Societal Issues in Radioactive Waste Management
Placing high-level radioactive waste (HLW) in a deep geological repository has been the solution accepted by the technical community for more than 40 years. However, there is only one such repository operating, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in the United States, and it is not for HLW. 1 In spite of strong support by the technical community, geological repositories have been opposed by large segments of the public in many countries:
The delays that have occurred are partly due to operational causes, but mainly reflect institutional reasons, in large part associated with insufficient public confidence. (NEA, 1999a, p. 32)
The committee concurs with this judgment by the authors of the recent report prepared by the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
This chapter describes how the delays in implementing the policy of using deep geological repositories for disposal of nuclear waste are, at least in part, traceable to concerns, attitudes, perceptions, and different views among the public. Lack of cooperative interaction with the public is a root cause. Although interested and affected citizens may lack technical expertise, they do have strong, legitimate views regarding what they want. The views and political power of the citizens determine policy in a democratic society. The major limiting factor to the progress to date of national programs has been lack of public support and confidence.
1 The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is certified to receive transuranic wastes, as noted in Chapter 1 and Chapter 4 . See especially Sidebar 4.1 .
Radioactive wastes have confronted industrial democracies with a confounding and perplexing societal challenge. Siting radioactive waste facilities, in particular, has emerged as a difficult undertaking, primarily because this is where general misgivings about safety and fairness crystallize into specific opposition. Underneath lie deep social issues concerning links between peaceful and military uses of nuclear energy, the transport of nuclear materials, accountability of nuclear institutions, obligations to future generations, fairness of decision processes, and a host of other questions. Compounding all of this has been the historic underestimate of the difficulty of securing societal acceptance of waste disposal facilities. Nuclear pioneer Alvin Weinberg is widely quoted as recognizing, “We nuclear people have made a Faustian bargain with society” (Weinberg, 1994, p. 176). The difficulty of societal acceptance has been confirmed by independent assessments in a number of countries (e.g., OTA, 1982; Office Parlementaire, 1990; CEAA, 1998).
As the following quotes suggest, waste management institutions today face important challenges:
There is a need to view waste management in a wider societal context. In particular, issues such as sustainability, equitable distribution of potential risks and economic reality, are likely to become increasingly prominent, in response to heightened international awareness. (NEA, 1999a, p. 6)
In recent years, waste management institutions have become acutely aware that technical expertise and technical confidence in the geologic disposal concept are insufficient, on their own, to justify to a wider audience geologic disposal as a waste management solution, or to see it through to a successful implementation. . . . Overall confidence must be developed in a much wider audience. . . . (NEA, 1999b, p. 21)
To face these challenges, the committee considers that systematic research into social issues is needed. Deeper understanding of past difficulties encountered in interacting with segments of the public outside the technical community must be sought. New ways of conceptualizing the management task and its social environment must be developed. Innovative practices, and perhaps institutional design, may be called for and, indeed, have been undertaken in many countries. This chapter reviews current knowledge and identifies areas in which knowledge gaps remain.
The chapter is structured to offer insight into why many programs today appear to face insufficient support and confidence on the part of the public. If program managers have not succeeded in developing sufficient societal confidence today, it reflects both past practices and the important fact that the underlying situation, as suggested above, is very complex. A number of issues are discussed in this chapter to describe
this situation. Some pathways forward are identified and are considered in detail in Chapter 8 .
THE ROOTS OF CONCERN
Many aspects of nuclear technology are associated with negative images, and these associations have a history dating back to the beginning of the twentieth century (Weart, 1988). Specific research has been conducted on social perceptions of industrial, natural, and everyday risks. Some trends have been identified (Slovic, 1992). “Nuclear power stands out in [survey] studies of risk perception as unknown, uncontrollable, and dreaded, with the perceived potential to produce immense numbers of fatalities, even in future generations” (Slovic et al., 1991b, p. 685; see also Slovic et al., 1979; Slovic, 1987). Nuclear waste tends to be perceived in a similarly negative way (Kunreuther et al., 1988; Slovic et al., 1991c). A Japanese-American comparative survey found that the fear of radioactive waste was as intense as the dread of a nuclear accident or even nuclear war (Hinman et al., 1993). Perceptions of radioactive waste in turn contribute to negative views of geological repositories through a process of “guilt by association” (Slovic et al., 1993, p. 78). To persons with particularly high concern, repositories represent a risk of involuntary exposure of populations to “catastrophic effects of siting” (Kraft and Clary, 1993, p. 107). Persons view not only deep geological repositories, but surface facilities as well, as being highly risky to neighboring residents (Charron et al., 1999).
