2. Social and ethical dimensions

In November 2002, Parliament passed the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act (NFWA). It required the major owners of used nuclear fuel in Canada to establish the NWMO. The initial phase of our mandate was to study approaches for the safe, long-term management of used nuclear fuel, and to recommend a preferred approach to the Government of Canada. The historical information about one part of that process is preserved here in line with our commitment to transparency.


    This series of papers is designed to suggest social and ethical dimensions of managing radioactive waste for the purpose of promoting a broader dialogue on these important considerations.

    2.1 Ethics of High Level Nuclear Fuel Waste Disposal in Canada

    The paper discusses the importance of traditional knowledge, describes what it is and offers a working definition. It then discusses how traditional knowledge can help industry and government in environmental management, and suggests the types of questions which the application of traditional knowledge raises and might be addressed in the NWMO study process. This paper was developed in advance of a workshop devoted to examining these and other questions.

    The NWMO welcomes comments This background paper suggests seven ethical questions to be considered in used nuclear fuel management decision-making, and invites the reader to develop their own perspective. The paper draws upon the author's experience in exploring ethical considerations in the context of the earlier Seaborn Panel hearings.

    The seven questions raised in the paper are:

    1. How should we think about ethics in the context of this issue?

    2. What are some stated ethical guidelines already put forward in debates to date?

    3. What have been some important general ethical positions found to date in the debate on this issue?

    4. How might the scientific and technical facts of the case influence the possible ethical responses?

    5. What is our ethical responsibility to future generations, and to this generation?

    6. What are the boundaries of concern, and of discussion?

    7. What constitutes an ethical process?

    NWMO welcomes comments on this paper, and more generally on the ethical considerations related to used nuclear fuel management decision-making. You may wish to review the discussions of the Ethical Expert Roundtable, as well as other papers which have been submitted to contribute to this dialogue.


    Author Biography:

    Peter Timmerman

    Peter Timmerman is a Professor at the Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University, and an Associate Member of the faculty of the Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Toronto.

    He has worked on nuclear related issues, ranging from nuclear emergency planning to high-level siting issues, since 1980. As Director of the Canadian Coalition for Ecology, Ethics, and Religion (CCEER) he chaired a research team that contributed a major report on social and ethical issues to the Seaborn Panel in 1997.

    His other research has included work on environmental ethics, risk and hazardous waste management, climate change, and coastal city management. He is the editor of Vol.5 (Social and Economic Dimensions) of the Encyclopaedia of Global Environmental Change.

    2.2 Social Issues Associated with the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited Nuclear Fuel Waste Management and Disposal Concept

    This background paper provides a listing of social issues related to the concept of deep geological disposal, specifically the Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) Nuclear Fuel Waste Management and Disposal Concept, raised by participants during environmental assessment hearings conducted in 1996 and 1997. Although some of these issues are specific to the AECL proposal for deep geological disposal, many may be relevant to other methods of managing used nuclear fuel.

    This report groups the issues raised in these hearings into 21 categories by the ideas or themes represented. Issue categories include: involvement and role of the public; site selection; human health and safety; acceptable levels of risk; the limits of scientific and technological knowledge; transportation of nuclear fuel waste; ethical considerations; regulation and standards; Indigenous involvement in planning and decision-making.


    Author Biography

    Mark Stevenson, MAS Consulting

    MAS Consulting Group specializes in socio-economic impact assessment, community impact management, public consultation, and conflict resolution. Led by Mark Stevenson, the firm has an established reputation for developing socio-economic assessments and public consultation programs that effectively identify and address all stakeholder concerns and satisfy provincial and federal regulatory requirements and expectations. The firm assists clients in the development and evaluation of plans, projects, policies and management strategies leading to both public and government support.

    Along with senior level of expertise, the company provides its clients with clear strategic thinking on socio-economic and community issues. Through Mark Stevenson, the firm provides over 20 years of project management, socio-economic assessment and issues management experience on nuclear energy and radioactive waste projects.

    2.3 Key Social Issues Related to Nuclear Waste, or What Do Canadians Want to Do About Nuclear Waste?

    This paper contains “an analysis of certain key social issues related to nuclear waste disposal with a focus on the conditions for and barriers to the emergence of social acceptability towards long-term management options for nuclear waste.” The paper identifies “four seminal and inter-related social issues that set the contextual parameters for these and all other social issues on nuclear waste”, which are as follows:

    • The need to appropriately identify social values
    • The need to consider solutions which reduce or stop production of nuclear wastes
    • Scientific uncertainty and perpetuity of the risks and challenges to social institutions
    • The need for a process that is trusted.

