ENTRIA (“Disposal Options for Radioactive Residues: Interdisciplinary Analyses and Development of Evaluation Principles”, www.entria.de) is a joint research project carried out by twelve departments and institutes from German universities and major research institutions and one partner from Switzerland. It is financed by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Scientists representing natural sciences, civil engineering, philosophy, law, social and political sciences, and technology assessment carry out disciplinary and interdisciplinary research addressing three options to manage especially high-level radioactive waste:
- Final disposal in deep geological formations without any arrangements for retrieval,
- disposal in deep geological formations with arrangements for monitoring and retrieval, and
- (prolonged) surface (or near-surface) storage.
- Surface storage,
- reference concepts for emplacement in deep geological formations with retrievability and monitoring,
- radiation exposure and justification of measures,
- interdisciplinary perspectives on dose limits,
- comparative studies on nuclear waste governance,
- nuclear waste governance in Switzerland,
- public involvement and the German Site Selection Act, and
- citizens’ jury.
The ProjectObviously, radioactive waste management (RWM) concerns society as a whole and therefore needs more than technological and natural science research. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is funding, inter alia, the integrated research project ENTRIA in order to support the development of interdisciplinary research approaches as well as professional (academic) education and knowledge management. ENTRIA (“Disposal Options for Radioactive Residues: Interdisciplinary Analyses and Development of Evaluation Principles”, www.entria.de) is carried out by twelve departments and institutes from German universities and major research institutions and one partner from Switzerland. The scientists participating in ENTRIA represent natural sciences, civil engineering, philosophy, law, social and political sciences, and technology assessment. Recognising that all these disciplines need to interact when radioactive waste management is concerned, the project aims at investigating and developing evaluation principles and knowledge about “context structures” for three options to manage especially high-level radioactive waste:
- Final disposal in deep geological formations without any arrangements for retrieval,
- disposal in deep geological formations with arrangements for monitoring and retrieval, and
- (prolonged) surface (or near-surface) storage.
In order to facilitate interdisciplinary research and co-operation, the project is organised in three so-called vertical projects, each addressing one of the management options and all mainly treated by natural scientists and civil engineers. In addition, overarching aspects such as “Synthesis, Co-ordination and Communication”, “Technology Assessment and Governance”, “Ethical and Moral Substantiation, Legal Prerequisites, and Implications”, and “Interdisciplinary Risk Research” are addressed by interdisciplinary so-called transversal projects (Figure 1).
For ENTRIA, sound disciplinary research forms an indispensable basis for interdisciplinarity. In the following, selected research topics – both disciplinary and interdisciplinary – are briefly introduced in order to provide an impression of the project scope.
Vertical Project “Surface Storage”There are various possible motivations for investigating (prolonged) surface storage. On one hand, it is obvious that the time schedule established by the recently passed German Site Selection Act (StandAG 2013) will require storage times exceeding the four decades for which the existing storage facilities are licensed. On the other, one might investigate storage as temporary alternative for disposal. For both cases, issues such as storage concepts, buildings, containers, safety issues, as well as refurbishment and operation strategies need to be investigated. The project addresses in dedicated work packages
- structural engineering concepts,
- monitoring-based safety and lifecycle concepts, and
- requirements concerning waste conditioning methods.
It is aiming at a comparison of existing and conceivable storage methods using a multi-criteria evaluation catalogue. So far, storage facilities existing world-wide were analysed based on literature as well as visits and interviews with operators of selected facilities. The analysis focusses on challenges associated with extended storage times. In a next step, a dossier comprising requirements and regulations, technical concepts, selected examples, maintenance issues, and challenges of prolonged storage will be developed. The latter will focus on the identification of relevant deterioration mechanisms and on the analysis of engineering and research models concerning the forecast of deterioration processes and potential extrapolations on long timescales. Conceivable engineering solutions include dimensioning of concrete constructions based on probabilistic service life models, choice of appropriate concrete compositions accounting for potential deterioration mechanisms, improved steel corrosion protection, and design improvements accounting for extreme impacts.
