Ep 283: Roy Payne - Executive Director , GDFWatch
UK’s Radioactive Waste Management (0:00-11:23)
Roy Payne introduces the UK’s Radioactive Waste Management division and how he became head of stakeholder engagement
Q: How did you find your way into the nuclear industry?
A: Roy Payne’s background in communication and engagement was used to run political campaigns, large scale marketing campaigns, and lobbying and public policy campaigns. He has worked inside government, corporations, and in the community. United Kingdom’s Radioactive Waste Management (RWM) had just reached a point where the previous search for a site for a geologic repository had failed. After a review, RWM looked at renewing the policy and wanted someone who understood communications and stakeholder engagement. RWM is the UK’s body responsible for final disposal of radioactive waste and is in the process of trying to identify a site with a consent-based approach to get the approval of the local community. Roy has been employed by the RWM as the head of stakeholder engagement to look at the policy and review how the communication and engagement strategy may work. Additional work was needed to challenge nuclear industry perception and perspectives, but there were also constraints upon a public body in how they conduct their business. Roy wanted to be outside that to challenge some of the conceptions and provide more flexibility. People vote, not because they are rational, but because they believe in a set of values or sentiments. The nuclear sector still primarily communicates through providing information and making people understand the logic or science. However, people want reassurance and addressing of their emotions and feelings. The UK was one of the founding countries to research and use nuclear energy. Waste wasn’t originally given the same level of thought about consequences that it is given now. Some studies in America are showing that some of the standards in terms of radiation protection are way beyond what is necessary. But these standards were introduced and built up in the 1970’s and 80’s when there was a huge distrust of nuclear and to secure public acceptance. At this stage, there is an issue about what is logic and science and what public acceptability is. Before standards are reduced, work needs to be done with the public to make them comfortable. Industrial processes in developing human societies produce a lot of waste, most of which is not regulated and is disposed of carelessly without any form of protection to the environment or public health. A discussion needs to happen about waste and responsibility, especially which is produced as a result of energy or certain products that we see as beneficial to us. Radioactive waste is part of our society and part of our politics; we need to understand it within that context instead of just seen as a physical substance.
Community Discussions About Nuclear Waste (11:23-19:30)
Why geological disposal of radioactive waste is a social and political issue, not a technical one
Q: Are you afraid that, by putting radioactive waste in a special category, the public is getting an idea in their mind that this is something that needs unique considerations?
A: The moment someone enters a community and brings up a discussion about radioactive waste, there is an automatic emotional, negative reaction. It is latent within populations around the world. Largely, this is driven through a lack of information and instinctive fear when risks are not understood. Much of the research in the nuclear industry shows that safety is the first issue, therefore industry thinks they should lead conversations with safety. There is an increased realization within the nuclear sector that the messaging of the past 10-25 years has had no impact. On the communications side, this is a poor return in investment. It is universally clear that geological disposal is not a technical issue; this is a social and political issue. However, when looking at the communication campaigns, the message reverts to the safety and technical description of the project, rather than looking at the social and political dimensions. Roy Payne has worked in multiple different sectors throughout his career and each sector has its own language, culture and norms. The nuclear sector has gotten into a habit of wanting to teach and explain nuclear science, but the wider population are not students and don’t want to learn. They have a different set of demands. The nuclear sector is slowly addressing this. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) held a large conference months ago which brought hundreds of mayors and leaders of municipalities from around the world to share how they perceive the nuclear sector. This audience would be very supportive of the sector because they are familiar with the risks, but feel as though they are treated as “children”, not as partners. The nuclear sector has kept the public at arms length, but that gap needs to be bridged.
Bridging the Gap Between the Nuclear Sector & the Public (19:30-31:21)
Roy’s perspective on how to create a partnership with a community and engage them in long-term decision making
Q: Who’s responsible for bridging the gap between the nuclear sector and the public?
