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UK Update: Hope over Experience

i Dec 7th No Comments by

In writing this ‘nothing happening here’ update, there’s always a hope “sod’s law” will come into play, and the Government will sneak out a GDF announcement right before Christmas.  My Santa list and wishful thinking aside, that’s now very unlikely.

The question therefore becomes — when?  When will the GDF policy move forward?

It’s not unreasonable to assume that nothing will now happen until the Brexit boil is lanced.  Whenever and however that happens.

The polymorphous political permutations tend to suggest that we’ll have at least one new Prime Minister during 2019.  Whether that’s by internal leadership change or general election, it will mean new Ministers and a new Government.  That Government will be focused on sorting out the complexities of leaving the EU, or of refocusing domestic political and policy priorities if we end up remaining in the EU.  In either scenario, it’s hard to see how geological disposal is going to be on the list of early policy initiatives for a brand shiny-new Government.  We can hope, but geological disposal policy is a repeated exercise of experience extinguishing hope.

Even on an optimistic timeline, we are probably looking at summer 2019 (at the very earliest) before Ministers are realistically going to be able to revisit geological disposal policy.  But given recent history of the UK’s GDF programme, and the generally glacial pace of geological disposal programmes around the globe, who would stake much money on that?

Faced with these barren realities, it will be interesting to see how Government officials respond to a potentially protracted delay.  In a politically unstable, cash-strapped, policy void the understandable default position is to hunker down, temporarily mothball the programme and keep it on life-support until happier days (and interested Ministers) arrive.

But could we use the delay period more productively?  Since we have no Ministerial decision, in due course a new Minister will need to be briefed to be brought up to speed with the policy, and for policy advice to be resubmitted to that new Minister.  Thus, technically speaking, until then we remain in a policy development and discussion phase.  This affords an opportunity to continue refining the policy and how it might be implemented, to ensure any new Minister has the very latest thinking and options (rather than those dusted down from the year before).

We’ve previously reported on disquiet in the civil society sector that they’re not more involved in shaping a partnership framework in which they will be the eventual partners.  There’s also widespread stakeholder concern that there has been too little general awareness-raising, as required by S7.4 of the 2014 White Paper.  Given that we are still in a world of policy principles rather than detail, perhaps this time can be used productively, through structured (if low-key) dialogue between BEIS and key stakeholders to help build relationships, refine the policy, and improve the environment into which the policy will eventually be launched.

A Government announcement in the coming days may happen, rendering all the analysis above moot.  We can hope so.  If they do, we will be in contact.  But it’s unlikely we’ll speak again before the Christmas Recess, so a happy holiday to everyone.  See you in 2019.

 

 

 

 

Community Voice: Mayors talk to IAEA

i Dec 7th No Comments by

As the nuclear industry wrestles with how it can communicate better with the wider public, a recent workshop in Vienna may one day be looked back upon as a seminal moment of change.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) invited mayors and municipal leaders from around the world to explain how the nuclear sector and its activities are viewed from a community perspective, and what might be done by governments and the nuclear sector to better address public concerns, for example when seeking a site for a geological repository – concerns that if not addressed can block a repository programme.

The issues raised at the Vienna workshop point to the need for further continued change in the way in which the nuclear sector engages with the wider public. Examples of some innovative and productive industry-community collaborations were presented at the workshop. Despite the progress of recent years, mayors still felt more could be done to more openly engage with communities – well-intentioned nuclear experts still too often try and resolve a problem just amongst themselves. Such an approach is akin to being lost with no roadmap, but not wanting to ask local people for directions.

There is no satnav for managing public sentiment. Local people are the best guides. Ask us, and we can help — that was the unified underlying key message from mayors and municipalities from around the world at the Vienna workshop. Municipalities are the first tier of democratic community representation, and have planning and other legal authorities which can thwart or assist a nuclear project. As such, they represent the most obvious initial partner for the nuclear sector to learn how to change interactions with the public.

Communication is not the same as Dialogue

“Please talk with us, not at us” was a core plea from mayors. Mayors with many years of experience engaging with the nuclear sector feel that the industry still sees the provision of technical and safety information as communication and engagement. Providing such information is a necessary but is not a sufficient condition for successful community engagement.

The industry enthusiastically imparts technical and safety information to communities, but most municipalities still feel that it rarely actually listens to the community and its concerns – most of which are not technical or scientific. Communication is often perceived by mayors as a ‘one-way’ discussion, and not a two-way dialogue.

Trust

Unsurprisingly, government, politicians and the nuclear sector are at the bottom end of the ‘trust hierarchy’ in every country. This is not just an emotional response. There is basis in fact for this trust deficit. There are no shortage of examples from around the world of historic secrecy, cover ups and past bad behaviours by the nuclear and governmental sectors which justifiably drive public distrust.