In the 1980s and early 1990s the Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office funded much of the available in-depth U.S. research 2 on public attitudes toward high-level nuclear waste and the social impacts of repositories. 3 The scope of perceived risk was demonstrated to be wide (Slovic et al., 1991a). Radioactive wastes, according to these studies, are seen by large segments of the public as a significant danger for health, safety, and the environment. As discussed below, perceptions of radioactive waste and its management are also tied up with questions of trust and credibility.
Review of studies conducted in different places and with different methods shows that citizens' reactions to nuclear waste and views of repository siting are remarkably similar, whatever their place of residence or walk of life (Rosa et al., 1993, p. 317). Results from surveys of
2 One of the researchers, Roger Kasperson, is now a member of the Board on Radioactive Waste Management and a member of this committee. The final summary report is State of Nevada Socioeconomic Studies of Yucca Mountain 1986–1992 (Chalmers et al., 1993).
3 The U.S. 1987 Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act designated Yucca Mountain, Nevada, as the sole site to be characterized for the first U.S. deep geological respository for spent nuclear fuel and high-level defense waste.
Nevada residents do not differ substantially from surveys of people who live elsewhere in the United States or in other countries. Although people interviewed in surveys seldom spontaneously mention nuclear waste as one of their major personal worries (unemployment typically holds that place), representative samples of national or international populations systematically rank radioactive waste as high on the list of risks for themselves or society (Slovic et al., 2000; Sjöberg et al., 2000). Such interviewees also feel that it is very important that their national or local government reduce this risk (Sjöberg et al., 2000).
The recent report Europeans and Radioactive Waste (European Union, 1999) gives a typical portrait of perceptions. Sixteen thousand persons replied to this 1998 survey. Eight out of ten Europeans interviewed believe that all radioactive waste is very dangerous. Asked about the potential consequences of an underground repository if one were to be built near their home, nine out of ten Europeans polled were very or fairly worried about the transport of waste, impact on their health, impact on the local environment, and safety over the centuries.
Studies in both the United States and Canada find that underground repositories for HLW evoke words such as “dangerous, toxic, death, sickness, environmental damage” (Slovic et al., 1993; Hine and Summers, 1996). There is also concern among potential neighbors of a radioactive waste facility about an indirect, or stigma, effect, whereby fear of nuclear waste may create a very negative image of their community or region and lead to a significant drop in tourism or in consumption of products that come from the area (Office Parlementaire, 1990; Slovic et al., 1991c; Avolahti and Vira, 1999). Stigma effects with consequent large economic losses have occurred after suggestions of radioactive or chemical contamination. Examples include: shunning of residents and products of an entire province after localized release of radioactive cesium from discarded medical equipment in Goiânia, Brazil (Curado et al., 1991), boycott of a U.S. region's apple crop following news that the agricultural chemical Alar was a potential carcinogen (Friedman et al., 1996), and the refusal of France and other European countries to accept British beef after possible links between bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or “mad cow” disease) and human Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease were announced in the United Kingdom (Balter, 2000). These are examples of the “social amplification” of perceived risk (Kasperson et al., 1988), whereby interpretations of events are transmitted by opinion leaders and the media, resulting in measurable economic and social impacts that go far beyond those suggested by technical estimates of physical risks.
It is fair to note that negative economic consequences have not been recorded systematically in all areas neighboring existing nuclear sites (examples include continuing tourism near French fuel reprocessing and intermediate-level waste storage sites, and in England's Lake District
near the Sellafield nuclear complex, and the rapid tourism-spurred growth of Las Vegas, Nevada, near the former U.S. nuclear test site). However, evaluations or projections of economic impacts conducted by different parties can produce widely divergent conclusions (Barthe and Mays, in press).
Not only do many members of the public in many nations regard radioactive waste with concern, they do not believe that it is feasible today to manage it. Data collected from 56,000 Europeans from 1990 through 1995 (Eurobarometers 33, 35, 39, and 43) 4 showed that eight out of ten citizens polled believed the “problem of nuclear waste disposal has not yet been solved” and that disposal at sea or underground “cannot be done without contaminating the environment” (Reif and Melich, 1992, 1993, 1995; Reif and Marlier, 1997). Representative samples of the Swedish public and officials elected to local health and environment boards agreed that a “satisfactory solution” for the problem of nuclear waste does not exist at this time (Sjöberg, 1996). Three quarters of Europeans polled today agree, “The fact that no country has yet decided to dispose of highly radioactive waste shows that there is no safe way of getting rid of this waste.” About half do think that “this proves that all the possibilities and all the risks are carefully studied before a decision is taken” (European Union, 1999, p. 50).
