publicly made. People can then make their own judgement on the veracity of the information or independence of any service being provided.
The income generated from the services we provide will help sustain the free independent services that will be an important resource for communities and individuals at all stages in siting process discussions.
If you would like to find out more, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07900 243007.
The publication of the tailored review on the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) sets out some revised principles for the Committee’s future role.
While the review says that the Committee’s role and objectives needs updating, and that these should be set out in a new framework, the Government says little about what that role might actually be. However, one specific area of activity under review is the extent to which, and on what basis, CoRWM more actively participates in public and community engagement.
The July appointment of Sir Nigel Thrift as CoRWM’s new Chair underlines the Government’s awareness of the need to shift priority as the siting process relaunches. Sir Nigel is a human geographer, a social scientist. This is a marked shift from CoRWM’s historic technical/scientific foundations, and a recognition that the issues are increasingly social rather than technical – civics not science.
The minutes from CoRWM’s recent public plenary sessions indicate that the Committee itself has been examining whether and how it should become more active and more visible. Those who gave evidence to the Committee, including GDFWatch, were in agreement that a revamped CoRWM could have a critical role in building public trust in geological disposal and the siting process.
The tailored review says conclusions on CoRWM’s engagement role and activities will be progressed during December. This short timescale suggests that the Government already has an outline plan. In a tight fiscal environment, even if BEIS wanted a much-expanded role for CoRWM, the Department may not have the funds for anything other than a passive role.
However, given the wider civil society sector’s concern that RWM may not be viewed as a ‘neutral player’, there may be value in a body such as CoRWM filling the engagement void. The Chief Executive of a large national community-based organisation noted that even if RWM employed a small army of “independent” facilitators, they would still be seen as having an ‘agenda’ and that a community would most likely treat the relationship as ‘adversarial’ from the start. This is a difficult foundation from which to build trust.
But CoRWM might be able to provide an effective bridge to trust-buiding, especially in the early stages of public and community discussion. Whether CoRWM is staffed-up, or funds a partnership with civil society organisations, is less important than ensuring the initial awareness-building programme delivers not just increased public understanding, but confidence in geological disposal and the siting process.
While experience normally dictates against optimism, there are sufficient signs that the Government recognises the need for a revised role for CoRWM. We can only hope Ministers hear the fears of the civil society sector and equip the Committee to be an active and effective trust-building bridge with communities.