A: Roy Payne suspects outside organizations, such as the Energy Impact Center and new companies such as Deep Isolation, are better placed to bridge the gap between the nuclear sector and the public because they can come with a fresh attitude. It is more difficult to get large governmental, international, and corporate organizations to shift to open the pathways. The new entrants make the change and show the way forward. When Roy joined Radioactive Waste Management (RWM) in the UK, it was at the time a division of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority but was being established as a new entity. The name for RWM was chosen because it does what it says in the name, as opposed to a made-up name that was not value-laden in any way and would give an opportunity for people to make even more negative associations. Introducing yourself as who you are when you first arrive, which may initially put up a wall, is actually necessary to get through to the other side and have a realistic, difficult conversation. A lot of the process is about empowering the community and having a partnership with the community. An important part of building a foundation of trust is to have the difficult conversation, but allow the community to walk away if it proves not to be attractive to the community. It will take 20-30 years to work out what can be done safely because there is so much analysis to be done. Only 10-15 percent of the total radioactive waste is looked at for storage in deep geological repositories. Many people believe the waste being thrown away is actually a usable product. But no matter how much is recycled, there is always a concentrated residue of waste. Roy aims to build and engage in conversation about geological disposal in a social and community context. Most people in the first stage do not want to dive into the technical discussion about the dilution or concentrating, but are more worried about how it impacts themselves and their community. Roy’s role is to create the space in which communities and the sector can start having a discussion in a constructive and organized way where both sides are treated with respect, but also, both sides are listening to each other. Discussions have slowed due to COVID, but it will probably start with very small community meetings. The possible locations are not yet disclosed, but could be anywhere throughout the UK. There are multiple motivations, including economic purposes, to finalize these locations. How these conversations evolve will be driven by the community. Sweden is at the end of a process that has taken over 30 years. It is not always easy to maintain a public dialogue over 30 years when there is not much to talk about, since analysis takes a long time. While they are analyzing the geology and technical requirements, there will be a lot of discussion within the community about what the community wants and funding made available to give it a sustainable future.
Long-Term Infrastructure Planning (31:21-40:07)
How to shift the conversation about radioactive waste storage from short-term political decision-making to long-term community investment
Q: Does funding for the community ever get perceived as a payoff to take something undesirable?
A: Roy Payne has seen that the first default position of most people is that funding to the community is perceived as a payoff to accept a deep geologic repository. However, if no compensation is not offered, people wonder why not. If compensation is offered, people consider it bribing, creating a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. It isn’t just about the money, it’s about what the community wants to feel engaged and involved in a process over the longer term. A facility like this will be operated within the UK for 150-200 years, offering consistent work. The community in Carlsbad, NM sees radioactive waste as a constant, steady stream of business at WIPP that attracts high-skill, high-pay jobs. Other industries in the area come and go with booms and busts. In ten years, Roy doesn’t anticipate much change but sees conversations about geologic depositories taking place in four or five communities as research is looked at for individual sites. The broad environment in which this all happens has potential for change, however. The nuclear sector often looks at itself in a vacuum, while the world around it is changing, including generational outlooks. If climate change is not addressed and the carbon footprint is not reduced, the world is in a much more dangerous position. If there is any risk associated with nuclear, it’s a small one because nuclear will help achieve the carbon targets, which is the more urgent and pressing issue. One of the issues is that nuclear decisions are caught up in complex, short-term political decision making. Societies have forgotten how to plan for long-term needs, as evidenced by crumbling infrastructure. Nuclear is one part of that. There’s a wider sense, though - increasingly, what we’re seeing now with the coronavirus, we’re bringing it home - is a generation beginning to think ‘No, we need to plan better. We need to plan longer term. There are consequences to our actions. We cannot just keep throwing waste away.’ There is, more generally, a changing mindset around the world about waste, not just radioactive waste. People are realizing these longer term problems must be dealt with alone and must be addressed collectively. Doing nothing in itself has risks. The reason for burying radioactive waste is because another ice age is coming and the Northern Hemisphere is going to be covered with glaciers. These moral and ethical considerations are being taken seriously by this generation.