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Community Voice: Mayors talk to IAEA

i Jan 12th 1 Comment 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.


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.


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.

Geological Disposal is Go?

i Oct 18th No Comments by

Just when you thought 2020 couldn’t get any weirder, geological disposal programmes around the globe are making significant steps forward, all at the same time.

More seems to have happened, in sociopolitical terms, in the past month than perhaps in the rest of this Century combined:

  • Swedish community voting to host their nation’s geological repository
  • Two Japanese communities choose to enter into initial discussions
  • Expectation in UK that at least one community will come forward
  • Germany publishes geological analysis identifying potential host areas
  • Canada completes acquisitions of land that could host a repository
  • Hungary Opposition leader wants public debate on radwaste disposal

Country situations are analysed in more detail below, but taken together, it seems clear that geological disposal will become a feature of media and political focus in countries around the world over the coming 18-24 months.

Public and political reaction to, and media comment on, the events in each country are remarkably similar, regardless of cultural differences: after initial ‘horror’, a dawning realisation that this is an issue that needs to be addressed, and a concern that decisions are made ‘justly’ and based on scientific evidence.

In the Covid-era, geological disposal seems to be being added to the list of ‘uncomfortable conversations’ our societies have to have, as we all look to ‘build back better’.


The overwhelming vote in favour by Osthammar’s council was expected. The council had previously decided to dispense with a community advisory referendum, because successive opinion polls had clearly indicated increasing support for the repository amongst local people.

The local vote was required before the Swedish national government could make a final determination. That decision may not come until 2021, as the Government are also considering a difference of opinion between nuclear regulators and the country’s Environmental Court about the corrosion of copper canisters in which radwaste will be packaged for disposal.

However, the odds seem likely that the Swedish community of Osthammar will follow their Finnish neighbours, and become the second community internationally to give informed ‘consent’ to hosting a geological repository.


Events in Japan may foreshadow what will happen in the UK. Two local mayors tentatively raised the prospect of their communities opening initial discussions about potentially hosting a repository, setting off a firestorm of political and media reaction — leading to one of the mayor’s own home being firebombed.

Each mayor held a series of public meetings with residents, and the majority decision within both communities was to open initial discussions. Similar to the UK, this stage is more a ‘desk-top’ exercise, exploring whether the local geology could even host a repository. The community will receive grants for being in the process, but are not obliged to remain within the process.

The two communities were initially characterised as ‘impoverished’ and ‘so desperate’ that they were entering the process because they had little choice. The regional Governor voiced his opposition to the plans. However, as residents confirmed they were content to proceed, media commentary noted the need for a geological repository, but wanting the selection process to be open and ‘fair’.

Given Japan’s nuclear ‘history’, this issue will remain a hot political and media topic. The wider sociopolitical question seems not to be whether a repository is required, but how the site is selected. There are still concerns amongst anti-nuclear activists that despite Government ‘commitments’, once inside the process communities will not be allowed to walk away.

A 77-year old man has admitted throwing a petrol bomb at the mayor’s house, in protest at the repository discussions. This clearly will be a passionate debate, but hopefully, regardless of outcome, one based increasingly on reason, reasonableness, and addressing local peoples’ concerns. Very early days in a very long and emotive process. But an important first step.


There was huge media and political reaction in Germany to the publication of geological data that ruled out almost half of Germany’s landmass as suitable to host a deep repository.

Areas ruled out included the site of Germany’s existing ‘temporary’ geological repository at Gorleben. However, areas still included in the analysis (notably Bavaria and Saxony) have already started voicing their objections.

Those objections do not seem based on any opposition to geological disposal in principle, but more to naked Nimbyism. The Green Party are notable in their support for this science-based approach to geological disposal.

The next stage involves more detailed geological analysis, during which time communities will be invited to discuss the issues before considering whether to become more formally involved. The Germans hope to marry a science-based analysis of potential sites with finding communities in those areas potentially willing to host a repository.

However, it seems clear in the short-term, with federal and local elections in the offing, that geological disposal will be much higher up on the political agenda than it has ever been before.


The acquisition of 1500 acres of farmland allows NWMO to complete detailed geological borehole assessment programmes in both of the two final areas under consideration to host a deep geological repository.

However, despite years of extensive community engagement and education programmes, it seems many people in the affected areas are only just awakening to the fact that a repository may be built where they live.

A newly-formed citizens coalition against the repository plans admitted that a leaflet they distributed to 50 thousand homes was not based on any science, but baulked at NWMO’s initial pushback that this was wilful fake news/misinformation. NWMO are saying that debate is important and to be encouraged, to properly address public concerns, based on science and fact, not fearmongering and notions.

Following the collapse earlier in the year elsewhere in Ontario of plans for a low-level radwaste repository (largely because local indigenous peoples had not felt properly engaged in the process) more sensitive management of community sentiment is to be expected. NWMO’s approach to engaging with multiple communities over the years has been viewed as a model for the rest of the world, but their ground-breaking clearly continues to throw up new challenges.

All of this against a backdrop of concern about Canada’s radwaste management regulatory regime, and continued angst from US states bordering the Great Lakes.


After public comments from two Cumbrian local authorities earlier in the summer, there is guarded expectation in the UK that one or more local communities will come forward for initial exploratory discussions, as in Japan.

However, the broader turbulent current sociopolitical environment in the UK may act as a brake on any such movement this calendar year.


The leader of Hungary’s main Opposition political party raises the stakes, by calling for a public debate on radioactive waste, saying it’s “one of the greatest challenges of the coming decades”, and demanding that any repository site have the consent of the local community.


Like so much else in the US at the moment, what’s going on in geological disposal is anyone’s guess. However, it seems likely, regardless of who’s President, that there will be a reassessment of siting policy, based on some form of ‘consent’.

There seems no dispute about the scientific case and environmental benefits of geological disposal, with even one of the US’ leading nuclear community groups making supportive proposals. The question, as always, is the sociopolitical issue of “how” to find a site.

Political pressure locally to remove radwaste from decommissioned nuclear facilities is growing. As is the cost. South Carolina recently won a US$650m lawsuit against the federal government. Other states may consider the same. The cost of doing nothing is becoming greater than the cost of doing something.

Alternative disposal solutions (such as deep boreholes) and interim stop-gapes are being investigated — but temporary underground holding facilities proposed in New Mexico and West Texas are facing increasing opposition, fuelled by concerns of the oil industry.

A very articulate analysis of the lack of political interest in permanently disposing of radioactive waste, when such interest is most required, has been set out this month in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist.

With a senior National Nuclear Security Administration official warning that a geological disposal facility will need to be open by 2050, when WIPP is due to close, time is running out to start planning for such an eventuality.

Rest of the World

A review of activity elsewhere in the world can be found in our most recent newsletter, and by reading through our international media update page.

International Media coverage of geological disposal

i Oct 18th 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 thousands of reports from over 100 countries, including: Abu Dhabi, Afghanistan, Algeria, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, French Polynesia, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Guam, Holland, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Ireland, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Ivory Coast, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kurdistan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Moldova, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, North Korea, Norway, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, UAE, UK, USA, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Wales, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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

This resource will be updated regularly, and we’ll alert everyone when new content is available.  There are now thousands of articles to review, 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 archived articles from 2020, please click on this link to our 2020 Media Archive.

For articles from 2019, please click on this link to our 2019 Media Archive.

For articles from 2018, please click on this link to our 2018 Media Archive.

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

RWM appoints new Director of Communications & Stakeholder Engagement

i May 12th No Comments by

RWM have announced that Dr Guy Esnouf will be their new Director of Communications & Stakeholder Engagement.

Until recently he was the Director for Communications & Corporate Responsibility at leading UK energy provider nPower, until that company’s acquisition by E.ON

Dr Esnouf has held senior communications posts in a number of industries, including power & utilities, information technology, pharmaceuticals, as well as national politics.  RWM Chief Executive Karen Wheeler says he brings significant experience of community consultation, media management, and public relations for major infrastructure projects.

This is a critical strategic appointment for RWM, as the organisation prepares to engage with communities.  The consent-based approach to finding a community willing to host a geological disposal facility presents unique communications and engagement challenges.  Although RWM remain hopeful of progressing discussions with interested communities this year, the Covid-19 crisis has significantly altered the external environment.  Not only in terms of being able to engage effectively with communities during a time of social distancing, but whether there is even an appetite within communities and local authorities to discuss radioactive waste disposal when there are more immediate and pressing social and economic problems to address.

A complex and contentious project has not been made any easier by Covid.  In a recent media interview Guy Esnouf said he once had the “second toughest comms job” in Britain — he might now have the toughest communications job in Britain when he starts work at RWM, expected on 1 June.

RWM’s current Interim Communications Director, Debbie Huston, will return to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority in June, after a short handover period.

The Boris Effect: GDF & the new Government

i Mar 3rd 1 Comment by

Boris Johnson’s election victory could have a profound effect on the GDF programme.  Not necessarily by any direct intervention, but certainly in terms of the changing sociopolitical environment, into which RWM is attempting to birth the community engagement phase of the site selection process.

Aside from the obvious new governmental focus on regional and major infrastructure investment, which should help support RWM’s efforts, Johnson’s administration appears sympathetic to the growing clamour for a post-Brexit ‘democratic settlement’ – devolving decision-making power, so that more decisions affecting local people can be made at a local level.

As GDFWatch has long and consistently argued, the GDF’s consent-based decision-making framework offers a unique, new and very practical approach to testing and developing community-based models of democratic participation.

A new report by Cambridge University’s Centre for the Future of Democracy found that three in five people (60.3%) were dissatisfied with the functioning of the British democratic system.   This supports previous evidence of general public discontent with how our democracy operates.

Since the General Election, there have been multiple calls from across the civil society sector for a focus on reform, eg:

Alongside these calls for democratic reform, there’s also an ever-growing evidence-base of how to engage and empower communities to help them tackle complex issues, eg:

This diverse evidence base, and the more general sociopolitical environment driving the demand for democratic change, go to the heart of how RWM might successfully engage with communities.  Much will depend on how far the Johnson government is actually willing to address demands for democratic reform.  The GDF siting process can provide a framework to test and trial new models for community-level decision-making.

As Dominic Cummings has noted, administrations should tackle difficult issues and decisions at the start of their 5-year electoral cycle – and what could be more contentious and difficult than a GDF?

2020: Year of The GDF ??

i Jan 12th 4 Comments by

Expectation is that 2020 will see the first visible ‘community’ steps in the revised GDF siting process. But what might those first steps look like, and what early hurdles will the siting process likely face?

And how will the newly-elected Government, with a mandate for change, and a majority that’s likely to provide 5 years of political ‘stability’, impact on RWM and the siting process?

Initial Community Engagement

There is some evidence to support RWM’s confidence that the first communities expressing initial interest in hosting a GDF will start coming forward during 2020. GDFWatch has been approached for advice by a number of local groups, but how many of these mature into more formal expressions of interest remains to be seen.

This is perhaps the first key feature to note for 2020 — Attrition. The siting process is designed to encourage multiple initial enquiries, but then over time filter down to just one preferred site/host community. It is therefore inevitable, particularly in the early stages, that more communities will leave the process than remain in it. So expect a degree of churn and turnover.

Reasons for such attrition will be myriad, but are likely to fall into three broad categories:

  • overwhelming initial opposition from wider local community
  • attitude and involvement of relevant Local Authority
  • lessons learned in trying to implement an otherwise new, unique and untested site selection process

The first category is hardly a surprise. No community anywhere in the world has initially welcomed the idea of a GDF with joyous open arms. The challenge for RWM in 2020 will be to create sustainable local platforms for dialogue and negotiation that can weather the initial reaction from some parts of the community — a reaction that may not reflect actual wider local opinion, but is sufficient to halt the siting process prematurely by making it politically toxic at local level.

At this “working group” stage, Local Authority involvement is not required. But their involvement in the next “community partnership” stage is. With local elections due, it is unlikely that LAs will meaningfully engage, even in informal discussions, about the siting process before then. So, the second point to note for 2020 — don’t expect much activity until AFTER May’s local elections.

How to interpret and implement the ‘Working With Communities’ policy is also likely to become a much wider and more visible public debate in 2020, and will influence the willingness of communities to enter into and/or remain within the siting process. The policy’s principles have been widely welcomed, but how they are applied will run into realpolitik on the ground, in communities. The lack of template or draft documentation has been raised by several groups and local authorities as a potential barrier to entry.

Community ‘Exit Strategy’

A key example of this policy/reality frontline, is the reassurance communities will need that they can withdraw from the siting process at any time, and that the final test of support will be vested in the community. Does any of us trust that a Government in 30 years time will uphold commitments given by a Government today? How this issue is formally resolved will be critical.

It is hard to see how communities would enter into long-term, detailed technical, safety, environmental and socioeconomic analyses without first nailing down their exit position, and then agreeing a set of ‘rules’ about how the siting process will operate and how their interests will be protected. Thus, another point to note for 2020 — expect much more public discussion about the ‘rules of the game’, before communities get into detailed technical GDF issues.

Political Environment

Advancing GDF policy has inevitably been hobbled by the political instability of the past five years. However, there is now a Government with a large majority, and an agenda for change which the GDF could help support on several policy fronts. RWM does not have a reputation for sophisticated political networking or cross-Whitehall policy management. But in 2020 there are opportunities to secure the political leadership and funding the programme requires, and to position the GDF programme as a much more broadly-based contributor to social, economic and environmental policy. For example:

  1. Chief No10 Aide Dominic Cummings has stated he wants to address contentious issues at the start of the 5-year term — what could be more contentious than the geological disposal of radioactive waste.
  2. The Government has come to power with a pledge to refocus infrastructure and economic investment towards the regions — what else is the GDF but a huge regional/rural infrastructure investment programme.
  3. The new administration has also indicated it wants to review how longer-term planning and local decision-making processes operate — the GDF siting process offers a practical framework for exploring new models for long-term infrastructure and socioeconomic planning, and for local democracy.

Whether it happens or not, 2020 offers an opportunity for the GDF programme to rise up the political agenda, and embed itself into the new Government’s wider policy objectives.


There is a clear expectation across RWM’s stakeholder universe that visible progress needs to be made in 2020. The evidence suggests that RWM will start meeting those expectations during 2020. But the evidence and environment also suggest that any progress will likely be small initial steps on a longer journey.

What does seem likely in 2020 is:

  • nothing substantive will happen until after May’s local elections
  • significant attrition, with fewer communities moving onto formal discussions than initially expressing an interest
  • more public discussion about the ‘rules’ of the siting process — how to turn the principles of the ‘Working With Communities’ policy into practical and effective mechanisms which build communities’ trust and confidence in the siting process and help the process proceed
  • an opportunity to position the GDF more centrally within the Government’s wider regional, economic, social and environmental change programmes

One thing is for sure — no visible, external activity by RWM in 2020 is not an option. 2020 will be the year things start getting real.

World Update in under 2 minutes ….

i Nov 17th No Comments by

A very busy start to 2020, with significant news and developments across the world. Access to the original media and other source materials is available on our international media coverage page:


The formal launch of the World Nuclear Waste Report in Brussels was used by anti-nuclear activists to demand an end to any nuclear new build, on the basis that there is no viable way of disposing of radioactive waste and therefore it is folly to create more.

The report was led by German Green Party members. They successfully led the campaign to end nuclear power in their own country, and are now participating in the increasingly public debate in Germany about where to site a deep geological repository — which even the German Green’s acknowledge as the ‘least worst’ environmental solution, and an ethical issue which cannot continue to be avoided by this generation.

Croatia‘s contentious planned low-level radwaste repository close to the Bosnian border, and their protracted discussions with Slovenia about how to jointly dispose of their shared radioactive wastes, continue to generate diplomatic waves and national media coverage.

United States

Donald Trump’s tweet did not deliver the political reaction he wanted, and left the issue of how to dispose of the US’ radioactive waste in an even deeper impasse. Communities and media across the country questioned what would now become of the waste they’re required to host locally in interim surface stores, while Congressional politicians optimistically express hope Trump’s intervention might pave the way to a new way forward. Ex-Chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Allison McFarlane provides the best summary of the malaise.

In an election year, nobody thinks anything will progress politically, but pressure is building to find a solution. Nobody seems to question geological disposal, the debate being around how to identify a site, with local ‘consent’.

Holtec International’s plans to build a temporary radioactive waste facility in New Mexico are seen as one way forward, but changing pre-election political dynamics and calculations in New Mexico are making that task more difficult. Holtec also under pressure wherever they have acquired a closed nuclear power plant — people want radioactive waste removed quickly and at lower-cost, but few seem to trust Holtec’s ability to deliver.


Following a favourable local community ballot, the federal government confirms Kimba in South Australia as the location for a low-level radioactive waste repository, and quickly introduces the required legislation.

However, there is continued opposition to the plans, primarily from those not living in the area. The local Barngarla aboriginal community continue their appeal against a federal court’s ruling that the ballot was lawful. The Green Party seek to have a formal Senate inquiry into the legitimacy of the site selection process, and there are questions about whether the enabling legislation gives too much authority to Ministers to expand the site without further Parliamentary approval. A battle may have been won in terms of local support for the repository, but the war is not yet over as far as environmental opponents are concerned.


A not dissimilar situation in Canada, where the NWMO progresses its work, having reduced the number of potential host communities to a final two. However, this is against the backdrop of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation’s rejection of Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) proposed repository for low-level radioactive waste, and continued cross-border pressure from US lawmakers concerned about the impact of such repositories on the Great Lakes.

As NWMO reduced the short-list to two communities, it also revealed that there were now enough landowners on-board that specific potential sites could start to be identified. This provoked a negative reaction from some residents, who were seemingly still unaware of NWMO’s work. Their protest prompted Bruce County council to defer a decision on a motion welcoming the progress in the site selection process.

OPG are going back to the drawing board re how to dispose of low-level radioactive waste, as community debate and media coverage rose about the pros and cons of hosting NWMO’s repository.

Having rejected a repository for radioactive waste, the Saugeen Nation became the first indigenous group to join a nuclear council, to promote use of (profitable) nuclear isotopes in medicine — seemingly unaware that there will be a need for a repository to dispose of such medical isotopes.


For start of 2020, rather than a quick 2-minute review of last year’s end, a very quick look ahead to major announcements and key progress expected in 2020 for geological disposal programmes around the world. Previous media coverage available on our international media coverage page:


Public debate likely to be amplified in both Germany and the United Kingdom, as each country progresses its search for a geological disposal site.

Sweden awaits a Government decision on whether to proceed with its geological repository, following the 2018 Environmental Court referral. Finland will continue constructing its repository, while France and Switzerland will continue investigations of their preferred proposed sites.

There may be further decisions on a site in the Czech Republic by the end of 2020, and the Belgian Government may eventually have to make a decision to follow expert recommendation and proceed with a repository, after years of political procrastination.

Slovenia and Croatia will continue discussing how to share a single repository, while Croatia continues to defend the construction of a low-level radioactive waste facility on the border with Bosnia.


Japan hosts the Olympics while struggling to cope with the radioactive and political fall-out from Fukushima. As the country enters the era of decommissioning, its plans for radioactive waste disposal are still evolving. No significant progress is anticipated during 2020.

After riots halted a previous site selection process, even China has acknowledged that it needs to engage communities more in discussing radioactive waste sites. How the country goes about that will be of interest to everyone.

Taiwan and South Korea will both continue to wrestle with the issue of how to dispose of radioactive waste, but no anticipated substantive activity during 2020.


The Runit Dome radioactive waste store in the Marshall Islands will continue to alarm the international community. The US Congress has demanded a rapid review of the situation. The Dome is a beacon to the risks of trying to store radioactive waste on the surface over time.

Kimba in South Australia has voted to host a low-level waste repository. The federal government is expected to make a final decision during 2020.


The National Waste Management Organisation (NWMO) has now reduced the shortlist of prospective sites for Canada’s geological repository to just two communities. Borehole investigations continue, and until they are concluded no final decision can be expected.

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) both have proposals for low-level radioactive waste repositories. These are confronting the same community issues as NWMO’s deep geological repository for higher-activity wastes. Votes by indigenous communities are planned in 2020, and the results of these will impact on whether the proposed facilities can proceed or not.


In a Presidential election year, with Nevada as a key swing state, there is little reason to assume there will be any progress on Yucca mountain or any other proposed solution to the disposal of radioactive waste.


2-Minute Summary from September 2019 ….


In addition to ongoing international media coverage of Finland’s repository and the French site at Bure:

  • European Union funds a new collaborative research programme on radioactive waste management.
  • Continued friction between Croatia and Bosnia over a planned low-level radioactive waste facility to be built near the border.
  • Russian court finds that there are insufficient anti-terrorist defences at a Murmansk radioactive waste facility. But Russia removes the last Soviet-era reactor that had been dumped in the Barents Sea.
  • Bulgarian court allows construction of a low-level radioactive waste facility, but Opposition leader continues to worry about the long-term costs of nuclear and building a deep geological repository.
  • France concludes its national public debate on radioactive waste management and geological disposal.
  • UK: a local Cumbrian council previously supportive of a GDF, but newly-elected councillors are less convinced.


Decommissioning and geological disposal have both jumped up the agenda in Japan. The need for new interim storage facilities at Fukushima has been recognised and agreed by the local prefecture. But generally, local communities worried that such “interim” stores will become permanent. Media urging Government to take geological disposal off the policy “back burner”, as regulators suggest nuclear sector should learn from US and Europe’s decommissioning and radioactive waste management experience.

The long-term challenges of radioactive waste management and disposal are cited in several Asian countries as key shaper of public anti-nuclear sentiment, eg in Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines and Bangladesh — in Taiwan, its an issue in the Presidential election debate.

There are also growing calls in Asian countries (eg Philippines, Sri Lanka, Malaysia) to stop shipments of hazardous waste from richer countries, and to impose similar regulation on this waste as is applied to radioactive waste.

United States

In the CNN ‘Climate Change’ debate between Democrat Presidential candidates, the issue of radioactive waste was a key concern amongst the anti-nuclear candidates. All favour a ‘consent-based’ approach, but each candidate means different things.

Unsurprisingly, continued congressional inertia is expected on Yucca Mountain and geological disposal until the 2020 elections. Nevada is a key ‘swing’ state, and is using that position to stymie any congressional action. Nobody’s happy with the status quo — least of all Californians, as San Onofre continues to generate lots of media coverage.

Even proposed temporary high-level radioactive waste stores, to remove waste from closed nuclear power plants pending a final repository, are now facing uphill struggles. The oil, gas & fracking industries fear such facilities could remove large areas of land available for their exploitation.

One of the company’s proposing such a temporary facility, Holtec International, has other problems, as its home state New Jersey freezes a tax cut pending investigations that Holtec has misled regulators. Holtec has plans to acquire closed nuclear power plants, to speed decommissioning and removal of radwaste, but there are continued protests about the sale of Oyster Creek and Pilgrim power plants to Holtec.

While no money for Yucca is expected before 2020 elections, the Senate has approved a $400m budget for WIPP — which anticipates a 50% increase in shipments by 2023.

Rest of the World

Continued international concerns about a leaking US interim surface store in the Marshall Islands, with radioactivity levels “higher than Chernobyl”.

Local community ballot in Australia on hosting a low-level radioactive waste facility is to proceed, but local indigenous peoples and environmentalists have not given up on their attempts to halt the process.

The Government Minister responsible says the difficulties in finding a radioactive waste facility means Australia should tackle that problem before committing further to nuclear.

Protests in Canada against proposed low-level waste repository by the Ottawa River.

On 60th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty, signatory nations re-commit to not disposing of radioactive waste on the continent.


2-Minute Summary from July 2019 ….


Most progress continues to be made in Europe. On top of the on-going formal public debates and consultations in France and Germany:

  • Finland announces a €500m investment in its under-construction repository
  • Holland starts a process of public engagement to develop a socially-acceptable and fair process for deciding how to dispose of its radioactive waste
  • UK publishes a National Policy Statement for geological disposal infrastructure, but the general political environment is muting progress in the site selection process launched at the start of the year
  • Switzerland continues investigatory borehole drilling
  • Czech Republic raises public awareness of geological disposal with multiple articles in the media looking at the Finnish example.

IAEA says Norway could do more to strengthen its radioactive waste management procedures, while Italy is censured by European Court of Justice for not complying with requirement to develop a radioactive waste management plan.

United States

Political stalemate reigns supreme in the US, as different tiers of government actively thwart one another, leaving those who live closest to and most affected by radioactive waste frustrated at the inaction.

Everyone agrees a permanent repository is required, but there’s no apparent majority for any of the options. The US Senate (which previously blocked Yucca funding) has now proposed funding in their draft 2020 budget. The US House of Representatives (which previously and overwhelmingly backed Yucca funding) has proposed a 2020 budget without any funding for Yucca. Nevada’s position as a ‘swing state’ now means Democrats reluctant to rock the boat there.

Several, all bipartisan, bills have been submitted in both Houses of Congress which side-step but don’t address Yucca. The bills variably are focused on either compensating communities where radioactive waste is being stored indefinitely in interim surface facilities, allowing long-term temporary storage facilities for waste designated for disposal, or creating a more consent-based site search process.

Political commentators observe this may become an electoral problem for the Democrats. Many elected representatives have nuclear facilities in their own constituencies, and local voters want it removed — so local voters may not be forgiving if their representative defies their wishes while playing a DC ‘game of stalemate’.

But as Washington fiddles, the real world moves on. A late-breaking scandal as the Department of Energy admits low-level radioactive waste may have been shipped to Nevada in error, for many years. Calls for Rick Perry’s resignation, and a political gift to Nevada’s politicians. The political fall-out may take several weeks to settle.

In New Mexico, newly-elected State officials, including the Governor and State Land Commissioner, now oppose Holtec International’s proposed temporary radioactive waste facility. The communities hosting the planned facility continue to vote in favour, but now feel they are being stymied by State-level actors.

A similar State versus Local confrontation in Washington state, where there is strong local support for the proposed federal reclassification of radioactive wastes, but opposition from the Governor. The proposed reclassification of wastes, which brings the US in line with international standards, would allow more low-level waste to be disposed of more quickly and more cheaply than sending for geological disposal. The proposal is overwhelmingly supported by local government bodies, communities and local media (ie those most affected and informed), but opposed by more remote agencies (ie those least affected on a daily basis).


Protests in India against a planned interim surface storage facility at the new nuclear power plant — with campaigners claiming geological disposal is safer than surface storage.

Japan secures support at G20 Summit for greater international co-operation on geological disposal. A conference is expected, but still no news on the when, where and what will be on the agenda.

President of the Marshall Islands conducts a series of interviews with international media outlets to express her concern after the UN Secretary General’s warning about a ‘leaking’ Cold war-era surface storage facility.

Middle East

Concerns over whether Israel is properly managing its radioactive waste, following a Report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. While Provinces in Iraq have refused to host new radioactive waste storage facilities.


Late-breaking news, as a federal court rules against legal bid by an aboriginal group to block a local ballot on whether Kimba community should host a low-level waste repository.


Borehole-drilling programme being expanded as geological investigations commence in the communities still in consideration to host a deep geological repository.

The issue of radioactive waste is a feature of a wider public debate about Canada’s potential use of small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs). Chiefs of the Anishinabek Nation vote against SMRs, concerned that Canada could become the world’s dumping ground for radioactive waste.


2-Minute Summary from May 2019 ….

A quick 2-minute read, summarising major announcements and key progress during May from geological disposal programmes around the world – details on our international media coverage page:


France, Germany and the UK are all conducting some form of public dialogue programme to engage with the wider public. There has been significant media coverage of the formal French national debate, but we’ve seen little media or English-language coverage from Germany (which suggests a lower-level public profile). The UK’s siting process has been slowed by the wider political instability and fall-out from Brexit, local government elections and the European elections – unsurprisingly, local politicians not rushing to put a “nuclear waste dump” on the public agenda when they’re fighting for their most basic political survival.

Slovakia and Czech Republic speak publicly about their attempts and preference to have a shared geological repository. Ukraine receives EU, US and NATO funding & support to help speed disposal and safe management of Soviet-era radioactive waste in the troubled region.

A significant milestone achieved in the development of geological disposal repositories, as Finland ‘plugs’ (ie seals off) an underground test/demonstration tunnel. While in Sweden, the latest poll shows 80% of local residents support the planned repository in Osthammar.

Switzerland starts its borehole drilling investigations. Austria seeks to stop any nuclear facilities being built close to its borders in neighbouring countries.

United States

Yucca Mountain still a political football, with no clear outcome in sight. Republican majority in Senate now want to progress funding for Yucca, having previously blocked funding to help protect a Republican Senator facing re-election in Nevada. The Democrats won that election, and now are blocking funding because Nevada has become a key swing-state in the Democratic Presidential candidate race and subsequent 2020 elections.

In the US House of Representatives, which in recent years has been overwhelmingly in favour of funding Yucca, the Democratic Party leadership are showing no enthusiasm for opening the Yucca Mountain can of worms, and have not proposed any funding. However, pressure growing to sort out the radioactive waste destined for disposal which remains at multiple surface locations across the country.

Government watchdog, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) produces several reports, effectively saying it is becoming more expensive to American taxpayers to do nothing than build a repository, and that a clear disposal strategy urgently required.

The local community hosting Yucca Mountain have written to Congress, urging they proceed with funding. Current best bet, is that US Congress may stop short of funding Yucca but will find a compromise around permitting the type of interim consolidated storage facilities being proposed in New Mexico and West Texas, with some form of review around a ‘consent-based’ approach.


Japan attempting to make geological disposal an issue of global debate, like climate change, by trying to place the matter on the agenda of the forthcoming G20 debate.

The future of nuclear power, and a new referendum on radioactive waste disposal, still a matter of contention and demonstration in Taiwan. TaiPower’s previous “deceit” over finding a site to store radioactive waste has undermined public trust in the organisation, allegedly making it easier for the company to become a political football between competing political parties.

Substantial and widespread global media interest in a South Pacific interim surface storage facility which is allegedly leaking radiation into the local environment.


The National Waste Management Organisation (NWMO) will shortly be starting initial investigative borehole drilling in southern Ontario, and have embarked on an information campaign to explain this next stage in the search for a suitable site for their deep geological repository for higher-activity waste.

The Saugeen Ojibway Nation are expected to hold a vote before the end of 2019 on whether they support Ontario Power Generation (OPG) plans for a repository for low-level radioactive waste.


The surprise re-election of the federal government, suggests that the Australians will press ahead with their plans for a low-level waste repository in South Australia. However, the issue is still before the courts, as some aboriginal groups complain they have not been properly consulted. An Andyamathanha woman has been appointed as the local Community Liaison Officer for the planned repository.


Rwanda trains staff in radioactive waste management and signs a nuclear co-operation agreement with Morocco. However, there continues to be a debate in Africa over waste from electronic equipment, including solar panels. There are few effective controls over exporting this waste from wealthier nations (unlike radioactive waste), and so Africa is becoming the dumping ground for products with highly-toxic wastes that do not decay and are not properly disposed of.

Nuclear Waste Report 2019 highlights complexity

i Nov 17th No Comments by

Co-ordinated by a Green Party ex-MEP, this newly-published report is a thoughtful contribution from an anti-nuclear perspective.

A majority of the authors of The World Nuclear Waste Report 2019: Focus Europe support geological disposal, but they understandably demand a much more open public debate, and continued scientific review.

What makes the Report interesting within the UK national context is that anti-nuclear campaigners here have previously linked the disposal of radwaste with the nuclear new build debate. But this detailed international report separates out the issues related to the management and disposal of radioactive waste, and identifies the significant ethical, environmental and economic matters that need to be addressed in their own right.

GDFWatch argues that whether we should build new nuclear power plants is a perfectly legitimate public debate, but that that debate should not distract us from addressing the issues of how we manage the waste we already have, and would continue to have, regardless of whether the UK unilaterally disarms its nuclear arsenal and/or shuts down its nuclear energy sector.

The World Nuclear Waste Report provides substantial international data on issues which GDFWatch has been raising in the UK, eg:

  • it will be many decades before repositories are operational, but there are significant environmental and cost issues with maintaining surface interim stores over the long term (with the current furore over the Runit facility in the Marshall Islands an exemplar of how easy it is for a society to ‘forget’ about an “interim” surface store built before climate change was a pressing global threat)
  • the need for a changed, collaborative, careful approach to assessing potential sites, which engages meaningfully with local communities and the wider public

In every country, the Report says, “addressing the task of safely managing and disposing of our radioactive waste demands from society, politicians, citizens, science and industry to be more open and patient, money, and willing to admit mistakes and failures and to rethink approaches and strategies.” In the UK, the new Working With Communities site search and selection process opens the door to tackling this in such a constructive way.

The UK’s new consent-based siting process may eventually fail, but there are commitments to changing the way in which government and nuclear agencies interact with communities, to providing adequate engagement funding to support communities’ involvement, and to a more structured approach to intergenerational planning. GDFWatch strongly believes there is not only the opportunity to resolve our radwaste problem, but also support local democratic and social infrastructure reforms that empower local people’s participation and role in decision-making.

The World Nuclear Waste Report is critical of the lack of standardised comparative international data — from how waste volumes are calculated, to how waste is classified. Also, that no country has fully-costed the decommissioning of its facilities, or the management and eventual disposal of its radioactive waste. The Report also claims there is too little research into the human health impacts of radiation.

However, the Report’s view that the radioactive waste management and disposal process “must always be focused on solutions” is to be welcomed. As the author notes: We can phase out nuclear power, but we cannot phase out the nuclear waste and its eternal risks.

What we can all agree upon, is the Report’s observation that “deep geological disposal is one of the most ambitious and most difficult tasks on earth”. Delightfully understated!

RWM’s future direction? Stakeholders’ perspectives.

i Sep 22nd No Comments by

Stakeholder speculation about the future direction of RWM was inevitable after the announcement of current MD Bruce McKirdy’s retirement.

What’s striking, as you listen to influencers across the stakeholder spectrum, is the degree of unanimity of opinion outside RWM on how the organisation might progress. Regardless of whether you speak to someone in the nuclear industry, local government, public agencies, trades unions or academia, there are common perspectives on the situation.

RWM has been undergoing an internal transformation, as well as investing in new skills and resources. Changes are not always visible, but it is an increasingly different organisation to when it was founded 5 years ago. Bruce McKirdy’s departure focuses attention on the skillset and experience his successor will need, in the next phase of development, to effectively marshall those changes and best deploy the new skills and resources in order to move the siting process forward.

Across the stakeholder map there appears to be a common view that prior nuclear experience is not necessary. The emphasis of opinion on the required skillset is towards finding someone experienced in “people” and “politics”. Whether that’s someone with previous public agency, infrastructure, local government or other leadership experience seems less important to stakeholders than having a record of understanding how to work with local government and communities, of building relationships, and of managing Whitehall and Westminster.

As the GDF project progresses to actual site investigations and beyond, everyone recognises that different resource priorities, skills and leadership will be required at different points of the journey. But at this stage in the GDF programme’s lifecycle it appears commonly accepted that it is primarily a social and political initiative, to build trust and open a discussion.

Whoever is appointed will clearly also need to demonstrate the capability to manage complex technical and regulatory issues, maintain RWM’s excellent technical reputation, ensure appropriate governance, account for the expenditure of taxpayers funds, and successfully argue the case for further public investment. If there is a stakeholder worry, it is that in a risk-averse nuclear sector culture, the chosen candidate will be a “safe pair of hands” administratively, but lack the dynamism to drive the siting process forward in conjunction with communities and local government.

There is no underestimation amongst stakeholders of the difficulty of this recruitment challenge, to find someone to make progress with one of the most challenging public policy projects imaginable. However, there is little that is new in these stakeholder perceptions of how RWM should evolve.

In the past five years, RWM has conducted two major, in-depth surveys of stakeholder opinion. The results of these surveys have yet to be published, but GDFWatch understands that both surveys reveal a universal high regard for RWM’s technical competence, acknowledgment that RWM was making changes in the right direction, but a residual concern that the organisation was not backing up its words with sufficient deeds in terms of being an effective community engager.

We may know by Christmas who is to lead RWM into the next stage of its development. Whoever that is will have one of the most challenging jobs in Britain. Their success will be defined not just by their organisational & management skills but on their ability to effect real change in the outside world — a world in which they need to secure other people’s ‘consent’.

TO CONSULT OR TO COLLABORATE: that is the community question  

i Jun 1st 3 Comments by

The sociopolitical challenges RWM faces were starkly revealed by the community sector’s response to a recent major Government funding announcement.  Their reaction suggests that the package of GDF-related investment and other funding, while being ‘necessary’, is not necessarily ‘sufficient’ to secure a community’s consent to start initial discussions or formally enter the siting process.

At the forefront of the sectors’ concerns is ‘collaboration’, and more active involvement in shaping policy and how it is implemented.  This aspiration, particularly in the context of a ‘consent-based’ siting process, is likely to become a key area of discussion as RWM seeks to build awareness, trust and confidence with communities.

The evidence for this analysis can be found in the community/civil society sector reaction to the Government’s recent £1.6 billion ‘Stronger Towns Fund’ announcement.  Instead of welcoming the extra cash, across the board there was frustration and concern that once again there had been no consultation with those affected, that this was another top-down solution, and was throwing good money at bad means of delivering real benefits to communities.  Those expressing this opinion included:

Their reaction suggests that RWM cannot simply throw money at communities – instead communities and their representatives are more likely to seek much greater collaboration and involvement in creating and implementing the GDF siting process.

And acquiescing to these demands (which it will be difficult to resist in a consent-based process) might actually lead to more robust, sustainable and trusted community partnership frameworks.

There is a wealth of experience in the sector in managing citizen and community participation in decision-making and long-term planning, and much work has already been done by the sector in reforming the relationship between communities and local government.  This experience and expertise is core to the fundamentals of the community partnerships envisioned by the Working With Communities policy.

Communities may have no expertise in radioactive waste management, but RWM has zero experience of building local democratic institutions.  This sounds like an environment ripe for co-operation and collaboration.

GDFWatch has flagged this issue on previous occasions.  Whether that be the similarities between the GDF siting policy and Localism Commission recommendations, or the range of research and publications by the civil society sector around empowering communities and citizens.  There is also a wider public political debate about the state of our democracy and making decision-making more relevant to ordinary people.

Initial political, public and media reaction to RWM’s current Site Evaluation consultation underlines the difficulties faced in building trust with communities.  Aside from expected NIMBYism, there is also appears to be a widespread , underlying lack of belief that the GDF siting process is actually “community-centric”.

The whole ‘consent-based’ approach is novel and new to the United Kingdom.  But people have little trust in such government pledges.  A more collaborative approach to determining how a community partnership might operate, decisions are made, and the right of withdrawal is protected, is likely to be critical to building community trust and confidence in the siting process.  Radioactive waste is a difficult enough ‘sell’ but is complicated by an honestly-proposed but cynically-regarded community-based decision-making process.

Nobody would necessarily choose to host a GDF, but like every other country we need to find somewhere to safely and responsibly dispose of our radioactive waste.  Thus, the process by which we go about finding a willing community and suitable geological site becomes critical.  The siting process needs to be transparently fair, balancing the rights and needs of the community and the developer.  Involving the civil society sector and drawing on their experience and expertise in developing the consent-based community partnership approach, is likely to be a key and productive step towards building community trust in the GDF siting process.