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IAEA Issues New Publication on Stakeholder Engagement in Radioactive Waste Disposal


Stakeholder engagement is key to the successful implementation of scientifically sound, safe and socially accepted radioactive waste disposal solutions. (Photo/NWMO).

Safe and effective solutions for disposing of radioactive waste are available today. But implementing them requires the understanding and support of stakeholders, including government officials (national, regional and local), industry, trade and environmental organizations, local communities and the general public.

Communication and Stakeholder Involvement in Radioactive Waste Disposal (Nuclear Energy Series No. NW-T-1.16), the IAEA’s latest publication addressing communications and outreach efforts on nuclear energy, describes how to interact with key stakeholders to successfully dispose of radioactive waste, including the high level and long lived radioactive waste arising from nuclear power plants.

“Building and sustaining stakeholder confidence is a complex issue,” said Hiroyuki Umeki, Managing Director of NUMO, Japan’s nuclear waste management organization. “The international experience compiled in this publication, its practical approaches, the iterative process of learning from each other and applying it to specific national cases, has very much inspired our stakeholder engagement programme in Japan."

Radioactive waste needs to be safely disposed of. High level waste, which represents only a minute fraction of all radioactive waste but has the potential to be hazardous for hundreds of thousands of years, needs to be disposed of in deep underground in geological repositories. The science underpinning such sites is well developed, with Finland set to begin operating the world’s first such facility in the coming years. But how can authorities and waste management organizations build the social trust needed to site and host a deep geological repository?

Part of the answer is stakeholder engagement. This new IAEA publication is based on years of cumulative experience from successful, and not so successful, engagement strategies. And while there can be no single engagement template as every country has its unique context, this publication provides an understanding of the factors that contribute to effective stakeholder engagement for a successful disposal programme.

Central to engagement is dialogue, a two-way conversation allowing interest groups to make their views and concerns known and heard, and allowing authorities and waste management organization to explain the factors on which any decision is based. This process results in better mutual understanding and contributes to building greater confidence and trust in the solutions to be implemented.

“The Swedish experience of building a final repository for spent nuclear fuel clearly shows that nothing can be achieved unless all stakeholders are met with respect, in a transparent manner and at their pace,” said Saida Engstroem of Swedish power company Vattenfall and a contributor to the publication. “In that way, stakeholders can comprehend the complexity of such projects, we can learn from one another, and solid trust can be built.”

This new publication details the principles, responsibilities and phases of a sound plan for interacting with the public and interest groups and shows the value of using proven methodologies. In particular, there are insights on differentiating between national, regional and local engagement policies, and for specialists to approach the process with openness and humility, while being honest about the degree of influence they have on decisions. Examples illustrating how community support issues can be addressed are provided, as are experiences with establishing decision milestones.

“A stakeholder engagement programme taking proper consideration of the specific community interests and concerns is an asset towards successfully implementing a disposal programme,” Stefan Mayer, an IAEA disposal expert and co-author of the publication. “And effectively managing radioactive waste is essential to the sustainable use of peaceful nuclear technologies.”

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