«IAEA-TECDOC-1553 Low and Intermediate Level Waste Repositories: Socioeconomic Aspects and Public Involvement Proceedings of a workshop held in ...»
Local partnership for developing an integrated project for the disposal of low level short lived waste — The Belgian experience E. Hooft, J-P. Boyazis ONDRAF-NIRAS, Brussels, Belgium A. Bergmans Department of Social and Political Sciences of the University of Antwerp, Belgium Abstract After a brief historical reminder of the several phases of the Belgian programme for the disposal of short lived low level waste since the creation of ONDRAF-NIRAS and the very bad results obtained in the 1990’s by using a pure technical and very naïve approach, the presentation will explain the main lines of the new methodology developed, as a consequence of the government decision of 16 January 1998 in ONDRAF-NIRAS to improve local acceptance for the disposal project. The way local partnerships were created with four nuclear municipalities under the form of a non-profit organization with a clear mission, the functioning, on a voluntary basis, of the different partnerships during four to six years and the concrete results obtained until now using this very innovative method will be addressed. The current situation of the Belgian programme for the disposal of short lived low level waste will be explained. Eventually, the conclusions of the presentation will include the lessons learned and a set of recommendations for Member States intending to launch similar programmes.
1.1 Twenty years of short lived low level waste management The radioactive waste is managed by ONDRAF/NIRAS, the Belgian Agency for radioactive waste and enriched fissile materials. Created in 1980, ONDRAF/NIRAS is entrusted with developing a coherent and safe management policy for all radioactive waste that exists on Belgian territory, including short lived low level waste (category A waste). By the end of 2004, Belgium's stock of conditioned category A waste was 12.624 m³ and ONDRAF/NIRAS estimates the total volume of waste that will be produced until 2060, i.e. the end of the dismantling activities, at 70 500 m³ of category A waste. This estimate is based on the complete dismantling of each of the seven Belgian nuclear reactors after their operating period of forty years. It also implies that the non-nuclear industry and the medical world will continue to use radioactive materials at the present rate.
1.2 Disposal of category a waste: the failure of the pure technical approach
ONDRAF/NIRAS started working on the long term management of short lived low level waste shortly after its creation. Practiced on a regular basis in Belgium until the early eighties, sea disposal of conditioned low level waste had indeed become very uncertain in 1984, when Belgium decided to adhere to the international moratorium of 1983 between the signatory countries of the London Convention on sea pollution.
This decision prompted ONDRAF/NIRAS to launch studies to look for another solution, which would be safe and technically acceptable, for the final disposal of this type of waste on Belgian territory. One of the agency’s first actions after sea disposal had been suspended, was the development and implementation of a methodology for waste processing and conditioning, to ensure the stabilization of short lived low level waste. At the same time, the agency began with the construction of interim storage buildings. All these activities were concentrated on the site of Belgoprocess, the industrial subsidiary of ONDRAF/NIRAS, located in Mol–Dessel. Once the short-term management of the waste had been ensured, ONDRAF/NIRAS was able to concentrate on the development of solutions for the long term management of this waste.
first study on the final disposal of short lived low level waste considered three ONDRAF/NIRAS’ options: disposal in old charcoal mines or quarries, shallow-land burial, and deep geological disposal. The corresponding final report, the NIROND 90–01 report, published in 1990, concluded that shallow-land burial was the most promising of the three proposed options in terms of technical feasibility, safety and cost. ONDRAF/NIRAS therefore decided, after approval by its regulatory authority, to focus its efforts on near surface disposal.
The studies carried out between 1990 and 1993 aimed to assess the technical feasibility of building a surface repository on various types of geological formations. The results were recorded in the NIROND 94–04 report, published in 1994. This report concluded the feasibility of disposing of at least 60 % of the short lived low level waste produced in Belgium at surface level, while strictly following the recommendations of the various relevant international organizations. It also identified 98 zones on Belgian territory as potentially suitable, according to the bibliographical survey carried out, for hosting a surface repository for short lived low level waste. The multidisciplinary scientific advisory committee set up by ONDRAF/NIRAS’ Board of Directors to examine the report issued a globally positive evaluation, but recommended extending the research to fields related to economics and human sciences.
Far from going unnoticed, the 1994 report was rejected unanimously by all the local councils on the list. To its surprise, ONDRAF/NIRAS had caused a general outcry. And yet, had it not been given the responsibility to develop and propose, through an objective and rational approach, a safe solution to the radioactive waste problem? Neither the political authorities nor ONDRAF/NIRAS had realized in due time what the implications were in the field of public consensus when it turned out to be necessary to look for a favourable geology outside the existing nuclear sites. As a result, the publication of the NIROND 94-04 report in April 1994 led to a public deadlock.
1.3 Autopsy of a failure
The working method applied in the past by ONDRAF/NIRAS aimed to select the future disposal site for short lived low level waste on the basis of a scientific approach that had been carefully worked out by its experts. At that time, ONDRAF/NIRAS thought – maybe rather naively – that the actual setting up of a repository would cause no problems once it had been proven that the chosen site was one of the best possible choices from a technical point of view.
