The new report Responsible Action highlights an important element of the problem of managing used nuclear fuel.
Lack of trust, by citizens who have taken the time to understand the problem and to hear the voices of other citizens.
Although the method use in the study may well have chosen a representative set of Canadian citizens, the process of information and deliberation is not representative of how choices are made in a large society -- even one dedicated to openness and participation, as Canada seems to an outsider to be. The time and effort needed to learn about an unfamiliar subject, and then to deliberate on its implications for oneself, one's family, and the communities for which one feels responsible is a considerable one.
The surprise and consequent distrust felt by participants seems to be a result, in part, of their realization of how little they knew. Yet their low state of knowledge is only partly due to reluctance to share information by the nuclear industry or government. Most of it is due to the information overload all citizens face in postindustrial circumstances.
This matters because of the remedy recommended in the "fifth" scenario. An independent oversight board faces a daunting task: to sustain the engagement of enough citizens that the nation will continue to feel involved going forward in the management of nuclear fuel. This is hard because used fuel is not newsworthy or interesting unless it is in one's backyard in some relevant way.
Hence, the independent board faces the high probability of disappearing into the anonymity of "the government," and of becoming the de facto captive of those who are well enough organized to stay interested — environmental groups, opponents of nuclear energy per se, the industry, and other arms of government.
Did your thoughtful and good-hearted citizen participants have an answer for this challenge? I don't see one in the executive summary.
I wish I had constructive advice to offer. These findings reaffirm my sense of the decency, sound judgment, and sense of responsibility of Canadians. (Would that I could be so confident of my own countrymen.) Nonetheless, the challenge I've outlined is, I believe, of great importance to NWMO going forward.
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