Reference concepts for emplacement in deep geological formations with retrievability and monitoringThere are many possible scenarios for waste retrieval from a deep repository. Measures for an improved retrieval capability may impact on the geotechnical and geological barriers, e. g. keeping open the access drifts for a long period of time can result in a bigger excavation disturbed zone (EDZ) in the host rock which implies potential flow paths for ground water. Nevertheless, to limit the possible scenarios associated to the retrievability implementation, it is necessary to take into consideration which criteria will be used for an efficient monitoring program, while clearly determining the performance reliability of the geotechnical barriers. In addition, the integrity of the host rock as geological barrier has to be verified. Therefore, it is important to evaluate different design solutions and the most appropriate measurement methods to improve the retrievability process of wastes from a geological repository.
For these concepts the use of five host formation types, bedded salt and salt domes, clay, claystone and crystalline rocks, for deep emplacement of high active waste (HAW) is addressed. Their performance with regard to retrievability measures are compared based on their characteristic hydrologic and mechanical behaviour. ENTRIA’s reference concepts for deep emplacement in these formations with retrievability and monitoring propose a repository design with the following properties: The repository needs to be dimensioned appropriately to allow retrieval and to implement monitoring drifts above the emplacement areas. Individual emplacement drifts should be backfilled and sealed after waste emplacement (Figure 2), whereas the infrastructure area and the shaft will be kept open. The host-rock specific timeframe for which this will be possible will be derived based on safety considerations taking into account geomechanics, degradation processes etc. The hypothesis is that – assuming that a decision is taken not to retrieve – the complete repository will be backfilled and sealed at the latest at the end of this timeframe. From then on, only waste recovery will be conceivable. Of course, choosing a reference concept implies an illustrative and exemplary character of the related considerations: Many statements will apply to this specific reference concept rather than to „retrievability in general“.
Radiation exposure and justification of measuresBasic principles of radiation protection require prove of minimization of exposure, optimization of processes and justification for all planned exposure situations. Handling of nuclear waste falls into this category. Hence, dose estimates are required for all practices and in case several options exist, the one with the minimum dose for workers and members of the public should be preferred.
ENTRIA addresses the following aspects:
a. Handling of waste during emplacement (important for all options).
b. Practices for periodic inspection and maintenance of containers during operation (most relevant for long term storage).
c. Handling of waste in case of retrieval.
d. Exposure of the public due to release of radioactive substances from a repository or storage facility into the environment.
While aspects a) and d) received considerable attention in the past, radiation protection issues concerning aspects b) and c) are frequently neglected. Currently, in Germany emplacement with a retrieval option is favoured by many stakeholders, decision makers and by the public. However, if future generations have to come to a decision pro or against retrieval the aforementioned three basic principles need to be checked and exposures arising from different possible actions weighed against each other.
To this end, ENTRIA is calculating doses to men, both, caused by long term exposure of the public in the distant future due to potential slow release of mobile radionuclides from a geological repository, but also dose to workers during emplacement and retrieval when handling the waste. In a first step, a reference scenario of a repository in salt rock using POLLUX containers loaded with spent nuclear fuel rods is considered. The intensity (flux density) of radiation – mainly gamma radiation and neutrons – at the container surface are modelled as a function of loading and time after discharge from the reactor (and time between emplacement and retrieval). Generic scenarios of practices necessary to handle and retrieve the containers are considered and movement of workers in the radiation fields are imaged by 3D Monte Carlo Simulations which allow to model dose very realistically.
Optimum handling procedures and also optimum container layouts will be developed for the reference concepts described in the previous section, leading to minimization of dose. With these results ENTRIA wants to provide a basis to compare total dose to workers if action is taken and compare this with possible effects if no measures are taken under consideration of minimization, optimization and justification of all actions.
Perspectives on dose limits: an example for interdisciplinary workDuring the first two years of project work, major challenges concerning interdisciplinarity became evident and means to address them were developed. Formats for interdisciplinary cooperation between the research teams and mutual learning such as interdisciplinary lecture series held by senior scientists, joint field trips, as well as presentation and workshop formats for junior scientists have been put in place. This is not only meant to serve the project work itself, but also to educate scientists with disciplinary excellence and to understand the basics of other disciplines. The project is increasingly working on joint interdisciplinary publications, PhD theses, and events for the interested public held by interdisciplinary teams. As a very first step towards an interdisciplinary synthesis, the senior scientists from all teams published a memorandum (1) naming the specific challenges and target conflicts of importance when deciding about management options. For the development process of the memorandum see (2).