Building trust is based on deeds, not words. It is also a two-way process. The nuclear sector needs to learn to trust municipalities, and to support the growth of a community’s own ability to be a responsible and equal partner in the development of any nuclear project or programme.

Empowerment & Independence

Engaging with the nuclear sector can be overwhelming for municipalities. The balance of knowledge, authority and power is weighted against local communities. This sense of inequity is not the best foundation to build a constructive relationship.

Municipalities need the capacity and capability to defend and promote their community’s interests, able to interrogate technical data, and feel confident that they are engaging with the nuclear sector on a more equitable basis.

Failure to support the community’s own independent capability to engage could potentially cost a nuclear project more money and take more time – many municipalities have legal powers that can be used to block or slow down projects. Investing in a community, so that it can acquire skills and expertise that make it feel it can engage on a fair basis, may be the most cost-effective and rational approach.

Conclusion

The recent workshop is thought to be the largest event to which the IAEA has invited mayors and municipalities into its Vienna hub, seeking their insight into some of the nuclear industry’s most difficult issues. It’s rarity generated some local media and some social media coverage.

A bit like Starfleet Academy from Star Trek, the IAEA’s HQ is a place where people from all cultures and countries come together to ensure the greatest wisdom is brought to bear in resolving nuclear technology issues. It is an admirable example of how humankind can co-operate as one.

We hope the IAEA continues to proactively engage with municipal audiences, as they represent voices which are too often unheard, but can provide much wisdom in helping to resolve nuclear’s non-technological issues. As one mayor said in Vienna, “if you want to know what people want, just go and ask them” – time perhaps for the nuclear sector to follow municipalities’ sage advice.

CoRWM respond to public concerns: Reaffirm Geological Disposal

i Dec 7th No Comments by

It has been over 10 years, 4 Prime Ministers, and 5 Administrations since the original Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) recommended geological disposal.

In that period successive Governments of all Parties have recommitted to geological disposal.   With the recent publication of position papers updating their advice on a range of key issues, the latest CoRWM have also reaffirmed their expert opinion that geological disposal remains the best available way to dispose of higher-activity radioactive waste.

Four new papers have been issued in response to specific concerns raised in stakeholder submissions to the public consultations earlier this year on the GDF draft National Policy Statement (NPS) and the Working With Communities siting policy:

  1. Radioactive waste: support for disposal rather than indefinite storage

Several replies to the consultations advocated continued interim surface storage rather than disposal in a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF).  CoRWM say nothing has changed in the past decade to alter their opinion that interim surface storage is not a viable long-term solution.  However, they remain committed to closely monitoring international scientific developments in the event better alternative options become available.

2. Geological disposal of radioactive waste – safety requirements

Some stakeholders raised concerns that there were technical issues which could not yet be addressed but that could lead to safety failures in the future.  CoRWM recognises the legitimacy of these concerns, saying there are a considerable number of technical issues which must be satisfied before a GDF could be licensed.  These will be picked up by the regulators, who would not approve a GDF until these matters were resolved.  CoRWM will continue to ensure that such concerns are ‘mapped’ into the GDF safety assessment and safety case and successfully resolved.

3. Selecting a geological disposal facility (GDF) site based on the best geology

There continues to be a view amongst some stakeholders that we should be looking for the “best” geology.  CoRWM believes this would compromise the primacy of ‘community consent’, and that scientifically no such thing as ‘the best’ geology exists.  As is exampled around the world, there are different geological conditions in which a GDF can be safely built.

4. Transport considerations for radioactive materials

In the lengthiest of the papers, CoRWM directly addresses public concern about the transportation of radioactive waste.  The Committee agrees that transport should be minimised as far as possible, but there are other risks and issues which need to be taken into account, and they note that radioactive waste has been transported around the country on a regular basis for decades without incident.  CoRWM recognises public concern, and believes that these concerns need to be taken into account by the relevant public authorities.

The Cumbria Trust has questioned CoRWM’s “independence” because of the Committee’s assertion that there is no such thing as the ‘best geology’.  While we would agree the credibility of CoRWM’s independent expert opinion is vital, we’re not entirely sure why the Trust has chosen this issue to question the Committee’s integrity.  We look forward to CoRWM’s reply to the Cumbria Trust’s letter, which seems to misunderstand the National Geological Screening (NGS) exercise — the NGS is designed, as is requested by Cumbria Trust, to provide a level of geological information to help communities understand the potential viability of their local geology.  We may all be dancing on pedantry and pin-heads here, while still all dancing to the same basic tune.

 

Sweden: Copper Corrosion Update

i Nov 4th No Comments by

The company responsible for delivering Sweden’s deep geological repository, SKB, are planning to subject their research into copper corrosion to international peer review in the new year. SKB believe this is the most transparent and open way in which to address concerns about the contentious issue, which has held up final decision-making on the Swedish national repository for higher activity radioactive waste.

