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Sustainable development in regions hosting nuclear waste management facilities


Questions at stake

The socio-economic dimension of the siting of a nuclear waste management facility in some countries is seen as an issue of compensation. There is a quite different use and various rationales for compensation in the different national experiences that were reviewed in COWAM. The views are also wide-ranging as regards the relevance of compensation : should this be considered as “bribery” or a “risk-premium” for undesirable hazardous activities ? Or shouldn’t compensation be viewed as a national contribution to local territories for hosting a nuclear waste management facility in relation to their future and long term sustainable development ?

It seems difficult to site a nuclear facility without considering the positive and negative impact it will have on the concerned territory. Hosting a nuclear waste management facility must not become a handicap : isn’t the local economy likely to suffer from the perception by potential investors that compensation is given because the community is at risk ? Conversely it should not be a source of dependency for the hosting community : isn’t the community likely to get dependent if it fully grounds its development on the resources associated with the facility ? Should the project support the local development, or should it be integrated in a wider development perspective? Compensation appears as a narrow approach to the siting issue when it comes to local development. How to build more ambitious socio-economic projects to integrate the technical facility in a regional development policy?

Lessons learned

Some participants consider that compensation may be viewed as a means to overcome NIMBY arguments but that it should not compromise on safety issues : a payment must never be regarded as a compensation for any risk beyond strict tolerance levels. A facility must be safe and must not represent a danger. For others since every payment could be regarded as bribery, there is a strong argument against any compensation : even without “official” compensation schemes the region gets benefits from the facility because of the contribution to the local employment situation and the local economy.

Another view is that a hosting community provides a valuable service to the whole nation, and such service should be paid for. Such types of funding are common in other areas, e.g., hydropower plants, mining companies. Moreover there are actual problems which a waste facility may cause to the hosting community. For instance, during the construction phase there will be additional (conventional) traffic and noise, or an otherwise picturesque landscape may become “industrialised” by the facility. This is another reason why funding allocation may be justified.

Additionally, as shown by the work of the AkEND group on site selection procedure in Germany, when considering the siting of a nuclear waste management facility, the way the project is inserted in a broader regional social and economic project for the local community is of primary importance. The unique feature of nuclear waste management is indeed its duration, and the uncertainties regarding technical, environmental, economical, social and political evolutions. New accompanying measures need to be invented to enhance and support the long term development of the hosting community. According to this view, compensation, should it remain, would only be a part of a broader global development plan aiming at a better integration of the facility in the local economy.

It is actually possible to delineate these different types of funding : from the one provided for mere compensation for possible damage associated with the siting and operation of a facility on the one hand, to resources devoted to develop a regional project on the long term on the other hand. Compensation practices are specific to each country, but the questions they raise are well known. Conversely, the long term regional development is stressed as an important new issue which deserves greater attention since there are very few - if any - hazardous facilities which are already associated with such a long term dimension.

Ways forward

The integration and development of the site within a regional development policy which encompasses a prospective view on the future of the area is seen as a key factor to improve the governance of nuclear waste management in the short as well as in the longer term. The development of a facility should be seen at local level as a positive project linked in with the future and long term sustainable development of the region as a whole. Therefore local stakeholders should be consulted on their view of the future of the region and will need to participate in and have control over the way in which the facility develops. A good vision for the region would be one that will get support because it is of benefit to the nation and the local sustainable development.

Ethical concerns require a framework which sets out clear guarantees to local stakeholders. This framework must be acknowledged and shared by all the stakeholders. It should build on a sustainable development approach, taking into account :

> alternative or complementary economic activities

> the long-term monitoring and awareness of hosting communities

> social, economic, environmental, health and legal issues

> not only the operation phase but also the surveillance over long periods

> sustained capacity to take action in the future (e.g. retrievability)

This framework needs to state how the financial supports will evolve at each phase of the project.


  Last update - February 2005
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