It is crucial to identify, and to work on specific research topics with facets concerning several disciplines which cannot be seen in isolation and require joint efforts of the specialists involved. In several cases, such issues arose from the discussions within the formats mentioned above. Hereinafter, an example is given:
Initiated by the transversal project “Technology Assessment and Governance” and recognising that dose limits for the operational and post-operational phases of management facilities are an issue of utmost importance and concern when addressing both technical and governance aspects of disposal options, ENTRIA scientists developed a research paper aiming at an interdisciplinary synthesis of technical, sociology of knowledge, legal, societal, and political aspects. The paper comprises a set of 14 propositions addressing technical and non-technical drivers in definitions of dose limits, perceptions of radiation effects and dose limits, and controversies about the meaning and role of such limits. It elaborates on the technical and non-technical drivers. In doing so, it recognises that such limits are indispensable for technological development and legal security but often have a contra-productive effect in communication, political, and governance contexts. In order to better understand the coproduction and interdependencies of these various contexts, future interdisciplinary research needs to address the relationship between dose limits and risk perception as well as the role of confidence and trust. It should aim at a discourse based communication about underlying values, objectives, actors and procedures when defining limits, and potential alternatives and complements to established limits. (3)
Comparative Studies on nuclear waste governanceWithin ENTRIA’s transversal project “Technology Assessment and Governance”, the Free University (FU) in Berlin and the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technologty (KIT), Karlsruhe, carry out comparative studies on nuclear waste governance in several countries. Recognising that both geological/geographic and societal conditions vary considerably from country to country, the aim is still to draw conclusions concerning an appropriate nuclear waste governance in Germany.
So far, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland have been studied. The results are published in a book (4) which further comprises a detailed comparative and multi-level social and political analysis which sheds light on the efforts being made and the difficulties associated with trying to find socially, politically, economically, and technologically acceptable strategies for high-level radioactive nuclear waste storage and/or disposal.
The progress these countries have made and the obstacles the countries face are discussed in detail in the case studies. This is done looking at their regulations, technology choices, safety criteria, monitoring systems, compensation schemes, institutional structures, and approaches to public involvement. The study shows that while some countries have opted for medium-term storage solutions (of about a century), others are looking at various approaches to deep geological disposal. Site selection is a common challenge, but only a small number of states, e. g. Finland and Sweden are in an advanced stage of implementation.
The study identifies the primary stakeholders in the debate and their interests, the responsibilities and authority of different actors in relevant decision-making processes, and the value systems that are influencing the different national policy choices. The views and expectations of different communities regarding participatory decision making and compensation and the steps that have been or are being taken to promote dialogue and constructive problem-solving are also considered.
First conclusions include that siting for radioactive waste management facilities – especially repositories – is nowadays understood as a challenging process going beyond purely technical considerations by attempting societal participation. The range of what is understood by such participation is however wide. It spans from simple bi-directional information opportunities to approaches with direct participation and veto rights, thus showing deliberative-democratic aspirations. It can be concluded that, under the present circumstances, fundamental opposition against nuclear waste disposal makes sense only in a limited way. Several actors involve themselves in the decision process, be it in established processes or by non-parliamentary criticisms. Given that the timespan needed to address the problem goes far beyond single legislative terms, robust governance approaches involving societal participation are needed.
Further studies will address 13 more countries, including several non-OECD states. Questions about connections and correlations between technical and societal issues will be of increasing interest in the studies.
Nuclear waste governance in SwitzerlandResearch concerning nuclear waste governance in Switzerland is part of the international comparison carried out within ENTRIA by ITAS and FU Berlin (5). Despite of democratic traditions being different from the ones in Germany, Switzerland serves as a case study because, as in Germany, site selection is carried out by the authorities and first siting attempts failed due to local opposition which resulted in a stalemate situation and an ensuing “restart”.
In Switzerland, as well as in many other countries, which are planning to install underground repositories for their high-level nuclear wastes, social conflicts have arisen in the process of searching and exploring a suitable site. In Switzerland, a stalemate in decision-making occurred when an application for underground exploration for a repository site for low- and intermediate level waste was rejected in a cantonal referendum. As a result, the Swiss parliament decided to abolish the can-tonal veto right and instead to install an official step-wise site selection procedure with an optional national referendum at the very end of the selection process. To this end, they choose and adapted a well-established planning instrument (“sectoral plan”).
