Making the final disposal of radioactive waste safe and transparent!

There is no alternative to the final disposal of radioactive waste in deep geological formations that is safe and ethical in the long term. Today there is consensus on this in research and broad sections of the public. Final disposal is necessary in order to keep existing radioactive waste safely away from the biosphere in the long term.

For a long time the significance of social and political aspects of final disposal has been underestimated. Examples from other countries – like the selection of a repository site for low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste at Wellenberg in Switzerland and Sellafield in the UK – show that repository projects can fail due to resistance from the regional population. To date there has been no repository for high-level radioactive waste in operation in the world.

The early involvement of the public and a transparent, stepwise approach are therefore key features of a consensus-orientated approach to the procedure – as recommended by, for example, the Forum on Stakeholder Confidence (FSC) of the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency.

Oeko-Institut’s research results show that the site selection phase in particular represents a critical decision point in terms of the success or failure of nuclear repository projects. It is advantageous for site exploration to be approached in an open and unbiased way and based on pre-defined safety requirements.

In order to ensure a targeted approach, questions of how the procedure should be designed, and the participation of the public in the considerations – such as how the search for nuclear repository sites in Germany is to be conducted in the future – have to be incorporated.

Oeko-Institut supports public participation in the site selection and realisation of final disposal facilities in Central and Eastern Europe

The question of how the public can be incorporated in site selection and the realisation of final disposal facilities is not only being asked in Germany. Within the scope of a European research project Oeko-Institut is involved in the implementation and monitoring of public participation processes in five Central and Eastern European countries.

Slovenia, Poland and Romania are searching for a repository site for low and intermediate level radioactive waste or are planning to implement a final disposal facility at a site that has already been identified. The Czech Republic and Slovakia are searching for a repository site for high-level radioactive waste. All five countries want to involve the public; however, the procedural and public participation approaches differ in terms of boundary conditions like the legal framework and previous experiences.

Within the scope of the Implementing Public Participation Approaches in Radioactive Waste Disposal (IPPA) project, Oeko-Institut is making its expertise available and providing expert support for the implementation of the participation processes. The goal is to achieve as high as possible standards in public participation and, in doing so, to take into account the country-specific situation. To this end the researchers are surveying different actor groups and deriving suggestions for optimising the participatory approaches.

Furthermore, the experiences made in Central and Eastern Europe are entered into a knowledge database for public participation processes, methods and instruments, which is being developed as part of the IPPA project. Germany can draw on these experiences in the search for a repository site.

The IPPA project is sponsored within the scope of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development. Oeko-Institut is working together with 16 partners from 12 European countries.

Further information: Public Participation Toolbox

Acceptance is necessary for final disposal

Oeko-Institut is involved in many projects on acceptance issues and public participation procedures in repository projects or other large-scale and complex non-nuclear projects. Based on this experience, researchers at Oeko-Institut were able to derive information on favourable and obstructive factors of influence. These include:

• the responsibility and roles of key actors,
• financial support, • implementation concepts and safety requirements,
• transparent procedures for site selection, and
• public relations activities.

These aspects are also significant in a new procedure for the search for repository sites in Germany. Since the end of 2011 the German Federal Ministry for the Environment and the German federal states have been negotiating a new German law on the search for potential repository sites. The existing draft laws take into consideration key insights from the search for potential repository sites in, for example, Switzerland, Finland and France. The site selection procedure should have various stages; several sites should be compared and every decision legimitated by law or a decision of the German federal parliament (Bundestag) or council (Bundesrat). Public participation should also be an important component. In Oeko-Institut’s view these measures must be defined more precisely in the draft law and concrete possibilities for public participation created on both national and regional levels.