ONDRAF/NIRAS looked for a solution for the radioactive waste problem in an objective and rational manner. Gradually, the agency realized that important parameters were missing in its mathematical model. Setting up a disposal infrastructure would inevitably have economic, social and ecological consequences. Also, the public’s reactions confirmed the validity of the committee’s recommendations regarding the necessity to take into account the socioeconomic aspects of setting up a final repository on the national territory. ONDRAF/NIRAS therefore, progressively started to develop an adequate methodology to select, according to objective criteria, the best surface disposal sites among the 98 formerly identified zones. In addition to the expected geological, hydrogeological and radiological aspects, this methodology included environmental and socioeconomic factors. Unfortunately, these last parameters were impossible to model satisfactorily.
In 1995, in an attempt to break the stalemate, the government commissioned a study by ONDRAF/NIRAS on the possible alternatives to surface disposal. The final report, the NIROND 97–04 report, published in 1997, compared surface disposal with deep disposal and prolonged interim storage. It recommended that the government should base its decision on ethical considerations. Indeed, ONDRAF/NIRAS supports the view that the current generations are responsible for ensuring that future generations will not have to actively take care of the management of the radioactive waste they will have inherited.
On the basis of this report the Belgian federal government opted, on January 16, 1998 for a final or potentially final solution for the long term management of short lived low level waste.
The government also wanted this solution to be implemented in a progressive, flexible and reversible manner. With this decision, the prolonged interim storage option was abandoned in favour of either surface disposal or deep geological disposal.
At the same time, the government entrusted new missions to ONDRAF/NIRAS, to allow the government to make the necessary technical and economic choice between surface disposal and deep geological disposal. ONDRAF/NIRAS was assigned to develop methods, including management and dialogue structures, necessary to integrate a repository project at local level.
Furthermore, ONDRAF/NIRAS had to limit its investigations to the four existing nuclear zones in Belgium, namely Doel, Fleurus, Mol–Dessel, and Tihange, and to the municipalities interested in preliminary field studies.
2. A NEW CONCEPT: THE LOCAL PARTNERSHIP
2.1 Introduction After the government’s decision of January 16 1998, ONDRAF/NIRAS set up a work programme based on a new work methodology. The idea of local partnerships was developed to ensure that every party liable to be directly affected by a collective decision has an opportunity to express its opinions. The local partnership project is an attempt to address the low level waste disposal-siting problem through both technical research and concept development, and interaction with the (local) stakeholders. The partnership concept was developed by researchers from the Department of Social and Political Sciences (PSW) of the university of Antwerp (UIA) and the research group SEED (Socioeconomic Environment Development) of the university of Luxemburg (FUL), on the basis of intense dialogue with ONDRAF/NIRAS. The concept was then discussed with different local stakeholders and, on their recommendation, adapted to meet local needs.
As a result, three local partnerships have been created; the first with the municipality of Dessel (creation of STOLA-Dessel in 1999), the next with the municipality of Mol (creation of MONA in 2000) and the third with the municipalities of Farciennes and Fleurus (creation of PaLoFF in 2003).
The idea behind the partnership concept stems from the presumption that collective decision making in a democratic environment is always a process of negotiation. Different interests, opinions and values are thereby weighted one against the other. This weighting of interests is something that should be done by the stakeholders and not for them. The mere technical aspects of building and safeguarding a low level waste repository are but one element in the negotiations that inevitably precede decision making. Other elements such as the socioeconomic context of the community concerned, the values, interests and emotions of different stakeholders all play a part in the decision making process.
By creating partnerships we intended to bring the decision making process closer to the public, and to lower the threshold for active participation. As many stakeholders, with as many different backgrounds and opinions as possible, should therefore be invited to actively participate in the partnership. Local partners should represent different political, economic, social, cultural and environmental movements or organizations within the community.
2.2 The local partnership as a non-profit organization with a clear mission
The idea was to create a representative body of the different stakeholders involved in this decision making process. On the one hand this is necessary to obtain a complete picture of the viewpoints, interests, needs and values that are at stake in this particular community, regarding this particular issue. The general interest of the community will be the outcome of a process of dialogue and discussion among these different stakeholders. On the other hand, this setup should provide the key to creating an inclusive, transparent, flexible and stepwise decision making process that can be considered to be sustainable and fair by all parties. Even if, in the end, not everybody is completely happy with the outcome of the process, the fact that it was seen as fair, representative and transparent, can still make the outcome an acceptable one for the entire community.
Discussing in depth the pro’s and con’s of a low level nuclear waste repository in the surroundings, however, is not something that can practically be done through public hearings with several hundred people attending. Therefore, it was decided to work out an adapted, clear organizational structure that fits the goal. The local partnerships were set up as non-profit organizations of volunteers willing to discuss whether and under which circumstances they could possibly accept a repository; and with the mandate to work out an integrated preproposal of a repository, integrated in a broader value-added project designed to fit the specific environment supported by the local population.
A local partnership should be considered as a representative democracy on a micro level.
Overseeing the whole “operation”, a general assembly, uniting representatives of all participating organizations, decides on the main course and sets out the beacons for the actual discussions. The general assembly appoints an executive committee, in charge of the day-today management of the organization. The committee is, among many other things, responsible for the coordination of working group activities, decision making on budget spending and the supervision of the project coordinators.
In several working groups, all different aspects of the implantation of a low level waste repository in the community are being discussed. Here all relevant existing research is taken into consideration, the need for additional studies is evaluated and independent experts are invited to participate in the debate. The working groups concentrate on technical aspects, such
as siting and design, environment and health, safety assessment as well as on social aspects: