Publication Laka-library:
EURATOM Projects, radioactive waste management and public participation: What have we learnt so far? A synthesis of principles.

AuthorG.Ferraro, M.Martell, European Commission, Joint Research Centre

From the publication:

EURATOM Projects, radioactive waste management and public participation: 
What have we learnt so far? A synthesis of principles.
Gianluca Ferraro and Meritxell Martell

European Commission, Joint Research Centre

For decades, radioactive waste management (RWM) has been considered as a technical 
topic which could be dealt with exclusively by national authorities and scientific 
experts. The emphasis has mostly been on technical solutions that are capable of 
guaranteeing safety. The increasing local opposition experienced by national 
governments and Waste Management Organizations (WMOs) during the siting of RWM 
facilities has shown the salience of public involvement and local support. This 
has pushed for more public participation in decision-making.

RWM is a controversial topic because it manages a special type of waste 
(radioactive, indeed) that is characterized by potential risk and a long-term 
scale. For instance, the management of high-level waste (HLW) overpasses by far 
a real-life setting. Consequently, RWM is surrounded by a degree of scientific 
uncertainty. While scientific uncertainties may exist to some extent about the 
solution of the problem, strong disagreements characterize RWM on the basis of
 the personal values and beliefs which frame the definition of the problem. RW 
 is the product of a contested activity, i.e. the production of electricity 
 through the generation of nuclear power. Accepting the manageability of RW 
 implicitly would mean accepting the solvability of RW and, thus, turning 
 nuclear power generation into an industrial activity like any other (O'Connor 
 & van den Hove 2001). Scientific uncertainties and the polarized socio-political 
 context make RWM a "wicked" problem. Because of their complexity, wicked 
 problems can only be tackled through the involvement of all interested actors 
 (Bergmans et al. 2008). In RWM, thus, issue-framing and problem-solving cannot 
 be addressed from a mere techno-scientific perspective.
In the past, a lack of communication from the side of national RWM agencies 
towards the public, in general, and the targeted local communities, in 
particular, has determined the strong opposition of localities to national 
RWM plans and, more importantly, RWM facility siting. The evident policy 
failure has pushed many national governments to embrace a new, more 
participatory approach to policy-making, understood as the opening of RWM 
agencies and the related decision-making process to non-state actors. It is 
currently commonly acknowledged that public and local participation is 
pivotal for any RWM policy, programme and project, from laboratories to 
storage and disposal, for all types of RW (high-, medium- and low-level RW).
More in general, public participation is believed to benefit public 
policy-making because it brings ideas (and knowledge), trust (for the 
government) and (more) democracy into the policy process (OECD 2001, 2008). 
In the light of these considerations, it becomes important to understand how 
we can build and maintain across time a fruitful relationship between the 
public and the host community, on the one hand, and the RWM system around 
a given facility, on the other hand.