Such a public vision of HLW as unmanageable is fostered and maintained at least partly by the news media's highlighting controversy over radioactive waste. Eight out of ten Europeans polled agree that the lack of national decision on disposal “shows how difficult and politically unpopular it is to take decisions about the elimination of any toxic waste” (European Union, 1999, p. 50). Events such as citizen mobilization against waste transport to Gorleben in Germany attract attention and serve to amplify public concerns: “. . . in many cases, mass media create public interest in a conflict, and also [offer] ‘interpretative packages' that give a symbolic significance to the conflict” (Lidskog and Litmanen, 1997, p. 74). Media reports of even relatively peaceful exchanges between, for example, a mediator and members of the public in a local community are often accompanied by images or titles suggesting political risk or turmoil (Mays and Poumadère, 1996; Mays et al., 1998). The very fact that communities express high concern or are pitted in conflict with authorities—frequent
4 The traditional standard Eurobarometer (established in 1974): About 1000 representative face-to-face interviews per member country are carried out between two and five times per year with reports published twice yearly. The data (and tabulations) utilized from this material were made available by the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR). The data for the Eurobarometer were originally collected and prepared by Jacques-Rene Rabier, Helene Riffault, and Ronald Inglehart. Neither the collectors of these original data nor the consortium bear any responsibility for the analysis or interpretations presented here.
events in the history of facility siting—increase others' perceptions of physical risk (Sandman et al., 1993).
The negative perceptions and judgments expressed by the public in surveys are often diametrically opposed to nuclear technologists' responses to the same questionnaires (Drottz-Sjöberg, 1999; Flynn et al., 1993). Contemporary citizens tend to perceive nuclear energy and nuclear waste issues more pessimistically than does the nuclear technical community (Tanaka, 1996). The divergence in view cannot be attributed solely to a lack of public understanding or familiarity with radioactivity or with technical aspects of waste management. Providing information to the public is an ongoing need. In the European Union, about one-third of persons polled state they are “not at all well informed” about radioactive waste (European Union, 1999, p. 50). However, much experience has shown that applying a “knowledge fix” (providing technical information on the assumption that people will then automatically subscribe to a view-point), like applying a “technological fix” or a “judicial-legislative fix,” has not changed peoples' perceptions or reduced opposition to repository siting (Rosa et al., 1993). Public opposition to repositories is not limited to persons with a low level of understanding of technical issues (Kraft and Clary, 1993) nor to persons lacking information (Allen and Marston, 1993; Mays, 1993).
The research reported above indicates that HLW elicits widespread concern and opposition. Negative images of radioactive waste and lack of confidence in disposition proposals are widespread among members of the public. Although the prospect or presence of any kind of industrial activity near peoples' homes is often a source of concern, HLW management activities face these added handicaps. Change in such ingrained perceptions is not likely to be easy and likely will require a process of societal discussion over many years (Rosa et al., 1993).
A LEGACY OF DISTRUST
Public attitudes toward nuclear waste may derive in part from concerns over nuclear weapons. “Nuclear energy was conceived in secrecy, born in war, and first revealed to the world in horror. No matter how much proponents try to separate the peaceful from the weapons atom, the connection is firmly imbedded in the minds of the public” (Smith, 1988, p. 62). Nuclear institutions in many countries were founded under the “defense secrecy” model that reserved decision power to a small group of technological experts (Jasper, 1990). Siting attempts conducted under that model may have set the scene for public distrust of future waste management efforts (Kemp, 1992).
In the 1960s and 1970s, when national programs first began actively to face the waste problem, public opinion in regard to nuclear technology
had already begun a downturn (Rosa and Freudenburg, 1993). Both the public policy sector and private industry failed to anticipate the opposition that would be expressed when plans became known, leaving them poorly prepared to respond effectively (Albrecht et al., 1996).
Although the consensus on a mined geologic repository was arrived at for reasons that were eminently logical at the time, there had been no broadly based public engagement in the discourse . . . acceptance of the choice by the broader society was presumed. . . . (Dreyfus, 1999, p. 1)
Local siting efforts for both low- and high-level waste facilities also began in a climate of opposition to nuclear power. Concerned local segments of the public found ready allies and resources in the larger environmentalist and civil rights communities. Fear and concern linked to the emergence of “toxic communities” (Edelstein, 1988), marked by residential toxic exposure to environmental contaminants, sharpened distrust (Vyner, 1988; Albrecht et al., 1996).
Tactical opposition by groups opposed to nuclear power has been a factor in the slow progress toward arriving at societal agreement on acceptable approaches to radioactive waste management. Over the years, the arguments used by nuclear opponents have invoked operational safety of reactors, economics of nuclear electricity, and “the unsolved waste problem.” This last argument has proven particularly powerful, lending the strong impression that long-term safe waste management is the Achilles' heel of nuclear power. Accordingly, some opposition groups have made it a policy to refuse constructive participation in seeking solutions until or unless a prior commitment to close down nuclear power is made. In some countries, for example, Sweden and Switzerland (Swedish Stipulation Act 1977, Swiss Atomic Law 1979), there has been a legal requirement for waste projects to be developed as a prerequisite to continued reactor operations (SFS, 1977; Swiss Federal Council of Ministers, 1979). This helped assure that the industry devoted sufficient resources to the problem but also further polarized attitudes of pro- and anti-nuclear groups. In Sweden, the 1980 referendum in favor of phasing out nuclear power has apparently led to less rejection of the concept of geologic disposal. Recently, in Germany, a government-industry consensus on ceasing nuclear power has also led to opposition groups' cooperating in efforts to establish repositories (AkEnd, 1999).
