Accusations that the leading ‘left-wing’ US politician Bernie Sanders tried to ship radioactive waste from his prosperous neighbourhood to a poor Latino community in Texas are the subject of an analysis by a fact-checking/myth-busting website.
It appears true that Bernie Sanders supports the geological disposal of radioactive waste, as can be seen from what he said on the floor of Congress when legislation was being considered:
“Let me touch, for a moment, upon the environmental aspects of this issue. And let me address it from the perspective of someone who is an opponent of nuclear power, opposes the construction of nuclear power plants and if he had his way, would shut down the existing nuclear power plants as quickly and as safely as we could.
“One of the reasons that many of us oppose nuclear power plants is that when this technology was developed, there was not a lot of thought given as to how we dispose of the nuclear waste. But…the reality, as others have already pointed out, is that the waste is here. We can’t wish it away … So the real environmental issue here is not to wish it away, but to make the judgement, the important environmental judgement as to what is the safest way of disposing of the nuclear waste that has been created.
…Leaving the radioactive waste at the site where it was produced … is horrendous environmental policy… This is not a political assertion, it is a geological and environmental reality.”
However, the fact-checking website Snopes.com, concludes that the accusations being circulated by conservative media in the US, while based on objective facts, critically, leave out important context. Sanders did co-sponsor environmental legislation designed to better manage radioactive waste, but neither he nor the legislation specified any particular location. As would seem clear from his quote above, Sanders was motivated to find a location based on scientific analysis and best environmental protection practice.
The issue of radioactive waste has become a major political story since Donald Trump came to power. Perhaps surprisingly it is generally a bipartisan issue, which the majority of Americans back. You can read some more about recent events:
There are also hundreds of articles on the issue from US national, regional and local media in our international media archive.
The failure of nuclear experts and ordinary people to listen to and understand each other is the biggest barrier to solving the world’s radioactive waste problem. That’s an inescapable conclusion from a thought-provoking review of HBO’s new documentary Atomic Homefront in the latest edition of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist.
The public lack trust in the nuclear sector. The sector seems to have an almost institutionalised inability to grasp the social, political and non-technical dimensions of public concern. This means dialogue regularly ends up like a CNN panel discussion with opposing views talking over each other and at cross purposes. A lot of energy and effort to go nowhere, and everyone repeatedly re-trenching to their respective camps, confused and exacerbated.
As Britain and other countries agonisingly address how to permanently dispose of their radioactive waste, resolving this failure of dialogue becomes of paramount importance. The onus is on the nuclear and public sectors to creatively and radically review how they interact with the public. To establish the common ground required to advance this debate.
In his very readable article, Francois Diaz-Maurin of the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) at Stanford University, describes:
Both sides of the debate in the Atomic Homefront film make pertinent and valid points, but they also both perpetuate unfounded myths and misconceptions. Regardless of your thoughts on the film, it does provide (in conjunction with Diaz-Maurin’s analysis) a helpful starting point in identifying how we can better approach and manage the multinational-but-local discussion around safe management of radioactive waste and its permanent disposal.
Three quarters of local government leaders do not think the Government will reshape regional regeneration funds after Brexit, according to a new report.
PwC’s annual The Local State We’re In survey of council chief executives, finance directors and leaders shows 74% are not confident central government will engage with local government in reshaping regional investment and regeneration funds after Britain leaves the EU.
The scale of concern and difficulties facing local authorities indicates that the significant investment funds available through the GDF siting process are potentially of interest not just to disadvantaged communities, but will attract the attention of areas from all parts of the country.
Almost three quarters (72%) of those surveyed said a lack of investment in infrastructure was a key barrier to place-based growth in their area, while 61% identified a lack of influence over skills and 60% said a lack of affordable or suitable housing was also holding back growth.
Survey publisher, PwC’s head of local government Jonathan House, said: “While local councils have done well against an ongoing course of challenges, the cliff edge for some is getting ever closer. With another Spending Review next year, as well as the UK’s formal exit from the EU, the landscape will become incredibly tough – the resilience they have shown so far will be tested to the max.”
Anyone involved in the GDF siting process needs to be aware of sentiment and issues within the local authority sector. Other relevant key findings from the PwC survey include:
There is overwhelming local support for Sweden’s planned geological disposal facility (GDF). Three out of four residents in the host community of Östhammar are in favour of the project.
The level of local public support for the project was revealed in the annual opinion poll conducted in the Östhammar Municipality on behalf of the Swedish GDF delivery body, SKB.
SKB measures public opinion in the community every year. It is the kind of on-going measurement of local opinion that will be required in the UK when communities here are actively engaged in discussions about hosting a GDF.
In the Swedish poll, based on 800 telephone interviews, 77 percent of the respondents in Östhammar said that they were “completely in favour” or “in favour” of plans to build the final repository for radioactive waste in their community. SKB’s CEO Eva Halldén also pointed out the sustained level of support, saying: “What is particularly gratifying is that the high figures are so stable over time.”