In this, a strong focus was put on issues of transparency and public participation. Ethical considerations are significant factors in this as the civility of decision-making is an important criterion. Public participation in the sense of “having a say” is though limited to above-ground facilities; in all other questions participation is limited to consultation. Consultation takes place in several forums designed for this purpose, especially in the so-called regional conferences, in which representatives from the interested public and stakeholders are members. The tasks those regional conferences should fulfil are fixed in the sectoral plan.
In setting up this approach, the Swiss authorities took up ideas developed by the German Committee for the Development of a Site Selection Procedure (6) and international organisations, such as the Nuclear Energy Agency`s Forum on Stakeholder Confidence, e. g. (7).
Involving the public in decision-making requires changes in the “design” of decision-making processes. Institutions need to learn to coordinate such an involvement of stakeholders, which also means being open to their questions and demands. This is not an easy task as different stakeholders have very different ideas and expectations regarding their involvement. Compromises from all sides are necessary in order to make such arrangements work. One central compromise in the Swiss case was to abandon the cantonal referendum but at the same time involve the public already in the conception of the sectoral plan through focus group sessions and public consultations.
In those consultations, the Swiss government profited from the strong Swiss consensus democratic tradition. They went beyond the usual consultation procedures by talking not only to established collective actors, but also to the interested public. It showed that, even though time consuming, this approach was insofar a success as all stakeholders agreed to take part in the new site selection procedure. A working compromise had been found.
During implementation it showed that this compromise was not fixed, but that corrections were necessary in order to keep all stakeholders “on board”. Tensions still occurred and cannot all be solved.
Public consultation and the Repository Site Selection ActPublic participation plays a key role in the disposal of radioactive waste in Germany.
The Repository Site Selection Act (StandAG) sets the legal framework for this (8). The public consultation process has never been adequately framed and the Atomic Energy Act was administered in the classic hierarchic manner. The legislative and planning approval procedures that were put in place meant that opportunities for arranging consultations, raising objections and holding debates were only available as part of the public hearing process.
Decisions taken by public and judicial authorities were sometimes enforced by large numbers of police armed with water cannon. Yet this approach did not help settle the conflict. Quite the contrary: following the Fukushima reactor incident social resistance and rejection ultimately compelled Germany to withdraw from nuclear energy completely. The new public consultation arrangements laid down in the StandAG are designed to increase public acceptance and improve the prospects of establishing a final waste repository. The pros and cons of the three main options, namely final disposal in deep geological formations, disposal in deep geological formations with arrangements for retrieval and prolonged near-surface storage, will be the subject of the public participation process. It should be noted that these provisions only constitute a minimum standard and they could well be modified and strengthened by further proposals.
In its memorandum ENTRIA put forward a number of basic considerations on procedural fairness (1). These were used as a guideline for further action. With regard to public participation, the ENTRIA projects on political science deal with themes such as ‘good governance’ (FU Berlin) and ‘experts/civil society’ (ITAS). Relevant publications were taken into account and used when preparing the legal texts.
The ENTRIA part-project “Legal Aspects” first broached the subject of participation in the search for a repository site by generally welcoming the political-science literature on the subject and went on to acknowledge the arrangements that StandAG has put in place for public consultation (9). Within the framework of the jurisprudential response to StandAG we have now almost concluded the process for commenting on the relevant provisions on public participation as contained in the Site Selection Act (§§ 5, 8, 9, 10). Here it is a matter of interpreting the provisions and analysing the jurisprudence, literature and other appropriate presentation material. In order to take account of interdisciplinary perspectives and information ENTRIA members and associates are invited to provide questions and comments on StandAG via the internal communications platform. A qualified psychologist from a communications agency specialising in the policy area of ‘radioactive waste’ also proofreads the draft texts from a public-participation angle and is asked to provide comments.
As part of the ENTRIA workshop discussion ‘setting limits for radiation protection’ the subject of public participation in the limit setting process was presented and critically examined from a judicial perspective. The outmoded legal doctrine of setting legislation and consulting with stakeholders was criticised and support was expressed for introducing changes to the doctrine, which were examined in terms of their transposition into the Radiation Protection Ordinance (10). Literature relating to issues of trust provided a useful textual lever (11). The resulting document has been completed and before it is published is now available on the internal communications platform where it can be read and commented on by all ENTRIA members. The text will also be used at the ENTRIA members’ meeting in Berlin in early 2015 in order to help further explore the theme of ‘setting limits’.
As regards content, according to the current status of the debate on public participation in StandAG, it can be reported that while some legal specialists are calling for the rights of action to be extended, other experts have criticised the prior assumptions made in StandAG based on the research carried out into public participation. From our own experience of various public meetings on site selection it must be concluded that the front lines have hardened further. It is therefore questionable whether the mechanisms provided for in StandAG are really fit for the public participation process. The ENTRIA part-project “Legal Aspects” will go on to raise and discuss complementary conflict-solving measures, such as ‘voluntary action’, in collaboration with the ENTRIA part-project ‘Ethics’. The provisions relating to public participation will also be measured in terms of the constitutional principles concerned.
Citizens’ JuryCitizens’ juries are specific concepts for societal participation. They have been performed in many projects in the field of technology assessment. They aim at involving citizens as lay persons in decision-making processes about controversial and complex, even “wicked” problems. While such citizen juries can address legitimation deficits which loom if wicked problems such as radioactive waste management are challenging established and codified procedures of parliamentary democracy, it still needs to be emphasised that they have to be seen just as supplements, but not as replacements of these procedures. They attempt to open perspectives which are not addressed by scientific experts, stakeholders, lobbyists, politicians, or in opinion polls. The general idea behind such participatory citizen juries stems from discourse ethics and concepts of deliberative democracy: Within a discursive setting, citizens can contribute to a deliberative process.
Accordingly, the role of actors in such citizen’s juries is as follows: Neither organized interest groups (NGO’s) nor professional policy makers are allowed to take part. This makes a citizen jury different from any stakeholder consultation. Scientists will act, to their best ability, as “good and reliable information sources”. Moderation will take place but without the possibility or the right to control or guard the debate. The participants, which are volunteers invited by a phone survey with random selection of addresses, will get the opportunity to freely argue with each other. By such means, a space for argument exchange and discourse will be established which is still focussed by the definition of the topic and by the limitation in time. Result of citizen juries is an opinion report (“Bürgergutachten”) which has been written by the citizens’ themselves. Usually, it entails some policy suggestions. Such report has been written in the ENTRIA citizen jury.
Potential shortcomings and risks of this participatory and discursive approach include group dynamics issues up to personal injuries or insinuations, potential perceptions of being patronised or of the organisers being interest-driven, feelings of being overchallenged, and, sometimes, dominance of ideologies. Such risks might even result in withdrawals of participation or in open dissent. These risks can be substantially reduced by prudent moderation. They didn’t play a role within the ENTRIA citizen jury. Generally, a citizen jury follows the three-step sequence “to recognise – to reflect – to shape”. In a first step, information of the participants, e. g. by scientists, take place. This is followed by in-depth discussion, including the option to ask additional questions to the scientists and to invite additional input providers. The jury combines round-table discussions and small working groups. At the end of the overall citizen jury, the participants will draft a “citizens’ opinion report”. The content of which lies in their own responsibility. In a “post-forum phase”, this report will be delivered to decision makers and, if possible, a dialogue takes place.
Within ENTRIA’s transversal project “Ethical and Moral Substantiation, Legal Prerequisites, and Implications”, the University of Kiel organised such a forum in the first quarter of 2015. The forum addressed the questions “How to dispose of?” about facility types and “How to search?” about the siting process. The citizens decided to address the issue in three groups, one about the political siting process, one about alternatives of the management options considered in ENTRIA (or lack thereof), and one about retrievability. The resulting opinion report (12) focussed on the priority of safety, the request to not further waste time in the process, the need for a societal consensus, the request for a referendum about the process and its actors, and the request to continuously further explore alternative management options while stating that according to present knowledge deep disposal appears to be the “least bad” solution. No consensus was reached on the question of retrievability in the case of deep disposal. The citizen’s report was handed out to Michael Müller, chair of Germany’s “Kommission Lagerung hoch radioaktiver Abfallstoffe”, who personally joined the jury twice. Therefore, there is some hope that the citizen jury might have some impact on the ongoing political process.
ENTRIA, besides of its interdisciplinary research, also has transdisciplinary aspirations, i. e. aspirations for interaction with society beyond the borders of science. The citizen jury is a device to address these aspirations. Thus, the citizens’ opinion report will be published with a disclaimer that ENTRIA does not adopt the opinions being expressed in the report. A scientific analysis of the citizens’ jury will take place in the near future.
ENTRIA is a joint research project financed by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF, Support Codes 02S9082A-F).