    The paper concludes that, in order to manage nuclear fuel wastes in a manner that might have broad public support, it will be necessary to:

    • Have an innovative, representative and iterative process for identifying Canadian social values relevant to nuclear management
    • Include as part of any management scheme the need and means to reduce or stop the production of nuclear waste
    • Face scientific uncertainty from the perspective of complex systems thinking
    • Obtain broad, representative, clear, participation of Canadian citizens in a reflexive dialogue on the issue …

    NWMO welcomes comments on this paper, and more generally on the social considerations related to used nuclear fuel management decision-making.


    Author Biography

    Maria Páez Victor

    Maria Páez Victor is a sociologist with an MA from the University of Kent at Canterbury, England and a Ph.D. from York University. She has a solid background in policy analysis, social research and public consultation on social, health and environmental issues. As an Ontario Hydro planner, she was responsible for social impact analysis of nuclear projects. She now heads her own consulting company, Victor Research.

    2.4 Long-Term Management of Nuclear Fuel Waste - Issues and Concerns Raised at Nuclear Facility Sites 1996 - 2003

    The objective of this work was to provide the NWMO with an historical perspective on the issues and concerns raised by the public, affected communities and key stakeholders during seventeen (17) Environmental Assessment (EA) and planning studies at Canada’s nuclear research and power reactor sites, mining and radioactive waste and used fuel management facilities dating back to 1996. The review covered 67 available reports.

    The review suggests that the development of long-term waste management approaches for the care of Canada’s used nuclear fuel should be informed by at least the following considerations:

    • The expectations and understanding of communities that currently host interim storage of used fuel
    • Transparency, opportunity for full public engagement and the potential to have real influence on decision-making
    • First Nations people must be acknowledged and respected, their interests and insights can help define ethically, socially and environmentally acceptable approaches
    • Assurance that management approaches will enhance public safety and security, and reduce terrorist access to nuclear materials.
    • Management institutions must be under public control and scrutiny, responsibility for nuclear waste should not be transferred to profit-oriented private sector organizations
    • Assurance to current and future generations that they will have the technical and financial resources required to implement and sustain the management approach
    • Assurance that the economic viability of a host community will be maintained and enhanced
    • Be based on state-of-the-art technologies and best practices designed to safeguard human health and environmental integrity now and in the long term
    • Explicit inclusion of monitoring regimes designed and implemented around public and local involvement.
    • The raw data gathered from this review are presented in Appendix A: Detailed Issue Summaries by Document Reviewed.


    Author Biographies

    Haussmann Consulting

    F. Chris Haussmann, Principal
    A seasoned professional with over thirty years experience, Chris Haussmann is a Registered Professional Planner (Ontario) and a full member of the Canadian Institute of Planners. Before establishing the firm in 1986, he spent five years as a senior counsellor with a major international public affairs agency responsible for issues management and research, and a number of years as an advisor and program manager in various capacities with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and the Environmental Assessment Board. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Applied Sociology from the University of Toronto and the Institute of Environmental Studies.

    Chris is also a founding principal of the Centre for Mediation where he mediates disputes and provides conflict resolution advisory services to clients. He is a director of Conflict Resolution Network Canada, a national not-for-profit organization promoting effective dispute resolution throughout Canada and internationally, and a roster mediator with the Ontario Mandatory Mediation Program, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Resource Stewardship Program, Public Works and Government Services Canada and the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution.

    Peter G. Mueller, Senior Associate
    Mr. Mueller is a management consultant and Senior Associate with Haussmann Consulting. He provides project management, process planning and facilitation, business planning and communications strategy services to a wide range of private and public sector clients in fields as diverse as municipal government, policing, elder and health care and Internet marketing.

    As a former executive and seasoned communicator with 30 years of experience across a broad spectrum of markets and businesses, he held senior management positions with several of Canada’s largest private and public sector corporations. His responsibilities ranged from creating, leading and facilitating strategic business planning processes to managing a full service communications and public affairs function in a sensitive multi-stakeholder environment.

