12.1 Phase 1: Report on Discussion Sessions and Nation-wide Survey

The NWMO has committed to using a variety of methods to dialogue with Canadians in order to ensure that the study of nuclear waste management approaches reflects the values, concerns and expectations of Canadians at each step along the way.

As part of our early activities and efforts, we commissioned an independent research company, Navigator, to conduct a series of discussion sessions, followed by a nation-wide survey of Canadians. We asked the research company to explore with Canadians their early expectations concerning how the NWMO might best go about its work. The research company asked Canadians how the NWMO might best involve people in its study, what type of information people want and need to become involved, and the type of process people want the NWMO to use to complete its study.

Discussion Sessions

First, we commissioned the research company, Navigator, to conduct 14 discussion sessions in five major regions of Canada, with the country's two linguistic groups, in provinces that produce electricity from nuclear energy and in provinces that don't, and in communities in which nuclear waste is currently stored. Fourteen discussion sessions were conducted in all; two discussion sessions in each of seven locations. Although the sessions only reflect the views of those who participated, and not the views of the community or of Canadians as a whole, the sessions did identify a range of needs and expectations which may be shared by many Canadians concerning the NWMO's work.

We invite you to read the research company's report on these discussion sessions. (See the link at the bottom of this page).

Nation-wide Survey

Next, the NWMO commissioned the same research company, Navigator, to take the insight learned from the discussion sessions and create a questionnaire which would explore the same issues with a scientifically selected cross-section of Canadians. The results of this study, a telephone survey of 1900 Canadians from coast to coast, is statistically representative of the perspective of Canadians on these questions (with a margin of error of +/- 2.25%, 19 times out of 20).

The 64 questions which were asked explored:
  • Canadians’ perception of the issue
  • Canadians’ perception of the NWMO and the job it has been tasked to do
  • Canadians’ interest in this issue; the knowledge they currently have; and their interest in learning more
  • Canadians’ preferences concerning how the study of management approaches is conducted: who should be involved in decision making; the appropriate role for the public and for scientists in this process
  • Canadians’ likely personal involvement in the issue: who would like to be involved; how would Canadians like to be involved
  • How best to reach those Canadians who are interested and/or would like to be involved in the study.

What Did Canadians Say

In this research, Canadians said:
  • The management of used nuclear fuel is not, unprompted, an issue of concern; it is not an issue that Canadians tend to think about on a daily basis. However when the issue is raised for discussion, many Canadians (well more than half) say they consider the issue to be a very important one.
  • Few Canadians feel they know a lot about used nuclear fuel, and how Canada currently manages this material. And, few are aware of the NWMO. Many Canadians indicate they are interested in learning more both about the management of used nuclear fuel, and about the NWMO and the study it is to conduct. Canadians also express an interest in learning more about how other countries manage used nuclear fuel.
  • Most Canadians feel, when it is described to them, the NWMO’s mandate to study and recommend a long term management approach is an important one, and are supportive of it.
  • Canadians feel the NWMO needs to ensure a broad range of individuals and groups become involved in the study of approaches to managing used nuclear fuel. According to Canadians, the study needs to include, first and foremost, Canadian and international engineers and scientists in the nuclear energy industry. It also needs to include: representatives of communities with nuclear power plants; environmental groups; an independent advisory council; as well as the general public. It is not acceptable to most Canadians for the NWMO to focus on engineers and scientists alone, nor is it acceptable for the NWMO to focus on the general public alone – both need to make an important contribution to the study.
  • Canadians have suggested that the NWMO should use a variety of methods to both inform and involve Canadians – from the use of newspaper articles, and brochures which come to the door, to television programs which come to the home, web based activities and community meetings.
  • Canadians tend to be split on the use of nuclear power for generating electricity. This is important contextual information for the NWMO as it begins to engage Canadians in a dialogue about long term management approaches.
We invite you to read the research company’s report “Report on Nation-Wide Survey”. (See the link at the bottom of this page.)

