Presentation by Kenneth Gunnarsson at the European roundtable, Luxembourg, 8-9 April 2010, Implementation of the Aarhus Convention in radioactive waste management

 

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First of all, thank you for inviting us to this conference.
 
My name is Kenneth Gunnarsson. I am from the Swedish umbrella organization, MKG – the Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review. It is a platform for cooperation between several environmental organizations that work with the nuclear waste issue.
 
As you may know, NGO participation in the nuclear waste process in Sweden is indirectly subsidized by the Swedish nuclear power industry – a unique arrangement, as far as I know. It is that arrangement I will talk about today.
 
First I will give a brief background and then talk a little about our experience and perceptions of the process and the subsidies. Finally, I have a few suggestions.
 
In the 1980s, when the nuclear waste company SKB began looking for a place to store Sweden's high-level waste, the situation was similar to that in many other countries. Demonstrations, confrontations and police action played out before TV cameras.
 
The Nuclear Power Inspectorate took the initiative to bring together opposing interests – the so-called Dialogue Project. The explicit purpose of the Dialogue was to build confidence around the work on a final repository.
 
The nuclear waste company chose not to take part in the Project. One of several conclusions of the Dialogue Project was that local governments and NGOs involved in the issue need economic resources to help them develop the competence they need in order to be able to make independent judgments.
 
In 1998 Sweden enacted a new Environmental Code. The participation of environmental NGOs in EIA-processes was said to be desirable. In 2004, the Ministry of the Environment proposed an amendment to the law that governs the Nuclear Waste Fund. The amendment would allow civil society organizations to apply for money directly out of the Fund. The proposal was circulated for comment – a step in the legislative process in Sweden. Only the nuclear waste company, SKB, opposed the idea.
 
In order to be eligible for funding, organizations have to fulfill the criteria set for formal participation in legislative processes; have existed three years, be democratic, and have at least 2000 members. Few of the organizations were large enough to qualify, but the lawmakers removed that hindrance by allowing coalitions of organizations to apply. This is the background to MKG, the platform organization I represent.
 
The funds began to be paid out in 2005. The program was evaluated in 2009. The findings were positive:
– NGOs had become more actively involved,
– levels of knowledge had risen.
– Not least, the issue of nuclear waste management had received more 'all-round' treatment, and
– the quality of consultations had improved.
 
Today, three coalitions of NGOs share an annual allotment of three million Swedish crowns (320 thousand Euros). MKG receives 1.9 million of the total.
 
The Swedish siting process is often held forth as a "good example" internationally. That two municipalities actually compete for the privilege of housing one of the most hazardous waste known to mankind has surprised observers worldwide. Just as it is highly unusual for environmental NGOs to sit at the same table with the nuclear industry.
 
Public support for the project locally is about 80 per cent, according to polls. How is this possible? A lot of the answer, I think, has to do with Swedish culture and tradition. And a 30 years long process.
 
Now, "the exemplary Swedish process" should not be taken to imply that the nuclear waste company is any more transparent, cooperative or otherwise favorable toward environmental NGOs than their colleagues in other countries.
 
As I noted at the start, SKB exhibits the same behavior as most polluting industries. They have been confrontative in their dealings with environmentalists from the start. They volunteer only information that serves their purposes. They control the consultation process so as to keep the focus away from uncertainties and risks associated with the project. They claim to represent the public interest.
 
Many people in Sweden believe SKB is a government institution. They use the enormous economic resources at their disposal to dominate the media and other information flows. But, for our part, we jumped at the opportunity to apply for funding from the nuclear waste fund. Without the funding it would have been impossible for us to take an active part, and to contribute to this long, drawn-out process.
 
To be able to participate in the process is in our view a good thing. But participation in the process does not necessarily mean that we can influence the process. But it gives us access to information and documentation that we might otherwise not have had access to.
 
The subsidy has had several positive effects:
– It enables us to cover the costs of our volunteer members, who attend meetings, etc.
– We have been able to hire permanent staff, who can process the flow of documentation that the project generates.
– As a consequence, we have learned more and come to the meetings better prepared.
– The documents we have submitted over the years have become better, too.
– Our knowledge has given us recognition; journalists turn to us.
– And our status overall has been boosted. This is reflected in our contacts with the regulatory authorities and local government, for example.
 
One might say that we have become "one of the family" – which is both "plus" and "minus". Sometimes people see us as yet another expert group, or interest group. And this can drive something of a wedge between us and the general public.
 
Lately, the nuclear waste company, SKB, have been tougher in their steering
of the consultations. The meetings have become more polarized, more confrontative, as a result. This may possibly have dampened the public's interest in the EIA-process, as well.
 
The funding ends before the Environmental Court procedure takes place. This, together with the conditions attached to how we use the funding, leads us to conclude that the Swedish arrangement does not fully fulfill the intentions of the Århus Convention. We NGOs seem to be welcome in the process, as long as we don't have any influence on it.
 
Finally, then, we in MKG would like to offer a few suggestions:
– It is important to create a dialogue early in the process. The process is best if it is co-created, when it is a mutual effort. And, it should be open to all who wish to take part in it.
– If the process is to generate any involvement or enthusiasm, it should include core elements of the project in question. In this case, for example, the choice of storage method and the siting.
 
And, the process should have some visible results.
 
– Arrange for some agency that is independent of the applicant to moderate the EIA process, while the applicant remains responsible for the EIS document etc.
 
We believe that it will enhance the credibility of the process, reduce polarization and, in the end, produce a better result.
 
– Don't attach conditions to the support extended to NGOs. It is only a source of friction. Good processes foster good participants.
 
– Don't set a priori ceilings on the subsidies. Let the nature of the project set the dimensions.
 
– Unless NGOs are recognized by the Court and have the right to appeal, their participation in the process is fairly pointless. I urge you to work to strengthen organizations' ability to bring cases before the courts – in national legislation and in the Union.
 
Thank you.

 

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