    As Senior Advisor and Research Director to Ontario’s Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning, Mr. Mueller played a key role in creating stakeholder confidence in the Commission’s public consultation and hearings process, in shaping the Commission’s recommendations and in writing its interim report on nuclear power as well as its nine-volume final report.

    Mr. Mueller is the author of several books and publications, including On Things Nuclear: The Canadian Debate and Public Consultation on Population Questions: A Report to the Government of Canada. He holds an Honours BA in Political Science and Economics and an MA in International Affairs, both from the University of Toronto.

    2.5 Overview of European Initiatives: Towards a Framework to Incorporate Citizen Values and Social Considerations in Decision-making

    This paper provides an overview of recent European experience, initiatives and lessons learned.

    The author introduces the paper as follows:

    Ideally, radioactive waste management (rwm) develops through different phases from basic research to more focussed applied research and development and finally to the design and siting of proposed solutions. Experiences from the European programmes vary, however, and countries are at different stages of developing long-term solutions to their waste problems. There are examples of siginficant progress all the way to the siting of a final repository. For high level waste, one site has been selected in Finland, and in Sweden two sites are currently being investigated in detail, with the approval of the host municipalities. As in Canada, there are also in Europe examples of countries where the rwm programmes initially made good progress but where they have been forced to take several steps back due to local resistance or otherwise for social reasons.

    This paper gives first an overview in section 1 of setbacks of rwm in certain European countries. In section 2 we turn to programmes where initiatives have been taken to take citizen values more into account in order to build more acceptable and stable rwm programmes. Some examples are mentioned where the problems mentioned in section 1 have resulted in re-evaluation of the programmes, and we also go more into detail of the cases of Finland and Sweden. Section 2 also describes some initiatives of research character that have been taken in the European Union and otherwise on the international arena. Section 3 then tries to summarise key findings from the national and international activities and section 4 focuses on what I believe could be lessons learned of special interest to Canada and the NWMO study.


    Author Biography

    Kjell Andersson, Karita Research

    Kjell Andersson has long experience in risk analysis of nuclear installations. In 1991 he left his position as Director of Research at the Swedish Nuclear Power Inspectorate (SKI) to become an independent consultant. Still maintaining his involvement in nuclear safety, he is increasingly engaged in transparency in decision making, public participation and risk communication. The focus of his work is now on awareness for democratic decision making in complex issues such as nuclear waste, biotechnology and energy production.

    Some of his recent actives are: scientific secretary for the VALDOR symposia for risk assessment, organizer of the VALDOC summer school for transparency and public participation, and expert to the municipality of Oskarshamn (a potential host community for a repository for spent nuclear fuel). Together with professors Clas-Otto Wene and Raul Espejo, Andersson is one the pioneers in the development and application of the RISCOM Model for transparency.

    Andersson has his PhD in theoretical physics from the University of Stockholm.

    2.6 A review of Waste Facility Siting Case Studies Applicable to Spent Nuclear Fuel Management Facilities and Associated Infrastructure  

    This paper is a review of six waste facility siting case studies. The paper attempts to identify and assess some of the experiences and lessons learned in these siting cases, which might be applicable to the planning and siting of facilities for the long-term management of Canada’s spent nuclear fuel.

    The case studies examined are:

    • the Ontario Waste Management Corporation (OWMC) Environmental Assessment for the establishment of hazardous waste treatment and disposal facilities
    • the Ontario Interim Waste Authority’s (IWA) Environmental Assessment for the establishment of solid wastes landfills for the Greater Toronto Area
    • the Government of Alberta’s efforts to identify and select a willing host municipality for the location of hazardous wastes treatment and disposal facilities
    • the Government of Canada’s Low-Level Radioactive Waste Siting Task Force to identify a willing host municipality for the establishment of low-level radioactive waste management facilities
    • the United States Federal Government program to site a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada for the long-term management of high-level nuclear wastes
    • the efforts of INCO Ltd. to obtain approval to develop a new mining operation at Voisey’s Bay, Labrador

    The NWMO welcomes comments on this paper, and more generally on the social considerations related to used nuclear fuel management decision-making.