How is NWMO Responding

… Informing Canadians

In order to help inform Canadians about nuclear waste, and how nuclear waste is managed in Canada and abroad, NWMO has commissioned a number of fact sheets and background papers. Three fact sheets have recently been added to the web site, and more are planned. A total of 19 background papers describing various topics related to how nuclear waste is currently being managed in Canada, as well as internationally, are planned to be added to the web site this summer. These papers are to be written in plain language, and prepared by a range of individuals with specialized knowledge, either from universities or from organizations working in the field.

The NWMO understands from the research that creating information fact sheets and background papers is not sufficient to meet people’s basic information needs about the issue; the NWMO must also ensure that the information is easily accessible. Posting this information on the web site will ensure it is accessible to some, although not all Canadians. Making this same information available in printed form through NWMO’s toll-free number will also help accessibility, but is also not sufficient.

NWMO understands from this research that many Canadians prefer information come to their door through newspaper and/or brochure, or come in to their home via television. NWMO will be looking for ways to respond to this preference among many Canadians over the next few months as it plans the release of its First Discussion Document this Fall. NWMO understands the importance of, and challenge associated with, informing interested Canadians throughout the study.

… Ensuring the Knowledge of Scientists and Engineers, as well as that of others and the public

NWMO understands from the research that Canadians want a broad diversity of interests, knowledge areas and perspectives to be included and considered in the study. The NWMO understands the study needs to consider the knowledge of those who work in the nuclear waste area in Canada and abroad, as well as those who are currently living with nuclear waste in their community. It also needs to consider the perspective of organized environmental groups and others with specialized knowledge outside of the nuclear industry, those opposed to nuclear power, as well as the perspective of Canadians across the country.

Through its study plan, the NWMO will endeavour to reach out to and facilitate a dialogue among the diversity of interests, knowledge areas and perspectives which Canadians expect, and to ensure these meaningfully shape both the conduct of the study and its outcome. The Engagement Plan and Approach to the Analytical Framework documents posted on this website outline NWMO’s thinking on how it plans to facilitate such a dialogue as an integral part of the study process.

… Involving Canadians

NWMO understands from the research that there is no one best means for involving the public in the study. The research examined a number of possible types of approaches for involving citizens, from less active means to more active means; no one of them garnered a high level of interest among a majority of Canadians. From this, NWMO understands that a broad range of opportunities for involvement throughout the study are required and additional approaches which were not explored should also be identified and considered.

… NWMO Thinking Continues to Evolve

NWMO has learned important lessons from this research concerning the challenge it faces in conducting a study of used fuel management approaches which will be responsive to public expectations. The NWMO is approaching the study as an iterative process of learning and response, adjustment, and pressing forward. The NWMO continues to work to identify and implement in the study the range and type of activities which will best meet the needs of Canadians, and will continue to make adjustments along the way. The NWMO plans to launch a variety of activities to solicit input and direction from the public after the release of its First Discussion Document this Fall. This includes further public attitude research at the end of this year.

The NWMO welcomes your suggestions and comment at any point along the process.

12.2 Phase 2: Report on Discussion Group Findings

In late 2003, an independent research company met with Canadians in 6 discussion sessions to learn their reaction to, and comments about, Discussion Document 1 Asking the Right Questions? The Future Management of Canada's Used Nuclear Fuel. Among the findings from this research are:
  • Participants had a positive response to the Discussion Document and the approach being taken by the NWMO;
  • Participants felt the Analytical Framework outlined in the Discussion Document reflects their values - their priorities and concerns;
  • Participants had only a few additional suggestions and concerns regarding the 10 key questions proposed to be asked and answered in the study;
  • Participants approved of the NWMO's proposed method of selecting which management approaches should be the focus of attention;
  • When probed for options to further engage the public on responding to the four dialogue questions posed in the report, participants suggested conventional means;
  • As reflected by these participants, knowledge and intensity on the issue of managing nuclear waste continues to be low; some cynicism about waste management continues.
We invite you to read the research company's report. The NWMO welcomes hearing your thoughts.