The opinion poll also found a high level of confidence in SKB, with 76 percent of local respondents stating that they have a “very high” or “rather high” level of confidence in the company.
Such weight of local community support is despite the uncertainty created by Sweden’s Environmental Court decision earlier this year, when the Court expressed concerns about the long-term safety of the copper canisters in which waste is placed.
The regulatory approval and licensing process continues to move forward, and the Swedish Government has now formally asked SKB to respond, by early 2019, to questions raised by the Environmental Court.
But before the Swedish Government comes to a decision, local people will be consulted in a referendum. This is because the community has the right of veto on whether to proceed or not — very similar to the “Test of Public Support” proposed in the UK.
A heated row broke out between US Senators during an Appropriations Committee debate on whether to use a site in southeast New Mexico to temporarily store the nation’s nuclear waste, pending a permanent repository site being found.
Lindsey Graham, Senator from South Carolina, tried to block funding for a nuclear waste interim storage programme in retaliation for the Energy Department’s decision to shut the MOX facility at South Carolina’s Savannah River Site. He was supported by New Mexico Senator Tim Udall, but they were lone voices in the debate
Pushing through the proposal for a temporary store Senator Diane Feinstein noted that since the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste permanent storage facility in Nevada was politically dead, funding for temporary waste storage was needed instead, saying:
“We have a bipartisan pathway forward in the Senate, but the House won’t budge. They won’t support any nuclear waste proposal that isn’t Yucca Mountain, and we all know that each party has a senator from Nevada who won’t let Yucca happen. We can’t let another year go by with no movement on nuclear waste.”
However, US Senators were criticised by New Mexico State Senator Gay Kernan, whose district includes the site for the proposed temporary waste facility. She said people that don’t live in her part of New Mexico shouldn’t be telling them what they can and can’t do, and that local people who live in the region understand the economic benefits the nuclear waste industry provides. Kernan said:
“Let southeast New Mexico decide if we want to be a supportive community or not. We may not be, but I think there are many in our area that understand the science and are willing to let the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to do their work. Following the NRC’s environmental impact study we will make a decision as a community.”
This article is a summary of a longer more detailed piece in the Los Alamos Monitor.
The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee have announced an inquiry into the draft National Policy Statement for Geological Disposal Infrastructure. They seek written evidence by Friday 15 June 2018.
The inquiry will examine the objectives and scope of the guidance for those considering GDF applications and the framework for granting development consents. The inquiry will also consider how the GDF fits in with the Government’s Industrial Strategy and emphasis on regional growth.
Rachel Reeves MP, Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, said:
“Disposing of our nuclear waste safely is an issue of paramount importance. Decisions on the locations of nuclear disposal sites may have a significant impact on local communities. It’s vital that local planning authorities and the Secretary of State have the right guidance to take these important decisions. We’ll be assessing the suitability of the draft guidance, whether there are any improvements that can be made and what factors should be part of the decision-making process.”
The Committee invites written submissions addressing any or all of the following questions:
You can submit your evidence through the Committee’s website.
BEIS have circulated a short note updating everyone on post-consultation activity. In these GDPR-heady days, BEIS could only email those who attended their regional consultation workshops, so we are making the note available for everyone:
It’s been 30 days since the GDF consultations closed. We received more than 200 substantive responses. On the Working with Communities consultation we’re busy analysing these responses and reflecting on what people have said.
On the National Policy Statement (NPS) – we are starting the Parliamentary Scrutiny process. This will run along the following lines:
A high level summary of NPS consultation responses has just been sent to the Select Committee Clerk.
The Select committee will then be looking to publish their Terms of Reference for the enquiry.
A call for written evidence will take place shortly after.
Then witnesses will appear in the oral evidence sessions as part of 4 panels over 2 evidence sessions. Each session will consist of 2 panels of 60 mins each. When we know the dates we will alert you accordingly.
The Select Committee will publish their report in early September.
Other items to be published on the BEIS website in the near future include two reports reviewing the GDF regional workshop activity that took place earlier this year.
NB: The Select Committee have now announced their inquiry and called for written evidence.
“Our politicians are so weak that they are unable to get across the message that a depot is much safer than the risks to which the entire population is currently exposed. So they prefer to pretend that the problem no longer exists.” That is the view of Italy’s national newspaper Corriere Della Sera
The newspaper is critical of the delays in resolving Italy’s radioactive waste problems. The state-owned company, Sogin, tasked with decommissioning Italy’s nuclear fleet after the 1987 referendum to end nuclear power in Italy has now announced their work will not be completed until until 2036 (originally was scheduled for 2014). The rising costs (from an initial €4.5bn to a projected €7.25bn) are being paid for by Italian consumers in their electricity bills. It is claimed that the bulk of that money has been spent on Sogin’s staff and operating costs maintaining and securing multiple sites, rather than on the actual radioactive waste disposal programme. No site has yet been identified for a permanent disposal facility, largely because of local opposition to any potential sites which have been identified.