The language of waste management has not been conducive to reversing public distrust:
To an outsider, the issue of what to do with high-level radioactive waste introduces a morass of obscure jargon and abstruse questions. An almost measureless bulk of documents, data, and technical reports describes the technology of nuclear waste management. (Jacob, 1990, p. 164)
In 1982, the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment concluded, “The greatest single obstacle that a successful waste management program must overcome is the severe erosion of public confidence in the Federal Government that past problems have created” (OTA, 1982, p. 10). The U.S. Secretary of Energy was sufficiently concerned about the pervasiveness of this problem to commission a special task force in 1991 “to recommend measures the Department might take to strengthen public trust and confidence in the civilian radioactive waste program” (SEAB, 1993, p. 1). The Task Force eventually found that “[b]y any conceivable indicator, the Department rouses little trust and confidence from any sector of the public” (SEAB, p. 36) and that the lack of trust and confidence is a “direct consequence of various publics' experience with the Department in the past. It is not an irrational action nor . . . a manifestation of the ‘not in my back yard' [NIMBY] syndrome” (SEAB, 1993, p. 37).
Complicating this legacy of distrust is the fact that trust in government and industry leadership is easily lost and hard to rebuild (Slovic, 1993). The record of siting attempts contains much to undermine local trust in decision makers and processes, even when these attempts were conducted in good faith. Trust-destroying events in the broader nuclear field continue to occur. After the Three Mile Island reactor accident in the United States in 1979, the Chernobyl reactor accident in the Ukraine in 1986 resulted not only in widespread contamination but also in loss in the credibility of the responsible authorities (Poumadère, 1991; Sjöberg et al., 2000). Much media attention is given to safety lapses of all kinds— both to grave accidents and to incidents ranked low on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) scale of severity. These events, as well as highly publicized militant attitudes against nuclear power, provide a context influencing public attitudes toward HLW and may trouble efforts to establish confidence in waste management institutions. Modifications to waste management regulations, standards, and guidelines, unless carefully prepared, justified, and explained, may also undo confidence. The impossibility of countering these trust-destroying messages by purely technical arguments is increasingly being acknowledged by interested parties (NEA, 1999b).
The lack of public trust in experts, industry, and government is not a phenomenon peculiar to radioactive waste disposal. Today, similar attitudes are perceptible in other controversial areas, such as genetic modification of foodstuffs. A general decline in deference to traditional authority (Laird, 1989) and in social trust is seen across nations (Pharr and Putnam, 2000; Putnam, 2000). Participants in the Irvine workshop session devoted to the question of public interactions pointed out that distrust in the waste domain is multilateral. Institutional representatives may distrust the public as much as members of the public distrust them. To the extent that the same individuals repeatedly find themselves seated
at the negotiation table and that communities and institutions recall repeated clashes and failures to achieve agreement, it is difficult to start afresh (Stoffle et al., 1991).
Social distrust is thus widespread in the nuclear waste domain, is deeply seated, reflects broader trends in society, and has a continuing history of events to maintain it. New initiatives will encounter and be handicapped by this legacy. Programs and institutional mechanisms predicated upon assumptions of trust, consensus, and cooperation generally have been unsuccessful (English, 1992). Ray Kemp, in his plenary talk at the Irvine workshop, suggested that procedures designed to function even in the absence of trust, rather than designed primarily to gain trust, will be more viable (Kemp, 1999). Experience from environmental dispute resolution indicates that persons may be willing to suspend distrust in exchange for increased decision power, greater information, more citizen control, and compensation for risk and burdens (Amy, 1987; see also Lake, 1987, 1994; O'Riordan et al., 1988). Thus, there may be new ways in which relationships with stakeholders can be made less reliant on traditionally understood trust, deference, and cooperation, while focusing on building confidence in organizations charged with waste management.
Institutions involved in waste management are making efforts to merit greater confidence and to create contexts in which mutual understanding can be developed. Recent examples include meetings of the NEA (NEA, 1999d, 2000b), Project Dialog run by Sweden's Nuclear Power Inspectorate (SKI), and a stakeholder forum in the United Kingdom. Such undertakings are increasingly taking into account lessons and concepts from the field of risk communication (NRC, 1989b). An NEA Forum on Stakeholder Confidence affords institutional partners an opportunity to exchange experiences and to analyze the impacts of new communication patterns on waste management organizations, including training needs (NEA, 2000b).
