Ministers have been told to drop their Local Authority ‘veto’ idea, and to focus on doing more to build community confidence and trust.
That is the headline conclusion from a review of responses to the Working With Communities (WWC) consultation that have already been published. Although not a statistically representative sample of the responses submitted, the opinions come from all corners of society.
All the expert and public evidence received during the policy development phase said that giving any tier of local government a ‘veto’ over the process would undermine the policy and any concept of ‘community consent’. Despite that near unanimous opinion, Ministers still decided to include proposals that would give local authorities the power to block the will of the community.
There has been a consistent and broad-based push back to those proposals in the published consultation responses. GDFWatch believes a veto power would make a mockery of the Government’s own consent-based policy and mean the siting process would be DOA. Community and place-based organisations, while fully recognising the integral role of local authorities, were equally critical of the proposal, eg:
Local authorities themselves seem to disagree over whether they need a veto power. The Local Government Association’s specialised grouping, the Nuclear Legacy Advisory Forum (NuLeAF), representing 130+ local authorities says:
“… local authorities have a range of views as to whether there should be an absolute local authority veto … Many accepted the position set out in the 2014 White Paper; others believe that a clear veto is required but take differing views as to whether that should apply to one or both tiers of local government in two tier areas.”
Where they have answered individually, local authorities have voiced their concerns about having this veto power. For example, Folkestone & Hythe District Council say: “This effective right of veto will limit the chances of the GDF programme being implemented and it is recommended that the 2014 White Paper position be adhered to.”
And those within the nuclear sector who’ve had previous experience of failed siting processes also condemned the proposals. Barlow Geosafety, a consultancy established by one of Europe’s leading geological disposal experts, said: “If we are to avoid repeating history and replaying the unsuccessful experience from MRWS, then any approach that provides a veto, or effective veto, should be forthrightly rejected.”
Even critics of the GDF siting process, like the Cumbria Trust, have their concerns: “If a Community Agreement was structured in such a way that it allows a local authority to carry a motion irrespective of the views of the other members of the Community Partnership, then the Community Partnership becomes an irrelevance. It is not a genuine partnership if one member can overrule the others.”
Building Community Confidence
Perhaps the most recurring theme across responses is the concern for more detail to be provided. There is broad support for the principles of the policy, but uncertainty about how these are to be implemented. This includes residual concerns about the extent of RWM’s powers and responsibilities and how these might impact on its ability to build trust with communities.
Trades Unions, community organisations, industry and local authorities all point to the difficulties in, but necessity of, building confidence amongst communities. To address this issue their proposed solutions encompass:
Although the majority of stakeholder sectors support the broad principles of the proposed consent-based approach, not everyone is enamoured. The Cumbria Trust and the association of Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) articulate wider concerns that this process is not truly transparent, that communities can become trapped within the process against their will, and question whether geological disposal is actually the best way to manage legacy wastes.
Their concerns about the effectiveness of the proposed community consent-based approach are more widely shared. Trades Unions, local authorities and national representative bodies of community sector organisations are concerned about communities being able to engage effectively, exercise democratic control over the process, and be free to walk away at any time. However, unlike the Cumbria Trust or NFLA, they propose solutions on how to ensure these legitimate community concerns are addressed.
There are many more issues and ideas raised in each of the publicly-available responses. These responses only represent a small proportion of all the consultation responses submitted, so it will be some time before we get a full read out from BEIS, and then what conclusions the Government has come to based on all the responses they have received.
Given the passion and commitment that the published responses reveal, it will be interesting to see if BEIS more actively engage with respondents before final policy decisions are made. The responses are full of ideas on how the process can be improved during the pre-launch and preparatory phases. Since the core of the policy is based on collaboration and partnership with empowered communities, we can only hope the Government will lead by example and retain an open policy-making approach, working with communities and their representative bodies to co-design the final policy and implementation issues.
With the deadline for responses to the Government’s two GDF consultations approaching, it appears that there is a lot of discussion around three particular areas:
That is not to say there are not a wider range of issues under discussion, and BEIS have now produced FAQ sheets in response to a number of common and recurring questions raised at their regional consultation workshops. The Working With Communities FAQ sheet produced by BEIS can be found by clicking on the link, and the National Policy Statement FAQ sheet can be accessed here.