Earlier this year the Swedish Environmental Court largely approved SKB’s plans for a geological disposal facility in Osthammar. However, the Court had concerns about the speed at which copper canisters corrode and the potential consequential environmental impact. Conflicting scientific evidence was presented to the Court. The Court decided that this was something the Swedish Government needed to consider further before any approval was given to the planned radioactive waste disposal facility. The Swedish Government asked SKB to provide additional information by 31 March 2019.

It is understood that SKB plan to have completed their review by Christmas, and will then offer their findings for independent international peer review.

Local community campaign group OSS are concerned that SKB have not taken sufficient time to review all necessary scientific research. They remain concerned that SKB are focused on defending their original position, and believe that the international review process will simply highlight divided scientific opinion, rather than provide clarity.

Although SKB have confidence in their original research (backed by the nuclear regulator), they acknowledge the need to review everything to address the Court’s concerns. They also believe that in opening up the findings to international review will help build public confidence in the results.

Although the Swedish Government provided no timescale on when they might rule on whether and how to proceed with the repository, there seems to be a general feeling amongst all observers that it will be 2020 before any substantive progress is next likely to be made.

However, there has been some positive news for the planned repository siting process.  The Municipal Council of Oskarshamn (who lost out to Osthammar as being hosts for the planned repository) have voted in favour of the planned new encapsulation plant for spent fuel which will be built in their municipality.  This decision was not expected to be made quite so quickly, but does provide clarity, removing the threat of Oskarshamn exercising their veto when the Swedish Government eventually does formally seek their approval.

Geology for the Masses

i Nov 2nd No Comments by

Last week, the Geological Society held an event at which RWM presented an update on the GDF National Geological Screening exercise.  There was no ‘news’ as such, but for a non-geoscientist it was an interesting event to attend.

I am not going to pretend I understood everything that was discussed.  I have no geology-genes, and geoscience has a language and culture all of its own, but these were my simple mind’s takeaways from the event:

  • even a cynic would be impressed by the scale of ‘brain power’ being deployed — Britain’s geological community in both quantity and quality is freely offering its expertise and insight to ensure the geological elements of radioactive waste disposal are based on as informed a perspective as possible
  • remaining members of the international Independent Review Panel were impressed by how RWM and the British Geological Survey (BGS) have been implementing the guidance approved by the Panel
  • the more information collated about UK geology at depth, and particularly about groundwater, the more we realise what we don’t know
  • information about groundwater is sparse, so this will be a particular issue requiring detailed investigation when potential sites start to be identified
  • explaining groundwater to the public will be critical — there is an understandable and legitimate public concern about protecting water quality, but equally there are substantial public misunderstandings about where drinking and other water comes from; the public will need a high level of reassurance that wherever a GDF is sited, it will have no effect on local water supply
  • when RWM publishes the outcomes of the national geological screening exercise (due when the siting process is relaunched) the regional maps and available information will not be able to rule specific sites in or out, but will help advise the scale and duration of the detailed investigations required at a particular location
  • publication of the regional geological guides by RWM will be the start of a journey, not the end

Principles of Partnership: Local Authorities, Communities and the GDF

i Oct 28th No Comments by

As BEIS and RWM develop a consent-based community partnership framework within the context of radioactive waste management policy, there is a danger of a wheel being reinvented.   There are already multiple initiatives, funded and led by other Whitehall Departments, on enhancing local democracy and increasing community involvement in planning local, sustainable well-being and wealth creation.

We have previously looked at how the Working With Communities policy dovetails with the work of a wide range of local government and civil society organisations, eg:

More recently the New Local Government Network (NLGN) supported by Local Trust published a report based on research about the experiences of residents, volunteers, councillors and officers in Big Local areas.  The report provides new insight into how the relationship between the citizen and the state can be recalibrated in practice — shifting away from a traditional paternalistic role with the council as provider and community as recipient, to one which involves communities themselves playing a more active role.  Such analysis is at the heart of the GDF siting process and Working With Communities policy.

The research summarises five core principles in establishing effective partnerships with communities:

  1. Be inclusive and treat all parties with respect from the start.
  2. Find ways to reflect a changed relationship which clearly set out the roles that different parties play, mutual priorities and areas with some level of flexibility.
  3. Agree how different parties would like to communicate in the future and build this into the relationship from the start.
  4. Seek to develop empathy for each other’s position and be prepared to compromise on certain issues to achieve the best outcomes for the whole.
  5. Foster a shared sense of endeavour by agreeing small actions that can be delivered together to build trust, and then scale up successes incrementally.

