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Peta Ashworth: vaguely supportive on Selection Process for Nuclear Dump Site

Professor Peta Ashworth School of Chemical Engineering University of Queensland Submission to Senate Re: Inquiry into the selection process for a national radioactive waste management facility in South Australia

As co-Chair of the Independent Advisory Panel (IAP) engaged by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science (DOIIS) to provide advice on technical and community engagement considerations for the establishment of a National Radioactive Waste Management Facility (NRWMF), I am pleased to provide this submission to the Senate Inquiry (6th February, 2018 – 14th August, 2018).

(The first part of this submission describes the work of the Independent Advisory Panel (IAP)

I have focused my response, based on each of the parts within the TOR which requests commentary about:

The appropriateness and thoroughness of the site selection process for a national radioactive waste management facility at Kimba and Hawker in South Australia, noting the Government has stated that it will not impose such a facility on an unwilling community…”.

I believe the open and transparent nature of the site selection process conducted by the Department was, and continues to be, appropriate and extremely thorough. This is clearly evidenced by all of the relevant information being made available and accessible on the Department’s website. It is also worth noting, the time and effort spent by departmental officers to engage with shortlisted communities from the outset of the process, was exemplary. This includes providing information and facilitating further information collection at the communities request. In many ways, their efforts represent a new way for governments to proactively engage with affected stakeholders and communities on such complex issues and are consistent with international best practice for community engagement.

A response to each of the specific Parts a – f referred to by the Senate Committee are detailed below:

a) the financial compensation offered to applicants for the acquisition of land under the Nominations of Land Guidelines;

The website and nomination process clearly states the successful property owner of the land selected for the NRWMF site would receive four times the value of the land (DOIIS, 2018). Given the significance of the NRWMF to Australia and our obligation under the ‘joint convention agreement’ with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) (DOIIS, 2016a. p.3), a payment that is above market value appears appropriate, fair and reasonable. The fact that 28 volunteer nominations were initially received by the Department provides additional evidence that this offer was judged as fair by those volunteering their land.

b) how the need for ‘broad community support’ has played and will continue to play a part in the process, including: i) the definition of ‘broad community support’, and

While many definitions of community exist, in the NRWMF process:

There was a consistent view that the community should be limited to those in close proximity to the nominated site, and those that are likely to be directly affected by the proposal. This included nearby townships which would provide an economic or social base for the facility and its workers.” DOIIS, 2016a. p.8

Hence, boundaries were drawn for each community based on consultation by the Department with a range of local stakeholders for each of the sites. At all times the Department has consulted, and continues to consult, with local host communities to ensure the definition of community remains appropriate and relevant. A prime example of this is during the two consultation periods for Kimba. In consultation with the local community the preferred definition of community changed from “‘within a 50km radius’ of both sites”

(DOIIS, 2017, p.8) to “the community boundary be defined as ‘the Local Government Area of the District Council of Kimba.’”(DOIIS, 2017, p.9). Such a reflexive process helps to build trust in the community as it allows them an opportunity to provide direct input into the process.

  1. how ‘broad community support’ has been or will be determined for each process advancement stage

The need for ‘broad community support’ has always been a high priority of the site selection process. Within the criteria developed as part of the site selection framework and the MCSA, the criterion “Is there evidence of potential community support or opposition for the facility?” was given the highest weighting of 14.5% by the IAP (GHD, 2015. p.37). This clearly reflects its importance. However, it was agreed that this criterion could not be assessed through the usual MCSA process. Instead, it needed to be done in conjunction with potential host communities and affected stakeholders once they had time to consider all of the information about the NRWMF process.

Additionally, it was agreed that a combination of qualitative (observations, written submissions, face to face meetings and other engagement activities) and quantitative (surveys, polls) data would be required to inform the final decision making of the site selection process. The IAP cautioned that any insights in relation to community sentiment emerging from surveys, should be treated with care and only used in conjunction with all of the other information gathered through the consultation process.

For the Phase One process, initially a 120 day consultation period was undertaken. This resulted in the Barndioota site at Wallerberdina Station near Hawker being selected. With the subsequent nomination of two additional proposed sites in the Kimba region, Napandee and Lyndhurst, a further 90 day consultation period was undertaken by the Department in the Kimba area. This culminated in a poll being conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) on behalf of the Kimba District Council. The results showed that 57.4% of those polled supported moving to provided all available qualitative and quantitative information to the Minister to assist his decision making process of whether ‘broad community support’ to move to Phase Two existed in both circumstances.

Continuing the consultative and inclusive approach to community engagement and monitoring the ongoing sentiment in both communities the Department has utilised a number of mechanisms. These include, but are not limited to: the establishment of the Barndioota Consultative Committee and the Kimba Consultative Committee in each respective region to allow community members to be independently represented and raise local concerns with the government; recruitment of two Community Liaison Officers who live and work locally within Hawker or Kimba; and access to a number of experts who can provide more information about the NRWMF and answer questions that arise throughout the ongoing consultation. Phase Two (DOIIS, 2017). It is my understanding, the Department

  1. how any need for Indigenous support has played and will continue to play a part in the process, including how Indigenous support has been or will be determined for each process advancement stage;Considerations for Indigenous support has played, and continues to play, an important part in the process. While Indigenous people are already considered as a key stakeholder group in the community definition, cultural heritage considerations were seen as additionally important. This was reflected in the MCSA under Community Well-being in the criterion “Is the site located in an area where development may impact culture and history?” (GHD, 2015, p. 37). This criterion was weighted by the IAP as a priority at 10% as part of the site selection process. It is my understanding that the Adnyamathanha people, who manage the Yappala Indigenous Protected Area neighbouring Barndioota, are working with the Department to assist in their undertaking of a cultural heritage assessment as a critical part of Phase Two.