A number of organisations, eg the Cumbria Trust, Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) and Barlow Geosafety have already published their responses to the Working With Communities consultation. There are significant similarities between the Cumbria Trust and NFLA responses, expressing concerns that the process is potentially undemocratic by locking communities into a process from which they cannot actually escape. Such concerns are not shared by Barlow Geosafety, which has the exact opposite worry that Local Authorities may have a ‘veto’ which would undermine the democratic principles of community consent.
The Barlow Geosafety view on local authority ‘veto’ power would, from discussions with a wide range of stakeholders at the workshops and outside, appear to be the more common concern. GDFWatch are certainly concerned that any form of ‘veto’ power would fundamentally make the consent-based approach inoperable. Local Authorities also seem divided, with many concerned that such a ‘veto’ would simply lead to inertia.
It will be interesting to see the full range of views when responses are finally published. You are urged to ensure that your opinion is submitted by the 11.45pm deadline on Thursday 19 April. Instructions on how to submit your response can be found on the BEIS website.
A meeting between local community leaders and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Washington DC this week has angered State-level officials in Nevada.
The row yet again brings to the surface the tensions between the local community in Nye County, which wants to explore how the proposed Yucca Mountain geological disposal facility might benefit their community, and State-level politicians who want no discussions of any kind about the facility.
GDFWatch has previously reported on Nye County’s frustrations, and explored how such disagreements between different tiers of government are central to the UK’s current public consultations on how communities should be involved in deciding whether to host a GDF.
Nevada State officials have challenged the legality of the meeting and accused Nye County community leaders of ‘going behind the State’s back’. Dan Schinhofen of Nye County said the state’s objection were another waste of taxpayers’ money.
It is hard to ignore the irony of Nevada State’s support for a “community consent-based” approach, while denying the clearly expressed consent of the community most affected by the Yucca Mountain project!
The Belgian Government this week received two recommendations: that geological disposal was the best way to dispose of the country’s most radioactive waste, and that the best way to determine where the waste was geologically disposed would be through a collective national discussion and decision.
The recommendations come from ONDRAF, Belgium’s nuclear waste management organisation, as they published their latest updated estimates of the costs of dismantling Belgium’s nuclear facilities and safely disposing of the different types of radioactive waste.
Belgium has already decided to phase out nuclear power (anticipated by 2025), and is now working through how to manage that process. Most radioactive waste, by volume, will be disposed at a new surface facility in Dessel, which is proceeding with the support of the local community. However, some waste remains hazardous for many thousands of years, and ONDRAF’s recommendation that that waste needs to be disposed in a deep geological facility is in line with the international approach. ONDRAF’s Chief Executive Marc Demarche believes that a broadly-based societal discussion is required to secure public support:
“The management of radioactive waste is a subject that affects the entire Belgian population. Without societal support, even the strongest technical solution is impossible to defend. This waste is there, it’s a reality. All stakeholders need to be aware of their role in finding a solution to this problem. ONDRAF is committed to informing and involving all stakeholders, so that everyone can agree on a safe, scientifically supported, and technically and financially feasible solution for this generation and all those to come.”
It is not yet known when the Belgian Government will make its decision, but they are expected to approve the launch of a national public discussion. Further information can be found at ONDRAF’s website.
Events in America over the past couple of weeks reveal some stark differences but also many similarities between the US and the UK that can help inform this country’s current debate on sorting out our nuclear waste.
Reading British newspapers you wouldn’t know there was a debate, or that two important public consultations are currently taking place on how we permanently dispose of our nuclear waste. Reading American papers you couldn’t miss the bipartisan fervour behind the proposed solution.
Across the US political spectrum, from The Heritage Foundation on the right, to progressives on the left like satirist John Oliver, there is common agreement that entombing the waste deep underground is the safest option. Called ‘geological disposal’, this is also the international community’s, and UK’s, preferred option. But in Britain the issue is unknown to the majority and opposed by a vocal minority.
Regardless of political affiliation, Americans seem to understand that leaving radioactive waste on the surface is environmentally, economically and ethically unsustainable. This view is in line with the global scientific consensus behind isolating nuclear waste underground far away from the effects of climate change. However, in the UK, opponents still argue that nuclear waste should be kept on the surface indefinitely.
