Nuclear issues: who decides?
An EU-funded project has empowered local communities and stakeholders in radioactive waste disposal decision-making. IPPA uses participatory approaches to improve public involvement in nuclear issues in Central and Eastern Europe.
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When it comes to discussing contentious issues such as radioactive waste disposal, many stakeholders, including those in the local community, would like to be involved in the decision-making. With this in mind, the EU-funded IPPA research project was launched in 2011 to foster stakeholder participation in such procedures in Central and Eastern Europe, specifically in the Czechia, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Romania.
Participatory approaches can be useful for various reasons: they use a bottom-up approach to decision-making, incorporating different views and opinions and encouraging cross-border collaboration and sharing best practices between experts. Such an approach is particularly relevant to issues affecting certain security-related, social and environmental factors – radioactive waste disposal, for example.
Sharpest tools in the box
The IPPA project set out to engage as many parties as possible in this process by creating an online toolbox for use in stakeholder engagement activities. This toolbox is available online for any interested group of stakeholders on any subject, along with guidelines and other help to achieve successful stakeholder engagement.
IPPA also explored how negotiations on compensation and added value can be implemented at local level in a bid to empower stakeholders like developers and local communities. The project identified ways of bringing nuclear, geological and societal experts together with local politicians through round-table discussions and consultancy to ensure that everyone with a stake in the decision had a say in it, too.
This kind of multi-stakeholder approach and “public involvement in decision-making processes should be seen in the context of a wider perspective of implementation of a nuclear programme”, explains project coordinator Kjell Andersson. The IPPA method encourages technical experts and decision-makers to take broader social perspectives and opinions into account by creating ‘safe spaces’ for dialogue among stakeholders.
Andersson acknowledges that IPPA has encountered many challenges, in particular, stakeholder wariness of such participation and engagement. However, although overcoming such challenges is essential to successful engagement, IPPA has shown that the benefits usually outweigh the challenges.
Catalyst for change
One particularly successful application of the IPPA approach involved the ongoing development of a radioactive waste disposal site deep underground in the Czechia. IPPA was a catalyst for setting up activities under the national ‘Working group for dialogue’, sharing relevant experiences between stakeholders and exchanging international feedback and insight, which made it one of the crucial “unifying elements of the Working Group in critical situations”, says Andersson. This helped the group to grow and prosper, its progress proving that the well-functioning project approaches can flourish even in complex circumstances.
The IPPA project has led to more inclusive decision-making in the field of radioactive waste disposal. Its success has also aroused interest in participatory approaches in other contentious energy-related issues.
Finally, the project has advanced the call to include social and socio-economic contributions in decision-making during nuclear installation site-selection processes across the EU. Andersson hails this as a success, explaining that IPPA has “led to increased awareness of the need for new approaches to participation and openness”, which has already “made a difference in a number of situations such as in Poland and Czechia and has the potential for similar achievements in other countries”.
IPPA’s findings mark substantial progress in the future involvement of broader sections of society in decision-making in energy and related sectors. This will be crucial in securing a sustainable future for Europe’s citizens, its environment and its resources.