Like other parts of the community, it is recognised that within the Adnyamathanha people, different individuals hold diverse views about the value of a NRWMF existing in their community. Some remain opposed while others are more positive, hoping for increased opportunities for training and employment for those living in their local community. The Department remains committed to ensuring the Indigenous people have a voice, with officers of the Department participating in local cultural training, to ensure their ongoing engagement and liaison with the local Indigenous people is at all times culturally sensitive. There is also an Indigenous representative included on the Barndioota Consultative Committee. By chance, the local Hawker Community Liaison Officer happens to be an Indigenous person. While this was not the reason for his recruitment into the position, it does provide another avenue for ensuring those from the Indigenous community feel comfortable when engaging with the NRWMF process. It also provides another conduit for Indigenous sentiment to be communicated to the Department.

  1. whether and/or how the Government’s ‘community benefit program’ payments affect broad community and Indigenous community sentiment;In relation to whether the “‘community benefit program’ payments affect broad community and Indigenous community sentiment” it is difficult to make an objective judgement in the absence of any independent research. A desktop review, by ter Mors, Terwel and Daamen in 2012, identified that little empirical work to examine the effectiveness of host community compensation in increasing community acceptance for a project, existed. However, their subsequent empirical research suggests that compensation can help build support for a project, but the likelihood of this doing so will be impacted by how closely, or adversely, the beliefs of the project proponents reflect the beliefs of the community members (Zaal, et al., 2014).The IAP held the view that a community benefit fund was appropriate, in recognition of the fact that, like many other proposed developments, the NRWMF process has provided some disruption to the daily lives of those living in the potential host communities. The fact that the ‘community benefit program’ is run as a competitive process, and all applications are considered by the Consultative Committee in each respective community, it helps to facilitate the fair distributed of the benefits package in an open and transparent process. Such considerations of distributive and procedural fairness are critical for building a social license to operate for any project and therefore seems appropriate in this circumstance (Moffat and Zhang, 2014).

e) whether wider (Eyre Peninsular or state-wide) community views should be taken into consideration and, if so, how this is occurring or should be occurring; and

The definition of community in response to Part b (i) is directly related to this Part e. At all stages it was felt that those living in close proximity to the proposed location are those most likely to be affected by the siting of the NRWMF and therefore their views should be prioritised in the site selection process. Similarly, those communities also stand to potentially benefit from the process if the project is to go ahead. Therefore, it is my view the highest priority should be to continue to consult with locally affected stakeholder groups. While it is unlikely the wider (Eyre Peninsular or state-wide) community views would be considered as part of the site selection process, these communities are being kept informed as all information about the process is made available on the website. However they and every other Australian need to be informed of our obligations to the IAEA to ensure we can continue to utilise ANSTO for the production of nuclear medicine and further research.

f) any other related matters.

Finally, as a social scientist who, has been investigating public attitudes towards a range of energy generation technologies that are also not without controversy, it is important to reflect on the effectiveness of the site selection process of the NRWMF to date. In my experience, whenever a new technology with perceived high risks is presented to a community, there will be a mixed response in the local community (see for example: CSG:Gallois et al., 2016; CCS; Ashworth et al., 2015; Wind: Hall, Ashworth & Devine-Wright, 2012). Some community members will staunchly oppose, others will remain positive and even more are likely to sit on the fence and just wish for someone to make a decision. Regardless of such a divide, it is important to ensure a process for engaging in discussion can take place within a community without fear of reprisal.

This is particularly important in regional Australia where the changing nature of farming practices has seen many of the smaller farms being purchased and amalgamated into larger farms. This has meant that many local farming families who once resided in Australia’s small country towns have moved away. This, in turn, has put pressure on local businesses making it harder for them to be profitable based on a reduced demand for specific services. Therefore, the opportunity to host a NRWMF provides hope for some living in Hawker and Kimba to find an alternative revenue stream and keep their communities alive.

There is no doubt that bi-partisan support for the project will be critical to the success of finding a host site for the NRWMF and will also help communities move forward in their deliberations. Finding a suitable site has a long and fraught history in Australia that both political parties have tried to solve unsuccessfully for many years. I believe it is worth recognising that the voluntary process developed as part of the 2012 Act, and used for this process is unique. It provides an excellent example of Australia’s innovative approach to finding a solution to this complex issue. I believe the Department’s continued engagement with communities to ensure them a voice in the process should help the respective potential host communities to openly decide if they wish to continue along the proposed phases or not.

July 11, 2018 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, Federal nuclear waste dump

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