Although US public, political and media opinion may agree on what to do with the waste (bury it deep underground), where the waste should be placed and how you go about deciding that is still a contentious subject. There are lessons to be learned from the American experience which directly feed into the current UK public consultations.
A potential site for the US nuclear waste repository has long been identified at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Despite a bipartisan majority in Congress supporting it, and local people supporting it, the project has stalled for decades primarily because of back-room political deal-making and disputes between different tiers of government. In this regard, the US and UK are very similar.
Disagreement between different tiers of UK government in part explain the delay in finding a site for our own geological disposal facility (GDF). Finding a suitable, safe site takes time. This generation may start the search process, but any final decision will be for the next generation to make. Hence why the current public consultation in the UK proposes a new intergenerational democratic process which is less vulnerable to short-term, electorally driven disputes between politicians. If we are to find a long-term solution to our nuclear waste problem, it will have to be a people-driven process, not a politician-driven process.
Community support and consent is fundamental to the British approach and this is being increasingly realised as important in the Unites States. Last week the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave initial approval to a private sector proposal for a temporary geological repository in New Mexico. Given the ongoing wrangling over Yucca, this new proposed site is being seen as more likely to succeed because it has enthusiastic, broad-based local community, business and political support. The reason for the support is simple: the project requires major local infrastructure investment, will create and sustain large numbers of jobs, and will generate new tax revenues for investment in local public and welfare services.
The opinions and involvement of people living closest to such nuclear waste facilities is critical. The UK proposals out for consultation seek to ensure a nuclear waste facility cannot be imposed on a local community. But as importantly, the proposals want to ensure that any community with an interest in exploring the issues further cannot have their will and wishes thwarted by external political forces.
The people of Nye County, where Yucca Mountain resides, want to explore their options. Whether hosting such a facility could be done safely and how the associated investment might help improve the quality of life for the area’s residents. However, Nevadan state politicians are blocking the process, angering the people of Nye County who feel that their community’s concerns, aspirations and interests are being ignored by a distant urban-based political and commercial elite. One local community leader points out that doing further research on the site does not mean anything will actually be built. His plea is simple: “let’s first have the facts. My grandchildren live here – if it’s not safe, we won’t want it.”
That is the crux of the current UK consultations: how do we create the right environment for an open discussion which may take decades before a conclusion can be reached, if at all. As the US experience shows, there are no quick or easy answers. The issue is so important to the environmental health of our planet, and to the socioeconomic well-being of any affected community. As the community leader in Nye County says: “just sticking your fingers in your ears and saying ‘no’ is not an answer.”
Opening up your plans to independent international expert review and assessment has become a cornerstone of geological disposal programmes around the world. It provides reassurance nationally and internationally that:
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have recently published an international peer review of South Korea’s geological disposal programme. South Korea is still developing its policy on how to find a site, and is going through a process of public engagement and consultation to determine an appropriate consent-based approach. No site has yet been identified in Korea. However, the Koreans have been conducting significant research into “pyro-processing” of spent fuel.
Potentially, pyro-processing would allow more spent fuel to be recycled and re-used. This would reduce both the volumes and the heat of the waste requiring permanent disposal in a repository (aka GDF). The IAEA notes that the research is still ongoing, and pyro-processing is not yet commercially viable. However, the heat and volume reductions could mean that a repository might need to be only one-tenth the size currently required.
The South Koreans asked the IAEA to convene a panel of experts to review their hypothetical plans for a repository if pyro-processed waste was the primary material being disposed of in the underground facility. The comprehensive IAEA Expert Report is not controversial, commends the Koreans for their approach, research and plans, and suggests areas where further research and investigation would be helpful.
Following publication of CoRWM’s Annual Report (see story below), the Government’s response has now been published.
Nothing to surprise in the response, but the Government did provide a little more information on the public outputs of the national geological screening exercise, saying:
“The National Geological Screening outputs will not definitively rule all areas as either ‘suitable’
or ‘unsuitable’ . At the simplest level there will be plain English summaries of the geological information for each region, illustrated with maps showing areas that may include volumes of appropriate
lower strength sedimentary rocks (e.g. clay), higher strength rock (e.g. granite) or evaporite
rocks (e.g. salt) at the appropriate depths for a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF). These will
be accompanied by more detailed regional and sub-regional reports that explain the
relationship of the basic geological information to the safety of a GDF in each area. These will
also be supported by short, explanatory video clips intended to explain technical terms for nongeologists.”