These principles are at the very heart of the GDF Working With Communities policy.  As RWM interprets and implements policy and turns it into a practical and workable framework, it needs to engage with and embrace the skills, knowledge and ambitions of those involved in advancing local democracy, local wealth creation, and local well-being.

The problem for the community sector, is that many of these initiatives stall through lack of funding.  The Government have committed to funding the GDF community partnership programme.  This means the GDF programme could become a local democracy laboratory, funding activities from which learning could be applied to other social and policy contexts.

Finding a GDF site depends on suitable geology and a willing community.  There is a risk that by not fully embracing what is already happening on the ground in communities, with a siting process led by technical and procedural considerations rather than community needs and aspirations, that a golden opportunity is missed not only to resolve a major environmental problem (radioactive waste) but also to create a wider socioeconomic and democratic legacy.

 

 

 

 

 

A New CoRWM? Possibilities for the Expert Committee

i Oct 28th No Comments by

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.

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

i Oct 28th 3 Comments by

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

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

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

Public awareness

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

Delivery body/developer as ‘adversary’

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

Partnership proposals not developed in partnership with prospective partners

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

Engagement funding prior to formal engagement

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

 

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

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

International Media coverage of geological disposal

i Oct 20th No Comments by

Provided as an information, inspiration, and research resource for journalists and the wider public, our regularly updated archive of stories from around the world reflects how the media in different countries are reporting on geological disposal and long-term management of radioactive waste.

The archive is, sadly, not yet searchable.  However, it covers the planet, with reports from over 60 countries, including:  Australia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Holland, Hungary, India, Ireland, Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Korea, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Moldova, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, UAE, UK, USA, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Wales.

Currently we can only source English-language stories, but if anyone discovers a news story, especially if it’s not in English, please send to us at editorial@gdfwatch.org.uk

This resource will be updated regularly, and we’ll alert everyone when new content is available.  At time of publishing, there’s approaching 2000 articles, from local and online media through to internationally-regarded titles such as Time Magazine, Forbes, Nature, NY Times, The Economist, Washington Post, etc.

You can visit the current articles page here.

For articles from January-September 2018, please visit this archive.

For articles from 2017, please click on this link to our 2017 Media Archive.

 

RWM: New Board appointments

i Oct 4th No Comments by

The appointment of two new independent Non-Executive Directors (NEDs) has been announced by Radioactive Waste Management Limited (RWM), the delivery body for the UK’s geological disposal facility (GDF).

At first analysis the announcement looks like a positive step by RWM, bringing much-needed expertise to the organisation, and potentially increasing RWM’s independence from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

In appointing Karen Wheeler CBE and Professor David Prout, RWM’s recently-appointed Chairman Malcolm Morley appears to be bringing in the non-technical skills, experience and perspectives that RWM has been missing but does require as the organisation transforms from an introspective academic research body into a highly-visible infrastructure, economic development and community engagement operation.  These include practical experience of:

  • managing complex, large-scale, politically and publicly contentious infrastructure projects (eg David Prout was Director-General of HS2)
  • overseeing large-scale organisational transformation and cultural change (eg Karen Wheeler’s leadership of transformation and change at HM Courts, NHS England, post-Brexit HMRC)
  • working in local government and developing policy to empower local communities (eg David Prout’s history in local economic planning and of overseeing Localism policy)
  • engaging with HM Treasury on projects involving substantial sums of public money
  • political savviness, and experience of working at senior levels inside and across Whitehall

It is understood that the two appointments are additional to the current Board membership, rather than replacing Board members whose terms have come to an end.  The addition of two independent NEDs now means that with Malcolm Morley there are 5 independent NEDs, two NDA-appointed Board members, and 4 RWM senior Executives.  This potentially dilutes the NDA’s influence and is a step towards a) addressing concerns about conflicts of interest raised by the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) and others, and b) returning RWM’s independence from direct NDA control as envisaged when RWM was created in April 2014.

The appointments come at a time when RWM is preparing to relaunch the GDF siting process amid widespread stakeholder concern at its readiness and competence.  They seem to be an important step in the right direction.

The RWM Board membership is now:

Malcolm Morley (Chair, independent Non-Executive Director)
Claes Thegerström (independent Non-Executive Director)
Michael Bowman (independent Non-Executive Director)
David Prout (independent Non-Executive Director)
Karen Wheeler (independent Non-Executive Director)
Andrew van der Lem (NDA Head of Government Relations) (Non-Executive)
Melanie Brownridge (NDA Head of Technology) (Non-Executive)
Bruce McKirdy (Managing Director RWM) (Executive)
Ann McCall (Geological Disposal Facility Siting and Engagement Director RWM) (Executive)
Peter Lock (Health, Safety, Security, Environment and Quality Director RWM) (Executive)
John Corderoy (Programme Director RWM) (Executive)