Press release, 13 January 2000


Up to the present, plans for the storage of nuclear waste followed a pattern of: the government and the nuclear industry decided to store the nuclear waste somewhere and consequently the locations were announced. This led to much resistance. Therefore, there is an international attempt to find other ways to involve the public in storage plans. This will only succeed if the discussion is guided by an independent panel and if the use of nuclear energy is also on the agenda. These are some of the conclusions of the report "Discussions on Nuclear Waste; a Survey on Public Participation, Decision-Making and Discussions in Eight Countries", which was published by Herman Damveld (independent researcher and publicist) and Robert Jan van den Berg (Laka Foundation). It was made on request of the Dutch Commission for Radioactive Waste Disposal (CORA). The CORA studies the storage of nuclear waste either underground (salt domes and clay formations) or aboveground during f.i. 300 years. Within half a year, CORA will make a proposal for further developments.

Up to the present, we find the traditional decision-making method of "decided, announce and defend" in Belgium, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and the UK. An example of it is the plan for disposal in the salt dome in Gorleben, Germany. The salt dome was selected in 1977, the decison was consequently announced, and the decision was defended afterwards. From the very beginning, this gave rise to differences of opinion that carried over into the coalition agreement of the present government for a moratorium on research at Gorleben. The traditional policy did not result in public acceptance. A move towards other approaches can be observed in many countries.

Nuclear energy is an important source of nuclear waste. Therefore, it is obvious that the issue of nuclear energy will play a role in each discussion about the storage of nuclear waste. Environmental organisations in many countries state that ending nuclear energy, either immediately or within the foreseeable future, is a necessary condition for a discussion about how to handle the nuclear waste that was inevitably produced. A so-called Consensus Conference was organised in the UK, where the citizen's panel recommended that there be no increase in the nuclear energy capacity. In Germany, environmental minister Jürgen Trittin mentioned the end of nuclear energy as a condition for public acceptance for a solution of the nuclear waste problem. In Canada, nuclear energy also played a role in the nuclear waste discussion.

The discussion in Canada had been guided by an commission independent of the interest of the nuclear industry and environmental organisations. That gained enough trust that many groups wanted to participate. Canada was the only country which succeeded in organising a discussion with such dimensions. However, the government handed over to the nuclear industry the next phase of a new discussion. This directly led to protests from environmental organisations, because the independence would be lost in this way.

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