Even unsuccessful efforts in siting may ultimately help build confidence if they demonstrate that central authority will respect the wishes of local communities.
The feasibility studies in Storuman and Malå in the early and mid-nineties ended, from SKB's [Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company's] point of view, as what would seemingly be called a “failure”. This, since the company left both communities once the population voted against further involvement in the site characterization step. But, because SKB acted fully in accordance with its own policy and respected the outcome of the referendum . . . this whole experience became trust building. (Thegerström and Engström, 1999, p. 381)
Subsequent Swedish candidate communities have insisted upon empowerment, both financial and institutional (Ahagen et al., 1999), and
relationships with implementers have been conducted in a manner less vulnerable to distrust. The mayor of Oskarshamn, Sweden, the site for that country's central spent nuclear fuel (SNF) storage facility and a potential location for a geological repository, has expressed confidence in the public processes now being used by the implementing and regulatory authorities (Carlsson et al., 1999).
Many programs report the usefulness of public tours of underground research laboratories (URLs) and sites being characterized for possible use as repositories. In Sweden, 14,000 visitors came to underground laboratories in 1999 to inform themselves about the technologies involved and get a feeling of what an underground storage site represents. In the United States, about 45,000 visitors have taken advantage of the Department of Energy's (DOE's) offer for a visit to the Yucca Mountain site and discussion with project scientists about site characterization activities (Benson, 2001).
Such program shifts reflect an increased willingness to seek ways of avoiding or minimizing confrontation with communities and to act in a more open, accountable manner. Although welcome, such changes do not resolve all of the problems linked to the legacy of distrust. The conditions under which social trust in institutions may be recovered once lost, or may be enhanced, are complex and insufficiently understood at this time. Both experience and research indicate that such transformations do not happen quickly (Flynn et al., 1992; LaPorte, 1999). Social trust and its determinants are complex and multifaceted (Cvetkovich and Löfstedt, 1999). Transferring experience across countries and cultures may be difficult precisely because the relationships among trust, law, and political action can differ in subtle ways. In the meantime, many programs will have to shape new initiatives under conditions of considerable social distrust (Kasperson et al., 1992).
VALUE JUDGMENTS AND ETHICAL ISSUES
Decisions on managing nuclear waste (like other aspects of nuclear technology) traditionally have been framed as predominantly scientific and technical. It was assumed that technical experts could produce the support and analysis needed for a policy choice and that implementation of the resultant policy would also be a relatively straightforward technical task.
These assumptions, however, have been challenged in practice, in particular when siting efforts bring the policy decision to public attention. At that time, the legitimacy of both policy content and process comes under scrutiny. In the plenary session of the Irvine workshop (see Appendix B), Dan Dreyfus, a former director of the U.S. HLW program, pointed out,
The decision process set forth in law contemplates only the acceptance or rejection of the site based upon a notion of a measurable technical standard. There is no substantive course of action set forth for an alternative. In effect, the policy presumes that the social decision to rely upon a mined geologic repository has already been made. (Dreyfus, 1999, pp. 2–3)
This comes about in no small part because the policy process has failed to afford sufficient mechanisms for basic policy choices to be debated by concerned segments of the public.
Over time, it has become apparent that the decisions at hand are not purely scientific and technical, but involve value choices:
Social acceptance of a [nuclear waste management] strategy will ultimately depend upon comparisons among the degrees and kinds of risk to be taken and considerations of equity among current and future stakeholders. These are value judgments. They can be informed, but not decided, by science and technology. (Dreyfus, 1999, p. 4)
The recognition that “science alone can never be an adequate basis for a risk decision” has grown in many areas of societal management of technology (NRC, 1996a, p. 26). Value judgments are often implicit. There have been increasing demands, and increasing efforts, to make them more explicit—and transparent—in nuclear waste management (see, e.g., Andersson, 1999) and to incorporate differing value perspectives, as well.
It is accepted . . . that [the waste management] community alone cannot decide on strategies with ethical, economic and political dimensions. Rather, an informed societal judgment is necessary. (NEA, 1999b, p. 23)
Nuclear waste management decisions involve a wide spectrum of issues implying value judgments. These include tension among local and centralized decision levels, burdens that must be borne by more than one generation, and many types of scientific and societal uncertainty. Different stakeholders are concerned and are likely to bring not only different perspectives to the decision process and its outcomes, but also different abilities to participate (English, 1999). For example, the views of many citizens may not necessarily be represented by advocacy groups or elected officials. Because radioactive waste will be hazardous for many generations, another key question is how the interests of future generations should be represented in the societal decisions on managing HLW.
