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Context and Objectives


During the 1990s, when looking for political support on a technical project, nuclear waste programmes in nearly every concerned country met many difficulties. Nuclear waste management was seen as a technical issue, and the local communities were only involved in the last stage of the decision-making process where almost all components of the decision were already fixed. The management of high level radioactive waste is now recognised as a complex decision-making process entailing technical, ethical, social, political and economic dimensions where no solution can be reached on the basis of sole technical considerations. While this issue is acknowledged as a problem for the community as a whole, a major dimension in radioactive waste remains the fact that waste management is a global problem looking for a local solution. For this reason, there is an increasing need to have society, and notably directly concerned local people, involved in the decision-making process. Now it is recognized that those living in the facility vicinity are primarily concerned by the decision-making process. Therefore the involvement of the regional and local communities in the decision-making process appears more and more to be a key dimension. For any solution, as a pre-requisite lies a sound contract between the national community and a local community. To reach such a contract there is a need for mutual trust between the two entities.

Building the project : meeting a growing need for local involvement

Starting from this view, a group composed of representatives of a local community (Oskarshamn, Sweden), national authorities (HSK in Switzerland and the special advisor to the Swedish Government on nuclear waste issues), the French nuclear implementer (ANDRA), and also experts from Belgium (SCKCEN), France (Mutadis, CEPN) and UK (NRPB) prepared and proposed a project to the EC Research Directorate in 1999 with the objective: to improve the decision-making process in nuclear waste management at the local and regional levels. The project was named COWAM which stands for Community Waste Management. It was accepted as a European Concerted Action within the 5th Framework Programme of the European Commission. It was designed as a 3 years collective reflection process (2000-2003) to be developed in 4 seminars, each one being located in a local community involved in COWAM, with co-ordination by Mutadis.

Once the project was validated by the European Commission, the COWAM Steering Committee first met in September 2000. A deficit of networking of local communities in nuclear waste management at the European level was highlighted. The Steering Committee felt that there was a real need to address the issue of decision-making processes regarding nuclear waste management directly from the local point of view. It was therefore decided to make a specific effort to give European local communities and NGOs the opportunity to represent their own views in COWAM, and to create favourable conditions for local communities to network at the European level. The first year of the programme was devoted to the setting up of the network. The second year started in September 2001 with a seminar in Oskarshamn which was the first European platform of dialogue for local communities and NGOs involved in or concerned by nuclear waste management. Other seminars followed : Verdun (France) in February 2002, Fürigen (Switzerland) in September 2002, and Cordoba (Spain) in March 2003.

The seminars were co-organized and co-sponsored by the COWAM European project and the hosting local government or organisation (namely : Oskarshamn municipality for the first seminar; Conseil Général de la Meuse and CLIS for the second one; GNW for the third one; AMAC for the fourth one). About two-third of the seminars budget were supported by the hosting organisation with an additional contribution from national sponsors (SKI, SSI, Swedish Ministry of Environment, SKB, ANDRA, Swiss Federal Office of Energy, ENRESA, CSN).


The general purpose was to set up a collective learning process based on existing experiences of decision-making processes with regard to nuclear waste management in Europe with a pluralistic set of European participants, all concerned by or involved in nuclear waste management: local communities and NGOs, implementers, national authorities and experts. The initial objective of COWAM was first of all to contribute to the improvement of the quality of decision making at local level in nuclear waste management. The purpose was not to determine which technical option is the best for a particular type of waste, but to discuss the quality of the decision-making process from the local level viewpoint. The relevance of technical options was considered as a matter for discussion in each national context . Decision-making processes were assessed in the context of different types of waste and different technical options.

Taking into account the shift toward a stronger involvement of local communities (local representatives and NGOs), the COWAM project more specifically aimed at :

• Creating a network of local people from communities involved in nuclear waste management, thus contributing to their empowerment;

• Gathering and discussing the available experiences of decision-making processes at the local level in Europe;

• Creating the conditions for a fair dialogue of local people and NGOs with regulators and implementers;

• Holding seminars in local communities concerned by nuclear waste management;

• Producing a Framework expressing the views of the participants at the end of the COWAM exercise in order to bring about important questions for decision-making in nuclear waste management and to open up the way to wider reflections and actions in the future.

A major task for COWAM was to bring out among the participants a shared understanding of the issues at stake in the decision-making processes as regards nuclear waste management and to identify possible ways forward for its improvement. This report proposes concrete recommendations in order to improve the quality of decision-making related to nuclear waste management facility siting.


  Last update - February 2005
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