«IAEA-TECDOC-1553 Low and Intermediate Level Waste Repositories: Socioeconomic Aspects and Public Involvement Proceedings of a workshop held in ...»
The Academy of Sciences realized how delicate the situation was and the statement they eventually issued was quite equivocal. They declared that the site was not unsuitable. They did not oppose the construction of the facility on technical grounds but added, however, "the scientific debate is of a minor importance comparing to the fundamental frustration of the local residents".
In the meantime the political development was accelerating. The declaration of the first free elections became the focus of the public attention. The media coverage was concentrated on the preparations for the elections. The President of the Mecseknádasd Council was already working on the establishment of an organization that would represent the common interests of small settlements.
In this situation the last communist government had to demonstrate its commitment to the continuity of reforms and democracy. They simply could not take the responsibility for forcing the acceptance of the repository upon the locals by administrative measures. The final negative decision of the Minister of Health and Social Affairs came at the culmination of the election campaign.
The president of the Mecseknádasd council, who led the protest against the planned repository, made it to the Parliament. He was elected to be the MP of the area. His slogan was: "Vote for the one who won at Ófalu because he can surely represent your interests as well." His expectations of activating the local residents did prove true. The participation rate on the first free elections was much higher in these villages than the national average. An opinion poll showed that the successful protest against the radioactive waste disposal facility aroused their interest in the democratic elections because they saw that there was a chance to change things for better.
3.2 New I/LLW siting project
The key feature of the new siting process was voluntary participation of communities. The public relations campaign was planned to be carried out on three levels such as general public, special groups (government, media, environmentalists, anti-nuclear activists), and the population of the areas found suitable for the construction of the disposal facility. Since real professionals were wanted to conduct the public relation activities an acknowledged PR company (Noguchi and Peters) was chosen to do the job. With the general public, the opinion is generally unfavourable about nuclear waste. Since the rejection of the proposed solution of the radioactive waste disposal was based on ignorance, the national media was utilized at the earliest possible stage to inform the public about the project. A national information programme was carried out to clear up the misconceptions about nuclear energy in general, and the disposal of radioactive waste in particular.
Being for, or at least not objected to, by the special groups can be of vital importance to the success of the project. It was a basic requirement to win the support of the politicians and other decision-makers through the consistent implementation of an open information policy.
If they are not fully aware of the significance of the matter, it can easily result in the failure of the project in a tense political atmosphere (such as at election time). The media always has a major influence on the development of public opinion. Regarding the local public relations activities, the fundamental aim of all actions, events and programmes was to establish a long term relationship between the local communities and the nuclear power plant and to continuously keep the local residents interested and confident in the development.
After the preliminary investigations, 32 geological objects were found suitable for further investigations concerning near surface disposal of L/ILW and 49 for geological disposal.
The next step to be taken was much less obvious. The new stage of the investigations consisted of a more precise study of the available data on a limited amount of potential geological objects. Once the exact location of the suitable geological objects was known, a decision had to be made on which of them to study in detail. There were three independent factors to be considered. The first is the geological characteristics, the second is the technical feasibility (site access and constructability) and the third is the public acceptance. The performance of each site could be scored in respect to these factors. The ideal situation would have been if the same site was found the best on the basis of each consideration, but this was not the case. Thus the factors had to be weighted and this could not be done on a scientific basis; a political decision was required.
The concept adopted by the National Project was that public acceptability had to prevail over the other two considerations. In-situ investigations were to be only started in case of voluntary acceptance by the communities concerned. A letter was sent to each community in the regions concerned to offer them the opportunity of participating in the project. The first letter was only introductory and informed the mayors about the Project, nothing had to be decided.
Great emphasis was put on explaining to them that the repository unit will only be built in a village where most of the residents agree to it.
Those, who formally expressed interest, were involved in the next phase of the Project.
Information sessions were held for learning more about the L/ILW disposal Project and the siting process. Through a consultative process, attempts were made to ensure that all interested and potentially affected people were fully informed and were given the opportunity to express their views and have their concerns addressed. In addition, the experts informed the people of the technology options available and the possible benefits. Later information sessions were conducted to describe the major elements of the process. The emphasis at these information sessions was on explaining the nature of the radioactive materials to be disposed of, the potential risks, and the role of the community in the process.
Perhaps the most important thing was to establish personal contacts between the management of the nuclear power plants and the local residents in order to diminish the apparent dimensional differences between the huge company and the small communities and to create and atmosphere of mutual confidence. As the process went ahead, the organizational, institutional and legal frameworks of the cooperation were developed as well.
Visits were planned at the nuclear power plant and the existing waste disposal facility to show the residents how the wastes are produced and how they are managed. The visit had a privileged place among public relations activities. It is certainly more effective than any talk or theoretical demonstration since it represents a physical experience, a direct contact with the reality of nuclear power. The visitors could also meet the men and women working in these facilities, and they could see that they were ordinary people, just like themselves. This experience might be able to turn the mystery that nuclear technology represents to most people into a rational mental image.