In practice, the generation of radioactive wastes occurs largely through nuclear power production, and this implies that the debate on equity should logically be extended to include the intergenerational impacts of using nuclear energy. This report does not tackle that contentious issue directly. However, the highly polarized views held today are familiar. The pro-nuclear faction argues that an acceptable waste solu-
tion benefits future societies by allowing increased use of nuclear power, and hence reduced use of fossil fuels. This conserves resources for the future and limits greenhouse gas emissions. The anti-nuclear faction maintains that continued use of nuclear power presents unacceptable safety and environmental hazards.
For the current generation, two types of equity questions apply to the management of radioactive waste:
1. Distributional equity. Do persons and communities have equal access to the benefits of the waste-generating activities? How are the myriad positive and negative impacts of these activities and disposal programs distributed over geographic regions, generations, and social groups?
2. Procedural equity. Are the institutional arrangements and procedures by which policies are formulated and implemented fair to different groups? How is the burden of risk allocated across society? Are stakeholders involved in setting the standard against which decisions will be judged to be fair, and indeed in making the decisions?
A geological repository, or any centralized waste storage facility, will create inequities due to the fact that different individuals and groups will experience widely varying mixes of benefits, costs, and risks. The inequities may be unexpectedly extensive. Kates and Braine (1983) show that gains and losses associated with a hazardous waste site linked to the nuclear waste reprocessing facility at West Valley, New York, affected more than a dozen locations stretching across the United States. Even with careful attention to compensation, gains and losses are never commensurate. The gains are often economic, whereas losses are less tangible. Siting discussions can potentially create or deepen divisions among groups, who have different views and will benefit unequally from the employment and development a facility may offer (Drottz-Sjöberg, 1999). The stress on potential host communities has lasting effects, whether or not a facility is sited (Brown et al., 1989; Albrecht et al., 1996). These may be considered collateral effects of radioactive waste management processes, and research on ways of reducing such effects should be conducted.
Not only distributional equity, but also procedural equity, is at stake in past tendencies to site facilities in communities where high unemployment rates and limited access to political power undermine community opposition and the ability of local peoples to challenge centralized decisions (Blowers and Leroy, 1994). Such equity problems have been the primary focus of an emergent environmental justice movement in the United States but have challenged programs in other countries as well.
An avowed siting criterion of “political feasibility” can produce a sense of unfairness (Blowers et al., 1991; Kemp, 1992). However, some members of the public also contest basing site decisions on purely technical criteria. Increasingly, programs are testing voluntary or “mixed-mode” blends of directed and voluntary siting approaches, with better public response (Richardson, 1998). Today it is increasingly common practice to improve decisions by systematic accounting for a wider scope of concerns and criteria through, for example, multi-attribute analyses, or Environmental Impact Assessment (see Chapter 8, especially Sidebar 8.2 ).
Although similar problems of equity are encountered in the siting of any potentially hazardous facility, problems in siting a radioactive waste facility may be particularly complex:
it will be the first facility, or among the first, of its kind;
the risks it poses are long-lived and uncertain or unknown;
radioactive wastes are highly feared by members of the public; and
the past record of failure to take local concerns into account has often done little to inspire local confidence in the management authorities.
In situations in which distributional equity is impossible to obtain, the fairness of decision procedures becomes of paramount concern to members of the public (Easterling and Kunreuther, 1995). Perceived fairness and legitimacy of procedures are needed to site any controversial waste facility (see discussion in Chapter 8 ). As an example, the 1982 United States Nuclear Waste Policy Act had more than 35 individual procedural requirements aimed at assuring fairness. These provided for balancing the needs of a majority of the U.S. population with the rights of those in host areas who would bear the burdens and for negotiation as the process by which decisions would be made. Procedural equity, including the evaluation of more than one site and the maintenance throughout the process of multiple options, was a key component of the nuclear waste program. This architecture was abrogated by the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1987 (Public Law 100-203), which legislated that only the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada would remain under investigation (Flynn et al., 1995). The 1987 act contributed to a view shared by some in Nevada that “the federal government has violated standards of procedural equity in forcing a repository on Nevada without the state's consent” (Easterling and Kunreuther, 1995, p. 146).
Conflicts have arisen in other countries, including France and the United Kingdom, where prospective host communities perceived that early siting approaches involved decisions that were lacking in transparency and unfair to local interests (Office Parlementaire, 1990; Kemp, 1992). In both cases, community opposition formed to challenge decisions on the grounds of both distributional and procedural equity. In
France, a moratorium was called on underground laboratory siting, and parliamentary hearings were held to investigate viewpoints on equity and ways of developing a more acceptable and transparent process. An outcome was the Waste Act of 1991. In the United Kingdom, original HLW repository candidate sites were abandoned, and public consultation was one tool used in a subsequent attempt to determine acceptable siting criteria for a deep repository for low- and intermediate-level waste.
Analysis of responses to that U.K. consultation showed in particular that challenges to siting decisions are inadequately explained by the widely cited notion of “NIMBY.” Respondents used a variety of justifications, considered many dimensions of the siting issue, and entertained alternative solutions (Kemp, 1990). Principally non-NIMBY objections were found also in the 1992–1993 public inquiry regarding Germany's Konrad mine. These dealt with justification of the repository, waste characteristics, long-term safety, and transport of the waste. A study in Canada concluded that NIMBY may miscast or obscure understanding of public attitudes to projects (Armour, 1991).
Future initiatives in radioactive waste management in Europe, North America, and Japan may well continue the trend seen in some countries toward placing equity issues in a central position along with scientific assessments. Designers of institutions and processes geared to winning social equity for communities affected by waste storage and transport are necessarily recognizing that multiple equity problems exist simultaneously. These may be exacerbated by past decisions, experience, and perceptions of past inequitable treatment for a host region. Continued attention should be given to how society may recognize and offer compensation to communities and regions that perform a service to their nation by accepting radioactive wastes.
Intergenerational equity concerns are raised by the fact that long-lived nuclear waste poses a risk over many generations. In addition, any major policy decision implies future actions of implementation. Intergenerational ethics were addressed early by the waste management community (NEA, 1984, 1994, 1995a) and have been debated extensively (e.g., MacLean and Brown, 1983; MacLean, 1986; KASAM, 1988, 1998; AECL, 1991; IAEA, 2000b; NAPA, 1997; NEA, 1999b; Stockholm Environment Institute, 1999). Typically, discussions of the need for geological repositories have framed an ethical imperative:
[T]hose who generate the wastes should take responsibility, and provide the resources, for management of these [spent fuel and radioactive waste] materials in a way which will not impose undue burdens on future generations. (NEA, 1995a, p. 13; see also NEA, 1994)
This ethical belief has persisted in the technical community, is consistent with “polluters pay” and sustainability principles, and appears to be shared by members of the public (see polling references below). The IAEA Safety Convention contains provisions, both administrative and legal, to assure this goal (IAEA, 1997a).
Some in the technical community and national program leaderships have interpreted this view to imply that nuclear waste repositories should be constructed and sealed as quickly as technically possible. This view is now being challenged by recognition that there are valid reasons for deferring repository closure or for continued use of surface storage. These include the following:
uncertainties in long-term safety,
desire by members of the public to be assured of safety via continued monitoring and retrievability,
possible future need to recover plutonium in SNF for its energy value as nuclear reactor fuel, and
prospect of new approaches (including social ones) to treat and manage the wastes.
[A]n equally valid ethical concern has been raised that this generation should not foreclose options to future generations, or hinder their ability to make decisions. (NEA, 1999b, p. 22; see also NAPA, 1997)
Although generally a majority of persons polled consider that it is the duty of our generation to resolve the problem of nuclear waste (on average 54 percent, with a country high of 70 percent in the Eurobarometer 50.0 survey), one-third of the citizens of the European Union surveyed in 1998 spontaneously affirmed that both this generation and future generations should be responsible for developing and implementing a solution.
A dichotomy thus arises between minimizing future burden and maximizing future choice. Different parties and groups give different weightings to the two ethical objectives, and these weightings result in a preference for different methods of waste management. Okrent (1999) argues that exceptionally high safety demands placed on radioactive waste management systems divert resources and attention from other pressing environmental issues. Other issues, over time, may become more prominent, too. If the worst fears about global warming turn out to be correct in the next 50 to 100 years, there will undoubtedly be less resistance to energy technologies that do not generate greenhouse gases. Reconciling the two ethical objectives presents a serious societal challenge.
DISCUSSION: TOWARD AN EQUITABLE SYNTHESIS
Each of the disposition alternatives discussed in this report, surface storage or a repository with closure deferred and lengthy retrievability, creates a requirement for active management and further resource expenditure by future generations. If future generations fail to provide adequate active management, then safety and security may be compromised. National cultures vary, and a debate exists as to the urgency of placing HLW deep underground. The committee views this issue as essentially a value judgment about how best to assure safety and security of these dangerous materials and equity for both current and future generations, and expects that different societies will make different decisions. The committee's concern is that whether the disposition path chosen is extended surface storage or underground placement, it must be implemented with adequate resources over time so as to provide reasonable assurance that the waste management goals of safety and security will be met.
It cannot be assumed that ethical positions worked out by experts will be representative of public views. Local and national consultation can identify the views on fairness of different sectors of the public, thereby offering guidance to HLW management institutions on the values and obligations to which they are held. It is to be expected, as well, that the distribution and allocation of risks and benefits will change over the time periods at issue here. Although achieving full agreement on the issues— including equitable distributions of risk and benefit—is not expected, a well-conceived deliberative process can gradually make evident to all parties those areas in which agreement exists or can be obtained. It can also identify areas of divergence.