Radioactive Waste Management (RWM) have indicated that these guides are likely to be published with a suite of other relevant information when they relaunch the siting process.
The Annual Report of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) has been published. CoRWM is an independent panel of experts which monitors the Government’s geological disposal programme and how it is being implemented by the appointed delivery body, Radioactive Waste Management (RWM). You can access the 2016/17 Annual Report here.
Although CoRWM notes that good progress has generally been made, it has a number of reservations and recommendations. Some of these are technical or administrative, but others are of particular concern to GDFWatch, and are matters which will need closer scrutiny during 2018. These include:
Neither the Government nor RWM have yet responded to CoRWM’s Annual Report. We will be closely watching how they do respond and address the issues above, and will keep you updated.
The general consensus of those attending the first public consultation workshop was very positive. Everyone largely felt that the event had been helpful in building a better understanding of the issues, and that it would help improve the quality of their responses to the consultation.
The event attracted a broad range of interests, including engineering and construction sectors, broader business groups, trades unions, local authorities, conservationists and anti-nuclear campaigners. The notable omission was anyone from community or place-based organisations. This is not for the want of trying, as GDFWatch knows well because we are at the forefront of reaching out to the sector. Hopefully there will be greater representation of these groups at the regional events around the country that BEIS is organising during March — and we will be continuing to encourage community groups to attend.
The workshops are very interactive, with little in the way of presentations, and a heavy focus on group discussion and shared learning. Delegates were provided with video and written material before the event, and you are expected to come to the workshop with a basic understanding of the consultations, and a list of questions from your initial reading of the documents. This approach works well in bringing out the different perspectives, questions and issues of groups representing diverse societal interests. The format doesn’t allow for detailed analysis of specific questions, but that is not the purpose of the workshop. BEIS have offered to publish a FAQ sheet online to address key issues raised during the workshops.
I don’t think it would be helpful to set out all the issues discussed, because that may unwittingly shape discussion at future workshops. In general terms, there were areas where people felt the consultation documents were too vague (but as BEIS pointed out, often it is on those areas they are seeking public experience and advice to help flesh out), and an acceptance that for some issues a certain vagueness was necessary to retain flexibility, because each community will have its own individual needs.
BEIS have worked hard to develop their proposals in an open, inclusive way, and the workshops are a further opportunity for the public to shape the final policy. We urge everyone to participate in the process and to have your say. There are still seats available at the workshops in Birmingham (27 Feb), Bristol (1 March), Darlington (6 March) and Lancaster (20 March), and at the technical workshop for the National Policy Statement in London (22 March). Contact the workshop’s independent facilitators, 3KQ, to register your interest (email@example.com)
Sir John Armitt has called for more proactive public engagement on infrastructure projects. The new Chair of the The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) was speaking at publication of the NIC’s first Annual Monitoring Report.
Sir John is reported saying there is a “need for professions who deliver infrastructure to realise that if they want their work to be accepted they have to get out there and explain, in words that are plain English, what it is about and why it is necessary.”
The Report basically observes that Government needs to do more, more urgently, if the UK is to retain international economic competitiveness. Sir John also regretfully noted that a key issue is short-term political decision-making, saying: “It is a sad thing about politics, isn’t it? The short-termism. At the end of the day ministers know they have an election coming two or three years down the line and will be remembered by what costs went up and which went down.”
Avoiding the pitfalls of political short-termism is one of the key proposals in the Working With Communities (WWC) public consultation. However, absent from the NIC Report is any mention of the consultations or Geological Disposal Facility (GDF). The NIC is in the early stages of its life, so perhaps it’s not surprising that it has yet to embrace the GDF. But this is a matter which needs addressing sooner rather than later.
The GDF is important to the country and the work of the Infrastructure Commission for several reasons:
Finding a site to dispose of our radioactive waste is a contentious issue. But finding a site is vital to our long-term national interests. It can only be achieved by having open honest discussions with fellow citizens, and creating a decision-making framework that can take a long-term view, unhurried by electoral fluctuation, because it involves all parts of the community working in partnership. We look forward to the NIC’s greater engagement in the GDF process.
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.