The visit was also a voluntary act that involved the visitor actively. Involvement and mental image were important components in getting people to psychologically accept an idea. The organization of cultural events that had nothing directly to do with the repository project also had positive results in so far as they contributed to the development of a feeling of togetherness of the local communities and improved the general feeling of the individuals. Of course, a gradual approach had to be taken in realizing these objectives, otherwise the appearance of the representatives of the nuclear industry in these communities could be seen by the local residents as an intrusion into their everyday life and might lead to unwanted reactions.
Finally, public approval was given to just a few dozen of the potential areas. Based on the first series of investigations, a granite formation in the village of Bátaapáti (in the Üveghuta area) in South-western Hungary was selected as a potential site for an underground repository. The geological site characterization started at this location in the second phase of the Project.
After its establishment in 1998, the Public Agency for Radioactive Waste Management (PURAM) has taken over the management of the siting project from Paks NPP. PURAM has committed to continue to perform and enhance the public relation activities.
4. ECONOMIC INCENTIVES In April 1997, six municipalities located in the immediate vicinity of the potential site founded a Social Oversight and Information Association, under the TETT acronym. Since its establishment, this Association regularly follows the investigations with close attention and provides information to the public. Also, the villages that were against the siting of the repository set up an Association with the non-concealed aim of preventing the project. A few years later, this opposition Association terminated its activities.
It must be recognized that when a community volunteers itself as a candidate site for the proposed facility, a neighbouring community may also be affected. This is more likely to occur if the proposed site for the facility is situated near a municipal boundary. From the Hungarian developer’s standpoint, compensation will only be provided to communities that might be affected according to the Environmental Impact Assessment. However, they would probably be willing to voluntarily extend that scientifically determined distance if required for public acceptance and the demand for compensation is reasonable.
It is essential, as pointed out by many authors, that the attitude that radioactive waste disposal is merely a technical problem to be solved by experts, must be abandoned. A repository has social and economic dimensions that will seriously affect the quality of life in the adjacent communities. It has the potential to stigmatize communities, making them less attractive to residents, businesses, visitors, etc.
These are of course what are referred to as ‘volunteer incentives’ and while these are sometimes called “bribes” by opponents of facility siting, it is generally thought to be essential that volunteer and potential-volunteer communities are as fully aware of the possibilities at as early stage as possible. Indeed, it is considered by many people that these could, and should, merely be opening offers, and that benefits should be adapted to suit the particular local situation. Of course financial incentives are not the answer in every situation.
Any agreements regarding incentives, whether financial or otherwise, must be entered into in good faith by all parties. This of course depends on the issue of mutual trust already discussed.
In 1996 the Hungarian Parliament enacted the law on atomic energy. It stipulates that in order to regularly provide information to the population of the communities in the vicinity of the facilities, the licensee of a nuclear power plant as well as that of a radioactive waste disposal facility shall promote the establishment of a public control and information association and can grant assistance to its activities. Consequently, the law established the legal basis of providing financial incentives for the supportive group of municipalities.
5. RECENT PR ACTIVITIES
The PURAM strategy has remained the same, as defined early in the siting project that is promotion of voluntary participation of the potential host communities, open dialogue and providing incentives. Implementation of the repository is for the sake of the whole country, based on sovereign parties’ cooperation, and shall mean a mutually advantageous, so-called win-win solution without compelling anybody to do anything.
Correct relations are kept with the Social Oversight and Information Association. Currently a majority of the local public around the candidate L/ILW site is supporting the project, and this support appears to be durable since we approached them some 10 years ago.
A good link has been built up with technical journalists working in the national media.
Consequently, PURAM’s news has gotten regular and exact publicity in the nation-wide press. Experts of PURAM are regarded as trustworthy and authentic sources of information.
It is important to be continuously present in the partner’s area. One must find the balance of not to interfering with their everyday life, but making them feel that the implementer is a
stable, reliable partner. To this end several activities have been carried out including:
exhibitions, open day, cultural and information programmes, professional visits, etc.
6. CONCLUSION In Hungary, the L/ILW siting efforts to date reflect a gradual realization of public acceptability problems and their importance.
The first attempt was based on a purely technical approach with complete ignorance of public acceptability. Although the research activities and scientific investigations carried out during the confirmation of the selected site were in accordance with the international practice of the time, the locals fiercely protested against the construction of the facility. The majority of the competent experts still maintain their opinion that the formerly planned repository site at Ófalu would have been safe if it had been constructed.
The second attempt would have been a concentrated effort to have the facility accepted by one of a limited number of communities without getting the problem into a national perspective.
The question of public acceptance was already regarded as a priority without the suitability criterion being compromised. Although there was a good chance of success, this process was suspended in 1992 to facilitate the thorough preparation of the National Project.
In 1993, the next round, called the National Project, was launched with an understanding that the solution of the radioactive waste disposal problem is in the national interest and is not looked upon as a nuclear power plant problem. However, there is still no guarantee that the Project will succeed this time.