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Influence of the Local Actors on the National Nuclear Waste Management Framework

 

Questions at stake

Local communities aim primarily to discuss and influence the impact of and conditions for the siting of a nuclear waste management facility on their land. Should their participation in nuclear waste management however be limited to discussing local matters ? As citizens of the nation, and equally as potential concerned individuals, don’t they have actual interest and legitimacy to take part in framing the decision-making process at the national level ?

What is the purpose of the local actors’ involvement at national level ? Is this to contribute the specification of site selection criteria ? The impact of the national policy framework at the local level depends also on the technical option, and on a series of elements contained in the policy, such as the nature and volume of waste, or waste ownership related issues. Their participation could contribute to specify the purpose of the site selection process : what types of facilities are requested and what does the policy target at ? Does this imply that local involved people should have a say on the principles and orientations of the national policy framework ? There is a thin line between waste management and energy policy. To what extent could local involved people be entitled to influence these policies ?

In order to influence the national policy framework the local communities would be involved at an early stage. How early is early enough ? Moreover, there is a number of practical difficulties to involve local actors in a dialogue at the national level. How to solicit communities identified as potential suitable sites after a first technical screening when they refuse to step into the process ? How to solicit the wide range of communities which are not technically suitable when these don’t necessarily feel interest or concern in the discussion ? This inclusive discussion of the national policy framework with local communities is expected to avoid conflicts when the process moves to selection and siting at particular places. Nonetheless this doesn’t prevent from the occurrence of diverging views between the local and national levels when a final decision is to be taken on a site. What are the respective possibilities for the local level to oppose a veto to a decision made by the national authorities or the Parliament, and for the national institutions to overrule a local veto ? Is a local veto a mere refuge for NIMBY attitudes ? Is a national predominance a threat to democracy ?

Lessons learned

Since nuclear waste management is a national issue looking for a local solution, cooperation is most requested between the different levels of governance. National and local players must work together to take a shared responsibility for their waste.

Because local people are directly affected by the decisions, they need to partake in the preparation of the national policy. Moreover local democracy operates most effectively where the national process is also operating effectively, i.e. within the context of a full and open debate at national level. The discussion of the national policy will frame the whole process both at local and national levels. If national debate doesn’t run in parallel with local democracy conflict is likely to occur between national and local levels which will form an impediment to action. The involvement of local actors should begin as early as a national policy is being discussed, even before the site selection process starts. To put it briefly : the later involvement is initiated the more difficult the decision-making process will be. The extent the local people can influence the national decision-making process should contribute to the consistency and practicability of the overall waste management policy.

A major issue is to get interest from local communities and a public which is not directly affected by the future decision-making process on nuclear waste management. Secondly the relevance of the findings from a national dialogue may be challenged once the process reaches actual siting phase. There needs to be flexibility when the community and the public directly concerned enter the process.

Ways forward

A National Framework : main chapters

The definition of a national framework for waste management is a pre-requisite to a fair site selection process. The national actors are expected to involve local people in the preparation of the national nuclear waste management framework. Conversely local actors should be ready to get involved at the national level.

The existence of a national framework for nuclear waste management is viewed as an essential basis for decision-making processes at the local level for several reasons. It should :

> establish a clear contract between all the partners and acknowledge the common concern with nuclear waste management

> offer opportunities for local communities to influence a decision which will have a direct impact on their social and economic life

> give guarantees to local communities that they will act in the framework of a national project, and provide guidelines for local democracy on nuclear waste management

> bring visibility to the decision-making process : it provides local communities with a road map and it gives guarantees to local communities that they will not be abandoned.

This national framework should work out :

> a set of principles and means throughout the different stages of policy implementation, notably regarding : procedures, ethics, protection of health and the environment, access right to information and participation of local actors

> a clear definition of the problem : what are the types of waste and volumes involved ? What is the background energy policy?

> a step wise process (including the site selection process)

> identification of accountable key players (e.g implementer, regulator, energy producer...) with a clear definition of roles and responsibilities in each relevant context (local and national) as regards policy regulation, implementation, funding and review

> Basic standards to be met for health and safety

> Concepts and technical options

Drawing up the national framework : the involvement of the concerned actors at local and national levels

The preparation of this framework is not the responsibility of the local communities but they should be involved. It is indeed important to start with more than one site on the list and to involve local actors from the beginning by raising the question nationally first. There is no definite answer to the difficult question identified above, regarding the early involvement of local actors who don’t feel enough or conversely feel too heavily concerned to take part in a dialogue. However several key principles are identified which will ensure the development of a fair dialogue process between the local communities and actors and the national constituency. Among others :

> the local communities need to be provided with channels to government and waste organisations to make the local involvement possible and effective.

> the discussion need to be carried out as a two-way communication : the purpose of dialogue is not to explain the national policy to potential involved communities, but to provide opportunities for actors of both levels to inform each other of their specific concerns.

> Local involvement at an early stage should not necessarily focus on potential hosting sites but rather provide opportunities for local representatives to include their perspectives and concerns in the preparation of a national policy.

At this stage, the involvement of local people will inform the national strategy about generic local concerns, without getting into details about specific concerns in given communities. The national strategy has to accommodate the interests of the different levels of society (e.g. MPs, local elected representatives, implementers, NGOs...) into a consistent project that ensures an accountable management of radioactive waste. Although not candidates for siting, some local communities have a particular interest to play the role of representative for the local level at the national level. This is for instance the case of communities storing nuclear waste, communities having experienced a former siting process, communities hosting industrial facilities, or communities formerly considered as potential sites but abandoned since then. All these communities have a capacity and a possible willingness to share their experience and to contribute a better appraisal of local concerns in future site selection processes and in the broader decision-making process



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