12.3 Phase 2: Report on Nation-wide Survey

The NWMO has committed to using a variety of methods to dialogue with Canadians in order to ensure that the study of nuclear waste management approaches reflects the values, concerns and expectations of Canadians at each step along the way.

As part of our activities and efforts to dialogue and solicit input on our first discussion document, we commissioned an independent research company, Pollara, to conduct a nation-wide survey with a scientifically selected cross-section of Canadians. We asked the research company to explore with Canadians their thoughts concerning the appropriateness of the analytical framework outlined in the discussion document. As well, we asked the research company to repeat some questions asked one year ago to allow us to gauge any changes which may have occurred.

The results of this study, a telephone survey of 1900 Canadians from coast to coast, is statistically representative of the perspective of Canadians on these questions (with a margin of error of +/- 2.25%, 19 times out of 20).

The questions which were asked explored:
  • Canadians’ perception of the issue
  • Canadians’ perception of the NWMO and the job it has been tasked to do
  • Canadians’ interest in this issue; the knowledge they currently have; and their interest in learning more
  • Canadians’ sense of the appropriateness of the issues captured in the ten question framework
  • Canadians’ likely personal involvement in the issue.

What Did Canadians Say

For the questions which were asked one year ago, there has been little change. In this research, Canadians said:
  • The management of used nuclear fuel is not, unprompted, an issue of concern; it is not an issue that Canadians tend to think about on a daily basis. However when the issue is raised for discussion, many Canadians (more than half) say they consider the issue to be a very important one.
  • Few Canadians feel they know a lot about used nuclear fuel, and how Canada currently manages this material. And, few are aware of the NWMO.
  • Most Canadians feel, when it is described to them, the NWMO’s mandate to study and recommend a long term management approach is an important one, and are supportive of it.
  • Canadians tend to be split on the use of nuclear power for generating electricity. This is important contextual information for the NWMO as it continues to engage Canadians in a dialogue about long term management approaches.
The new questions which were added to the study were designed to complement the dialogue and engagement activity which has taken place since release of our first discussion document. The new questions focused on eliciting insight on one of the key questions posed in the discussion document - “Are we asking the right questions? As we assess different methods, are we on the right track, in terms of capturing the key issues? …”

A list of 18 agree/disagree statements was created based on key elements of the analytical framework outlined in the discussion document. The statements were presented as capturing a list of traits which some people have suggested are important for Canada’s solution to the management of used nuclear fuel. Respondents were asked to rate the importance of each trait on a 0 - 10 scale on which 10 = very important.

Among the findings:
  • All of the 18 statements received relatively high importance scores. No one of the statements received an average score lower than 7 out of 10. The NWMO interprets this to mean that the analytical framework outlined in the discussion document has captured priorities and objectives which are important to Canadians.
  • There is little sub-group variation in the scores assigned. The NWMO interprets this to mean that the framework captures priorities and objectives which are important to a broad spectrum of Canadians.
  • Some of the traits are rated more highly than are others. The most highly rated traits are: Public health and safety, Protect the environment, Focus on current generation but be fair to future generations.
  • The scoring of the 18 statements reflects a balancing of priorities – take action now, but of a sort that would allow for new learning, and influence of future generations in implementation.
A second question area focused on presenting respondents with some of the difficult trade-offs which have emerged through dialogue with Canadians to date. For two of the trade-offs suggested, Canadians are clearly divided. NWMO interprets this to indicate that although there is much common ground, as reflected in Canadians’ response to the 18 statements just described, there are aspects of this issue on which we do not all agree. For instance, should we:
  • Keep the waste above ground, where it is easy to access and monitor it (40% say yes), or bury the waste underground where it may be safer from external threats such as terrorist acts, but is more difficult to see and monitor (49% say yes)
  • Store the waste at one centralized, dedicated site (50% say yes), or store the waste at seven nuclear power plant or research sites across the country as it is now (40% say yes).
NWMO understands that the trade-offs explored in this research do not exhaust the possibilities which will need to be considered before NWMO formulates its recommendation. This research marks only the beginning of NWMO’s exploration of this important area.

