Australian news, and some related international items

Lessons from international experiences in selecting a nuclear waste dump site

Selection process for a national radioactive waste management facility in South Australia, Submission 29 – Extract from Attachment 1 Anica Niepraschk 

International siting processes: Experiences and lessons


Although evidence of leaks and accidents at existing radioactive waste facilities were repeatedly emphasised during the 14 years of study and consultation of the EA, the review panel’s final report released in May 2015 supported the construction of the DGR at the shore of Lake Huron.60 This decision was based on the panel’s conclusion that no significant adverse environmental effects were expected. With the facility being expected to store radioactive waste for thousands of years, there is widespread concern that no one can effectively guarantee that no environmental harm will be caused. The release of the report was followed by a statement from the Saugeen Objiway Nation who do not approve of a radioactive waste facility at the site due to fears of contamination of the world’s largest fresh-water system. As a result, it could have negative impacts to the water supply in the Great Lakes Basin, a very highly populated area in both Canada and the USA. OPG has repeatedly committed to not proceeding with the project without the approval of the local First Nations. It now faces questions why the site is supposed to be the best possible for an endeavour with such unique and far-reaching risks and might have to justify why it did not examine other potential sites, which could have shown to be more suitable. Having pursued only one location because it was volunteered is now backfiring for OPG, which is facing wide public opposition to the DGR siting by 154 cities across Canada and a large number of civil society and environmental organisations.6

There is also growing concern and active opposition to the project in the United States. Most recently, a citizen’s group challenged the review panel’s recommendation in Federal Court, arguing that it failed Canada’s international obligations, violated environmental law and was biased.62

It is uncertain whether the necessary approvals will be given or how OPG will react to the growing local, national and international opposition to the project.

Lessons learnt from the process

∞ Just because a site is volunteered does not necessarily mean it has wider public support or is the most geologically suitable site. This puts the siting process at increased risk of opposition and failure.

∞ The support of the local Indigenous people is essential to avoid imposing a radioactive waste management facility…..

Environmental and wider impact assessments form part of an informed decision making process and should be carried out by independent institutions and agencies with a high level of expertise, transparency, accountability and credibility

The UK

Criticism and open questions

As the siting process in the UK is ongoing it might well change over time. It is therefore necessary to monitor developments and analyse their impact upon the voluntarist character of the process. The most radical of such potential developments would be the government deciding to follow a completely different, non-voluntarist approach. This is a particular concern as it has specifically reserved its right to do so if voluntarism fails.74 Clearly it is hoped that such a drastic process reversal will not occur.

Some environmental organisations including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have also criticised the Government’s approach of paying community benefits for participating in the siting process, describing these as bribes and false incentives to motivate communities to even consider the option. Paying benefits is indeed a controversial issue in radioactive waste management siting processes with one side arguing as above and the other that a community taking on such a high risk as hosting radioactive waste should at least benefit from it in some way.

It is clear that poverty or the lack of viable economic alternatives is not an ethical or acceptable rationale for siting such facilities.

Further concerns have been expressed over the fact that local government does not have a right of veto in the process as well as the recent inclusion of a GDF and borehole drilling under the Planning Act 2008 in the list of Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects. This means that local planning can be by-passed by a predetermined decision making process that does not require community consent. These valid concerns over the threat of an undemocratic and imposed process have to be addressed if the UK process is to credibly respond to critics. In the White Paper and public comments, and also in recent and direct correspondence between the author and the responsible department, the government has clearly expressed that the outlined community engagement will work alongside the process of Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project Approval and that no decision will be taken without the clear consent of the community. This commitment is not as strong as legislation and therefore the possibility of the Government not living up to its promise still remains. Currently however there is reason to believe that a voluntarist approach really is favoured and that it will hopefully prevail.

Lessons learnt

A truly voluntarist approach requires:

∞ Early and extensive provision of geological, technical, socio-economic and other information to communities, including independent analysis

∞ Continuous engagement and debate throughout the siting process and beyond. This must be without artificial barriers and informed by the community…

∞ Time for communities to make an informed decision ie/ no imposed timeframe

∞ A continuous Right of Withdrawal

∞ Recognition – preferably in law – of the essential nature of community consent on the final siting decision……

International experience and lessons for Australia

The international case studies highlight some features that are essential to a successful voluntary siting process. This chapter aims to explore these characteristics and how they feature in the current Australian context and make recommendations for possible improvements of the Australian approach based on the international experience.

All over the world attempts to site radioactive waste management facilities, no matter of what level of radioactivity, based on purely technical and/or political considerations have been ineffective. Public and community opposition has  repeatedly halted such approaches. The current international consensus is that sitingmprocesses should be voluntary, with no imposition of any facility on a community and that socio-economic factors have to be considered equally and together with technical criteria….

Countries deal with these possibilities in different ways. Often these have been reactionary to a first failed attempt. In Australia these factors pose a risk for the NRWMP. So far, there has been no official statement on what alternatives might be pursued if the current nominations do not fulfil the necessary criteria to safely host the proposed national facility. Most critically, it has to be ensured that the government does not just settle for a site that only fulfils the minimum safety standards necessary, just because it might be the most or only accepted site available…..

Interestingly in all the cases presented siting has only been successful in communities with a nuclear history of some sort, such as hosting a nuclear reactor or inter- mediate storage facilities for radioactive waste. Even when other communities had shown initial interest in hosting a radioactive waste facility, they ended their engagement in the siting process quite early on. This shows that it is much more likely for a repository to be hosted by a community already familiar with the nuclear industry. … Co-hosting a repository with other nuclear activities can also reduce the risks in transporting radioactive waste materials to the facility as transport can be reduced or minimised.

Australia currently has a limited number of nuclear activities and stores its radioactive waste materials in a large number of intermediate storage places, most of which are very small. Only the site of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s nuclear reactor and larger radioactive waste storage facility at Lucas Heights would reflect this international experience.

…. It is pivotal that a non-restrictive timeframe is applied in siting processes, providing all stakeholders with sufficient time to make informed decisions. In the international case studies this has sometimes shown to require years. Given the longevity of radioactive waste this increased time investment early in the process is justified and necessary.

the right-to-veto the government’s or operator’s siting decision can also provide the community with the final say on hosting a facility or not. In general, a community should be able to leave the siting process at any time if wished. As the UK example shows, this was one of the main factors communities wanted when consulted on how to improve the siting process and has further proven to be a key feature of all the siting processes, making engagement really voluntary.

April 29, 2018 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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