    2.7 Ethical and Social Framework

    NWMO Roundtable on Ethics

    The Roundtable on Ethics is composed of individuals expert in the field of ethics in a variety of disciplines. The Roundtable’s role is to assist the NWMO in the development and application of the analytical framework which will be used to assess the management approaches. The Roundtable on Ethics will help the NWMO make explicit, and ensure, the systematic integration of ethical considerations in the development and application of the framework.

    The Roundtable will meet several times over the study period in order to provide advice and feedback to the NWMO throughout the study process. Members of the Roundtable have been appointed by, and report to, the president of the NWMO. Roundtable comments to the NWMO will be summarized and published here for your review and consideration.

    The Ethical and Social Framework suggested by the Roundtable
    After ten years of study and public hearings on the concept of deep geological disposal of used nuclear fuel (1989 - 1998), an Environmental Assessment Panel chaired by Blair Seaborn (the "Seaborn Panel") concluded in their 1998 report that the concept did not have sufficient public support to allow the government to proceed. The Panel identified the absence of any ethical and social framework within which to assess options as an important issue.

    The Roundtable has identified what the relevant ethical standards are, in its judgment, and organized them into the Ethical and Social Framework called for by the Seaborn report. Rather than issue what could appear to be dogmatic statements, the Framework expresses the ethical standards concerned as a series of questions for the NWMO to ask itself. The Framework was first published by the NWMO in April, 2004. It is a living document. The Roundtable revisits it regularly and comments are always welcome.


    2.8 Incorporation of Seaborn Panel Recommendations

    The Seaborn Panel was an Environmental Assessment Panel chaired by Blair Seaborn which examined the disposal concept for used nuclear fuel management proposed by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) between 1989 and 1998. Its report, entitled Report of the Nuclear Fuel Waste Management and Disposal Concept Environmental Assessment Panel, was published in February 1998. The report contained an assessment of the disposal concept proposed by AECL as well as a set of conclusions and recommendations concerning the path forward for Canada on this issue. The report pointed to the imperative to consider the ethical and social domains as well as the technical questions in the development of a long term management approach for Canada.

    In the course of its work, the NWMO Advisory Council asked the NWMO to explain how it had incorporated the recommendations from the Seaborn Panel, and the insights from the Panel’s hearings, in the design and implementation of the NWMO’s study. This report contains the substance of the response of the NWMO to the Advisory Council to this series of questions. Much of this material was prepared and discussed with the Advisory Council in early 2005, anticipating the release of the Draft Study Report. It reflects the thinking of the NWMO at that time.

    The response to the Advisory Council’s questions was in four parts:

    • Part I - The conclusions, criteria, and recommendations from the Executive Summary of the Panel report are listed and briefly discussed in the context of the NWMO study.
    • Part II – Review of key clauses in the Seaborn Panel report about ‘safety’, in particular the concept of ‘social safety’, and brief discussion in the context of the NWMO study.
    • Part III - The social issues or shortcomings associated with the AECL disposal concept raised during the Seaborn Panel hearings are listed and briefly discussed in the context of the NWMO study.
    • Part IV - The technical issues or shortcomings associated with the AECL disposal concept raised in the Seaborn Panel hearings are listed and briefly discussed in the context of the NWMO study.

    As with all NWMO Background Papers, the NWMO invites comment on the material contained in this paper.


    2.9 Review of Factors Influencing 'Social Acceptability' - in considering long term waste management approaches

    The NWMO has committed to "develop collaboratively with Canadians a management approach that is socially acceptable, technically sound, environmentally responsible, and economically feasible." This paper is designed to support discussion concerning the first of these four dimensions - social acceptability.

    The objective of this paper is to help spark thinking about how the concept of 'social acceptability' might be understood, and what its requirements may be in decision-making related to the long-term management of used nuclear fuel in Canada. This paper begins with a brief discussion of the context within which 'social acceptability' entered into the dialogue on this public policy issue in Canada. The paper then outlines some of what various others have done and/or said. The paper concludes with a brief reflection.


    Commissioned Comment and Other Contributions on Social and Ethical Considerations

    NWMO asked selected individuals working in the field to provide additional comment on the issues raised in this series of papers. We hope this comment will help spark further thinking and broader discussion. We invite you to consider these comments and add your own perspective to the discussion.
    2-A Ian J. Duncan: Social and Ethical Considerations


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    The Study

    NWMO background papers

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    NWMO background papers

    1. Guiding concepts