In addition to the rising costs for Italian consumers, the newspaper is also concerned about a potential environmental disaster if the waste is not stored and disposed of safely. It references comments from then Italian atomic energy organisation (ENEA) commissioner and Nobel Prize winner Carlo Rubbia that, following a flood at a nuclear site in 2000, that Italy had been “on the verge of a catastrophe of planetary proportions”.
Noting that the site of any radioactive waste disposal facility will require the consent of the local community, the newspaper calls for Italian politicians to press ahead with finding such a site.
The role of local authorities, and the relationship with a Community Partnership, are central to the GDF siting process. The issues at stake were brought under the spotlight this week with the publication of a report and a day-long conference co-produced by the Local Government Association (LGA) and National Association of Local Councils (NALC).
The report is a ‘must-read’ for anyone involved or interested in the GDF siting process. As BEIS and the nuclear sector have wrestled with the issues, the community and local government sectors have been busy finding solutions. But neither side has yet worked closely with the other. That must be remedied.
More importantly, Ministers are inclined to introduce a local authority ‘veto’ over the GDF siting process, but this report makes clear such a power should not be needed nor would it be helpful.
From a GDF siting perspective, the LGA/NALC Report makes some very pertinent points, eg:
The similarity in language and sentiment between this report and the Working With Communities consultation document is striking. And while nobody would suggest the world of local governance is perfect, this activity to improve how communities and local government work better together does provide a framework for the GDF siting process to work through, rather than attempt to reinvent.
But it is just as important for the civil society and local government sectors to understand how the GDF siting process may provide the funding and impetus to deliver many of their ambitions and objectives. GDFWatch has previously cited these opportunities in our analysis of how the GDF siting process might help deliver the recommendations of the Localism Commission.
There have been examples this week of work underway in the civil society and trades union sectors which not only would the GDF siting process benefit from by embracing, but also indicate how the GDF siting process might help those sectors realise their ambitions, eg:
Civil Society Strategy
The Government’s consultation on civil society strategy closed this week. In a joint letter to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which ran the consultation, a group of charities called on the government to seize the opportunity to transform the government’s relationship with the sector, saying: “It is critical that the strategy focuses on how government can not only better enable the sector, but also provide a blueprint for long-lasting engagement. It should not be focused on what government thinks the sector should do; this is for the sector to determine with their beneficiaries. Instead, the strategy should set out how the government can support and enable civil society to achieve its potential.” The letter also called for both sides to “move beyond transactional relationships between the sector and the government” and instead work to “build understanding, trust and respect, to inform better decision-making and to ensure people can access the support they need”.
How far the Government will heed this advice is yet to be seen, but again there is a clear resonance between the aspirations and ambitions of the civil society sector and the principles underpinning the GDF siting process. This alignment has not yet been fully explored by either side.
Locality: How to establish a neighbourhood planning forum
Locality have published a toolkit to help communities develop their own neighbourhood development plan. These plans are at the core of community development and will be in the foundations of any socioeconomic plans developed in partnership between the GDF delivery body and a community considering hosting a GDF.
House of Lords set up Select Committee to consider the Rural Economy
The House of Lords has set up an ad hoc Select Committee to consider and report on the Rural Economy. The GDF is likely to be one of Europe’s (let alone Britain’s) largest infrastructure and construction projects. It will have a profound long-term impact on the host area’s economy. It will potentially have a greater impact if the host community is in a rural area.
CLES and new Community Wealth Building Unit
The Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) is the UK’s leading, independent think and do tank realising progressive economics for people and place. This week it was announced that they would be advising a new Community Wealth Building Unit that has been established bringing together councillors, unions, think tanks, and independent experts to stimulate sustainable economic community development. Given the GDF’s potential long-term impact on local and regional economies, there is much to share and learn from each other.
ETUC Report on Climate Change Transition
The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) this week produced a report highlighting the role Trades Unions can play in helping communities transition their economies. Although the report is focused on the socioeconomic impact of changes required to mitigate climate change, the issues are directly relevant to the GDF siting process in how Trades Unions can help as communities transform their economy and society in a “just” way that more equitably manages the process of change.
Interim Report of the Raynsford Review of Planning in England
Ex-Housing Minister Nick Raynsford led a review commissioned by the Town & Country Planning Association (TCPA). An interim report was published this week, and amongst its recommendations to government were to regulate development based on its potential for achieving ‘social, economic and cultural wellbeing’ and to set a legal obligation to plan for the needs of future generations. Intergenerational equity and long-term community well-being development are at the core of the GDF siting process. The Raynsford Report is now seeking further public response to its recommendations, and the GDF delivery body may well have views on future planning legislation.
Half of Americans believe that it is better to have a single disposal site for radioactive waste than keep the waste on the surface at multiple sites around the country.
That is the finding of a YouGov poll published this week. The poll covered a number of major public policy issues (eg immigration, terrorism, N Korea, etc). But in a clear signal that radioactive waste disposal is currently a major political issue in the US, the poll also asked people about their attitudes to radioactive waste disposal. Unsurprisingly almost two-thirds of Americans would not want a GDF near where they live.
You can access more detail from the YouGov poll here, but the relevant section on geological disposal is set out below: