The sheer timescales involved in finding and agreeing a GDF site mean that those who initially lead a community into the process may not even be around when the final decision needs to be taken, and that those making the decision may not even have been born when the process originally started.
Thus, a GDF brings into stark focus wider intergenerational issues confronting societies everywhere — how to ensure those who will inherit the consequences of a decision are involved from the earliest point, and that those who will not be around to be impacted long-term do not close down options for future generations.
In the UK, the evidence from both the recent Referendum and General Election, indicates a stark generational divide, with those over-65 looking in a completely different direction from those under-25.
Typically, the most active members of a local community in ‘political’ terms are older people. The evidence from other siting processes suggests that unless there is careful effort to involve all parts of the community in GDF discussions (and particularly younger people), the views of one active group can obscure other opinions and distort decision-making.
There will always be people who oppose plans for a GDF in their community, regardless of age, socioeconomic status or political affiliation. There may be very good grounds for the opposition of the majority. GDFWatch simply wants to ensure the widest possible spectrum of opinion is canvassed and engaged within a community from the very start, to reduce the risk that debate is ‘closed down’ without an informed discussion.
Involving young people in local political debate is an issue much wider than geological disposal. However, if there was ever an issue at the local level in which young people should be involved, it is about geological disposal and evaluating the sort of community, environment and economy those young people want for the duration of their lives and the legacy they might leave their children and grandchildren.
GDFWatch visited Switzerland in August 2017, to canvass the thoughts on hosting a GDF of a group of people who had been through a community discussion process. Future generations and youth involvement was a key theme. The video (below) was compiled by young film-makers, who knew little-to-nothing about geological disposal before producing the video. The messages and mood of the film are very different from other films about geological disposal, perhaps reflecting the world view of a younger generation. This is particularly true of the comparison between public attitudes towards, and the the efforts being made to tackle, climate change compared with radioactive waste disposal.
GDFWatch is also involved in developing relationships and collaboration between communities in different countries. Geological disposal is a transnational issue. Young people are growing up in a much more interconnected world, working collaboratively with other young people in other countries on common issues. This is part of the energy GDFWatch seeks to embrace, so that the long term decisions which will have to be made on a GDF, reflect the wishes and aspirations of those who will inherit the consequences of those decisions.