In no society will a complete consensus [on HLW management solutions] ever be reached. Ultimately, governments are responsible for making decisions that meet with an appropriate level of public support and provide the framework in which the necessary actions can be taken. (NEA, 1999b, p. 23)
Rather than seeking universal acceptance by individuals—which is impossible to achieve in a pluralistic society—researchers in the field of technology assessment suggest that the acceptability of decisions at the societal level should be sought. Societal acceptability means that decisions are justified by agreed criteria and procedures for decision making. The results of democratic procedures thus may be legitimate even if they do not lead to complete acceptance (Grunwald, 2000).
In societal discussion of such difficult ethical challenges as those presented by radioactive waste management, considerable efforts over many years, attention-focusing national or local events, and repeated opportunities for individuals and groups to work out views must be organized. Consensus in this context may usefully be defined as “achievement of a
sufficient concurrence of view at various stages to legitimize a decision to proceed with a particular course of action” (RWMAC, 1999, paragraph 3.4). Consensus must be regarded as specific to a given context and apt to evolve (Bataille, 1993). Even
[C]onsensus on values, such as safety and protection of the environment, does not translate simply, directly, or straightforwardly into agreed-upon social policy—hence, again, the importance of deliberative and broadly participatory decision processes. (Short, 1999, p. 337)
The discussion in this chapter indicates a shift toward new thinking and approaches in HLW management. Not only is attention needed to “doing what has been decided,” but also to “deciding what to do.” 5 These decisions must involve a wider range of players than previously has been the case and require a careful integration of societal and scientific information. 6 At least two levels of decision are implied: (1) choosing between management alternatives and (2) choosing among implementation strategies. At any stage in deciding between the major alternatives—disposing of nuclear waste in a repository or storing the waste in an interim storage facility—society (i.e., the public and political authority) must compare two types of uncertainties and decide which is more acceptable, or whether a combination of the two is preferable. These are the uncertainty of the behavior of a repository in the long term, including the deleterious actions that can be brought about inadvertently by human intrusion, and the uncertainty of the capacity for society adequately to monitor and maintain an interim storage facility, given the fragility of human societies over the long term. These two uncertainties are of different natures; they must, however, be compared. Facing this challenge will require significant development of analytic and deliberative capacities in society.
As G. Jacob noted,
While vast resources have been expended on developing complex and sophisticated technologies, the equally sophisticated political processes and institutions required to develop a credible and legitimate strategy for nuclear waste management have not been developed. (Jacob, 1990, p. 164)
5 Thanks to Andrew Stirling, University of Sussex, for his observation of this distinction during the Irvine workshop.
6 Some national programs are already well along in their decision processes. Some have used versions of the open and stepwise process recommended in this report. Other national programs have not. Although it is not anticipated that they would begin their process anew to conform to the recommended deliberative societal decision processes, consideration should be given to adaptations that can help increase public involvement and build increased public confidence in the decision process.
The decision about waste disposal is not taken once and for all, nor will it be common to all places where it occurs. Choosing among management alternatives—deciding what to do—and constructing a management system that enjoys widespread public confidence and support will require the active involvement of technical, political, and citizen partners. Rather than being viewed as a handicap or a threat to current progress, the structural time lapse implied for learning, for institutional revamping, and for developing the capacity to choose among uncertainties can be viewed as a valuable opportunity to build both the scientific and the societal knowledge needed to successfully manage HLW and SNF.
Although public concerns on nuclear power and nuclear waste have been the subject of policy controversy in the United States and most other countries for more than two decades, few national programs have made a priority of social research into these topics. If one accepts that the delays in implementing current policy are at least in part the result of public perceptions and concerns, then it follows that better understanding of these perceptions and concerns, and an effort to bring policy and institutional processes into alignment with their implications, should become an important near-term goal. Only with a dedicated and sustained effort will social science research become a fully functioning support to the nuclear waste management process. Targets for this research should include not only public perceptions and concerns, but also the design of improved organizations, institutions, and deliberative decision processes. This would include study of incentives that social institutions can create for long-term responsibility in management of radioactive waste. 7 Concerted, durable, and adequately funded efforts will be necessary to define and perform needed studies and to monitor their integration with HLW policy process and policy implementation. While such efforts have not yet been organized, the following two recommendations may help focus the effort to be made:
1. A substantial, peer-reviewed social research effort should be mounted to provide constructive input for policy initiatives aimed at managing nuclear waste safely, securely, and equitably.
2. Existing review structures should integrate social science competence and counsel to provide continuing peer review and to monitor policy developments in light of research knowledge and evolving societal views on equity and ethical issues.
7 Incentives for responsible long-term management of common resources are the subject of another current NRC report, The Drama of the Commons (NRC, in press).