A third question area involved asking respondents to react to a small list of statements. Reaction to these statements is consistent with Canadians feeling a strong sense of responsibility to initiate action now, although action which would not entirely foreclose future options:
  • Since our generation was the one which created the nuclear waste, we should be the ones to decide on and implement an approach to manage it - 84% agree strongly or somewhat with the statement.
  • Since nuclear waste remains hazardous for a long time, we should let future generations decide how they wish to deal with it - 47% agree strongly or somewhat with the statement
  • I believe that scientific research will soon produce a technology that will render nuclear waste safe by eliminating its radioactivity and allowing it to become part of the natural environment again - 52% agree strongly or somewhat with the statement.
We invite you to read the research company’s report “Report on Nation-Wide Survey”, and to add your perspective by contributing a comment on this report or answering a short list of these questions by completing a deliberative survey.

12.4 Phase 3: Report on Discussion Group Research Findings

In late 2004, the NWMO asked Navigator to conduct qualitative research among members of the public. Since no one of the management options appears to perfectly achieve all the objectives that citizens said was important, balances and trade-offs will need to be made between the various objectives. The research was designed to provide some insight on how people approach the trade-offs and balances that will inevitably be required.

Specifically, the research was designed to explore the following key questions:
  1. Do participants support the objectives and identify with them? Are additional objectives suggested?
  2. Which objectives do they feel are most important?
  3. Which trade-offs do they find difficult? Which do they find not as difficult?
  4. What is it about each management option that makes participants feel their objective is acheived?
  5. What do participants need to be assured of in order to accept certain management options?
  6. How do considerations of possible future scenarios impact the thinking of participants?
  7. Are there any particular words or phrases that participants use to discuss the objectives or their preferences?
  8. What do participants suggest is important for implementation of any recommendations?
In total, ten focus groups were conducted, two groups in each of: Pickering; Sault Ste. Marie; Windsor; Saint John; and, Quebec City.

12.5 Phase 4: Draft Study Report: Report on Discussion Group Findings

24 focus groups were conducted during June and July 2005, in order to solicit comment from a randomly selected cross-section of citizens on Choosing a Way Forward - Draft Study Report. The findings from these focus groups have been summarized by the research organization which conducted the research.

12.6 Phase 4: Report on Nation-Wide Survey

Veraxis Research & Communications

A nation-wide telephone survey was conducted among 2641 Canadians between July 18 and August 2, 2005 in order to solicit comment from a randomly selected sample of Canadians about the NWMO's proposed approach for the management of used nuclear fuel - the Adaptive Phased Management approach.

The survey followed the release of the NWMO's Draft Study Report. As is evident from the survey, most of those interviewed were not familiar with the content of this report nor were aware of the nature of the NWMO's recommendation. For this reason, key elements of the approach were described in the survey in order to elicit comment from participants. The questions in the survey were designed to mirror, as much as possible, the key questions which formed the focus of other dialogue initiatives conducted in the same period. The questionnaire also included questions which had been asked in the two previous surveys commissioned by the NWMO, and were intended to track awareness on key variables related to the study.

The survey focused on:
  • National and community issues of importance (tracking questions)
  • Importance of and support for nuclear power for generating electricity (tracking questions)
  • Familiarity with the nuclear waste management process (tracking questions)
  • Awareness of and support for the NWMO (tracking questions)
  • Support for the criteria adopted by the NWMO to guide the process of selecting a long term used nuclear fuel management option
  • Perceived reasonale aspects of and concerns regarding elements of the Adaptive Phased Management approach
  • Support for requirements of the used nuclear fuel waste management process.
As with all NWMO reports, comment on this report is welcome.