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Winning Citizen Trust: The Siting of a Nuclear Waste Facility in Eurajoki, Finland

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On May 18, 2001, the Finnish Parliament voted 159-3 in favor of the govern-
ment’s decision-in-principle (DiP) on the geological disposal of spent nuclear
fuel in Finland. The government based its decision on the application of Posiva
Oy, the nuclear waste management company owned by Finland’s two nuclear
power plant companies. It meant that the repository could be sited in the
Olkiluoto area near the Olkiluoto nuclear power plant in the municipality of
Eurajoki, and the disposal could be based on a technical approach originally
developed by SKB, the Swedish nuclear waste management company. This was
the first time in the world that a site was selected for a high-level nuclear waste
repository and was accepted by the majority of local people.
Only a few years earlier this outcome looked far from likely. Opinion sur-
veys showed a consistent lack of trust in the long-term safety of geological dis-
posal, and the Eurajoki municipality had an official policy opposing any high-
level nuclear waste repository. To the extent that the topic was discussed in the
public media, most opinions were sceptical if not completely negative.
The DiP meant that Posiva could begin its underground research to char-
acterize, or thoroughly examine, the bedrock at the Olkiluoto site. A few years
earlier an official inquiry in the United Kingdom had stopped similar plans at
the Sellafield site in Cumbria. In northern Sweden, referenda had stopped the
SKB’s plans to investigate sites. In this context, the Finnish siting decision
seemed to come against all odds. Its very existence suggests that something new
Juhani Vira
Winning Citizen Trust
The Siting of a Nuclear Waste Facility
in Eurajoki, Finland
Juhani Vira... [BIO]
© 2006 Juhani Vira
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Juhani Vira
was perhaps learned or discovered. The decision was a clear commitment from
all major stakeholders—the regulatory agency, the national government, the
Parliament, the local government, and the municipality council—to move in
the direction of geological disposal of the waste. It can also be seen as another
step in the long process that had started in the early 1980s when the reprocess-
ing of spent fuel was found to be economically impossible in Finland—and
could hardly be defended on any other grounds, either.
The siting decision was not based on the idea of volunteerism: local com-
munities electing to be considered as a prospective site for nuclear waste dis-
posal. The same principle was
later adopted in Sweden, Japan,
and France and is also proposed in
the United Kingdom. However,
since in Finland the local residents
of any given municipality have the
legal right to veto the siting of the
repository in their municipality,
their acceptance was ultimately
required—and in this case they
gave it!
Throughout this process we
learned and we adapted: technical
and rational discussion was valid
and necessary, but it was not enough. Instead of simply “informing” we began to
listen to stakeholders and the public at large and to acknowledge diverse perspec-
tives. In the end, even the Green Party members voted in favor of the DiP.
MY ROLE AND PERSPECTIVE
I am analyzing the successful siting process in Finland from an insider’s per-
spective. I came to work in the nuclear waste program in 1990 when quite a lot
of groundwork in the siting process had already been carried out. The history
had started in the early 1980s, so I could only learn about it from colleagues and
documents, but I lived through the most active phase of the public dialogue
and decision-making in the late 1990s, and also took on the public discussion
as a personal challenge. I have followed the debate around nuclear power since
I began to work in the nuclear energy business in the mid-1970s. In this article
I will try to combine my personal experience with facts and statements from
various documents. However, it should be taken as a personal account, not as
an objective description of what happened. A more multi-faceted analysis of
the experience evolved during a workshop organized by the OECD Nuclear
Energy Agency (NEA) in Turku in late 2001.1
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On May 18, 2001, the Finnish
Parliament voted 159-3 in
favor of the government’s
decision-in-principle (DiP)
on the geological disposal of
spent nuclear fuel in Finland.
Winning Citizen Trust
THE 1980S FRAMEWORK: RAMIFICATIONS FOR THE 1990S
The Finnish government’s decision of 1983 is often seen as the beginning point
of the program to dispose of spent fuel. The first Finnish nuclear power plant
units were built in the 1970s; at that time the thinking was that all spent fuel
should be reprocessed. For the Loviisa power plants this was to take place in the
Soviet Union; the Finnish and Soviet governments had agreed on this. The
reprocessing wastes would remain in the Soviet Union.
Teollisuuden Voima Oy (TVO), the private company that owns the
Olkiluoto nuclear power plant, was engaged in negotiations for reprocessing
with both the British nuclear fuel cycle company BNFL and the French repro-
cessing company Cogema, but finally withdrew from them without any con-
tract. In this context, in 1983, the Finnish government decided on guidelines
for nuclear waste management in Finland: it ruled that TVO should either seek
international arrangements similar to those already in place for the Loviisa
plants, or it should start preparing to dispose of its spent fuel directly, in
Finland. In practice TVO chose the latter route.
The decision of 1983 was a “modern” one in the sense that it defined a step-
by-step process with several opportunities to evaluate progress before the actu-
al disposal operations would begin. The first evaluations were related to
progress in the process of siting the repository, which was assumed to be criti-
cal in developing the disposal solution. The emphasis on the siting process was
possible because the Swedish firm SKB had already developed a technical
approach for disposal; it was also considered suitable in Finland because the
geological conditions in the two countries are so similar. According to this
approach, given the name “KBS-3,” the spent fuel assemblies are packaged in
copper canisters and then buried deep in the crystalline bedrock. Tunnels are
excavated at the depth of about 500 metres in bedrock, holes are drilled in the
floors of these tunnels, and the canisters are placed in these holes. Between the
canisters and the rock walls a “buffer” of bentonite clay is installed to protect
the canisters from mechanical and chemical loads. In this way a very long
expected life-time can be achieved for the canisters.After all canisters have been
disposed of, all tunnels are backfilled and access routes from surface to the
underground space are closed and permanently sealed.
TVO embarked on the site selection process by screening the entire coun-
try for possible sites to investigate; in 1987 it began preliminary investigations
on five candidate sites. Since Finland is situated in the Baltic shield area, where
nearly all the bedrock is crystalline, TVO actually had little choice in geological
terms.2So they believed the possible sites differed very little, but they had to
confirm this by investigating. We were required to study the variability of
Finnish rock conditions at depth. Actually all the five sites represent crystalline
rock type (because, as it is stated earlier, there is no choice in this respect in
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Finland) but the sites do represent different geologic domains in the sense that
their geologic histories are different. For instance, although they are all old geo-
logic formations, their ages vary from 1.6 billion years to almost 3 billion years.
Two of the site candidates (Hyrynsalmi and Kuhmo) were situated in
northern Finland, and two others (Sievi and Konginkangas, later Äänekoski) in
central Finland; the fifth candidate site was Olkiluoto itself, where TVO’s
nuclear power plant was located (see Figure 1).TVO selected the candidate sites
largely by considering geological, geographic and infrastructure factors and
various constraints of land-use plans. The selection was not tied to volun-
teerism in the same way as it has since been applied in many other countries.
However, TVO did inform the municipal administrations about its plans.
In the same year that TVO started the geological investigations a new
nuclear energy act was passed by the Finnish Parliament. The new law includ-
ed specific stipulations for nuclear waste management, and defined the DiP
that would henceforth be needed for any new nuclear facilities. The decision
would have to be made by the government and ratified by Parliament, but first
it had to be endorsed by the municipality at the proposed site and the regula-
tory authority. Thus the law gave the municipalities a right of veto to prevent
the siting of any nuclear facilities, including waste repositories, in their areas.
Many said this veto power would make it impossible to site any nuclear facili-
ties.
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Figure 1. Site selection research programme 1983-2000.
Winning Citizen Trust
In 1992 TVO shortlisted three sites it would continue to investigate: the
Olkiluoto site near the power plant and two inland sites, Kuhmo and Äänekos-
ki. At that time most public opinion was still opposed to the siting plans in all
three municipalities. Active opposition movements against the repository had
had been formed in some candidate communities. Since the TVO was the only
organized entity in these areas supporting the provisional siting plans, most
discussion in the public media was between TVO and the opposition groups.
INTERNATIONAL EVENTS CHANGE THE RULES
The 1980s and 1990s saw great changes in Eastern Europe; in particular the col-
lapse of the Soviet Union led to fairly chaotic conditions in Russia. Although
the government decision of 1983 had endorsed “international solutions,” more
and more Finnish politicians now started saying that the return of spent fuel to
Russia was not ethically defensible. Meanwhile they were becoming more con-
cerned about the implications for Finland of its accession to the European
Union. What if the European Union were to decide to build a nuclear waste
repository for all European wastes in a country like Finland? Why not just pro-
hibit any such practice—including exports, for the sake of balance? In 1994 the
parliament voted to ban both the import and export of nuclear waste.
This vote, which amended the Finnish Nuclear Energy Act, also meant that
the spent fuel from Loviisa would have to be disposed of in Finland. For this
purpose the two nuclear power companies then decided to establish a joint
company, Posiva,3that would take over the spent fuel disposal program that
TVO had been managing. For reasons of balance, the companies also decided
to consider the Loviisa power plant area as another candidate for siting.
REFRAMING THE ISSUE
The general sentiment about nuclear waste disposal continued to be sceptical,
if not totally negative. Judging by opinion polls, none of the candidate munic-
ipalities looked ready to accept a repository. Nor could Posiva overrule the local
right of veto. Thus far, the site selection process had emphasized geological
investigations and interpretations and related safety research, but now it
became clear that the nuclear waste issue was not merely technical or scientif-
ic; it was also a societal and social issue. In the late 1980s and early 1990s sev-
eral social scientists and media researchers had come to focus on the local waste
debates, and they tended to be more sympathetic to the opposition voices. Still,
they recommended more interaction between TVO—later Posiva—and the
local people. And the industry took them seriously.
TVO had, of course, informed local people and the media about its activi-
ties, but until the early 1990s most interaction with local stakeholder groups
was restricted to liaison groups representing the municipality. Now a clear
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Juhani Vira
change in attitudes was evident. Now the industry was interested in dialogue
and debate. But how could it engage in a dialogue the public and stakehold-
ers—those listed in the introduction, as well as local landowners, local business,
and all others potentially acting by, or affecting, the implementation of the sit-
ing plan—if the active local interest was only on the opposition side?
The industry was not alone in reframing the nuclear waste issue: in the
early 1990s the scope of the government-financed Public Nuclear Waste
Research Program was extended to include research into social and media top-
ics. At first most research focused on improving communication between
Posiva (as the implementer of the plan), the authorities, and the local stake-
holder groups. Posiva thought that repositories were most likely to be accepted
if it could give more and better information to the public and the politicians.
Here the media often looked like the main challenge for Posiva, as they seemed
more opposed to nuclear power than the public itself—as long as the public
could be given better, non-biased information about Posiva’s plans and their
safety aspects.
Posiva conducted several extensive opinion surveys, all carried out by con-
sultants. Some looked at general attitudes toward nuclear energy and nuclear
waste, but others went into the details behind people’s opinions and tried to
find out what people actually knew about nuclear wastes and ways to handle
them. The survey results and their analysis certainly supported the view that
the public held many ungrounded beliefs about nuclear waste disposal and that
the attitudes could be affected by better targeted information policies.
However, the results also showed that few people, especially outside the candi-
date site municipalities, were interested in learning about nuclear waste and
plans for its disposal.
Their lack of interest was clearly due to lack of motivation: why should they
be interested? Personally, I understood this attitude. If people in the municipal-
ities had not been asked for opinions when the nuclear power plants were built,
why should they now get involved? Many people apparently thought the indus-
try should solve its problems itself and not bother ordinary people with them.
Given that view, should Posiva force people to take a stance? After the 2001
NEA workshop I mentioned earlier, I talked about this with Claire Mays, a
social psychologist and rapporteur at the workshop; she found the lack of par-
ticipation to be a considerable problem in processes like this. In a democracy,
she felt, everyone should participate in discussing matters that could potential-
ly affect their lives. My view is different: in a developed society the laws and
institutions should protect the citizens even if they do not actively pursue their
interests in every matter that potentially affects their lives.
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ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSEMENT
AS A TOOL TO INFORM AND ENGAGE CITIZENS
In any case, the lack of interest among the municipalities was an issue for us,
especially since the apparent lack of interest could easily change into an
absolute “no” if the municipality later had to take a position on the siting pro-
posal. In this situation, the environmental impact assessment process came in
handy from our point of view. As the law on environmental impact assessments
(EIAs) was enacted in 1994, many industries saw it as a new burden. For us, it
was a helpful instrument. It gave us a legitimate way of involving various stake-
holders in discussing the nuclear waste policies and methods.
Besides actually assessing the social and environmental impact of a pro-
posed project, the purpose of the EIA process is to allow those who may be
affected by the project to influence its planning and implementation. In
Finland the EIA is guided by several formal requirements, but in practice the
process—for instance the way the public interaction is organized—depends
very much on the implementer. Posiva decided to give the local stakeholders
the main role in determining the contents of the EIA. The idea was to bring
together the experts and the local people: the experts would bring their knowl-
edge and experience on the issues, and the local people would provide informa-
tion on what those facts and findings meant to them locally. Working together
like this, perhaps they could build a coherent picture of the project and its alter-
natives.
In 1997 Posiva organised an extensive public interaction campaign—
including meetings, publications, exhibitions and opinion surveys—to gather
information on what people wanted to see in the EIA. For example, at the end
of the campaign a special structured seminar was organized in each candidate
municipality to list the issues the participants wanted covered in the EIA
report. These seminars were led by an outside facilitator, who helped formulate
the issues in an unbiased way. Posiva then used the opinions gathered during
the campaign as the basis of its EIA process.
Of course, there was little hope of consensus on every issue related to
nuclear waste disposal, but local actors generally appreciated Posiva’s offer to
openly discuss all their issues and concerns. Although a limited number of peo-
ple participated in the meetings directly, interest in the issue was clearly grow-
ing, and the first proponent lobby groups formed. In addition to the voices crit-
ical of Posiva’s work, an increasing number of letters to the editor in local news-
papers pointed out possible locally realized benefits from the repository—pri-
marily from increased employment opportunity, revenue derived from a spe-
cial tax on nuclear facilities,4and business derived from demand for certain
services needed by the nuclear power plants and their employees. In the two
municipalities that already had nuclear power stations—Eurajoki and
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Loviisa—writers raised an ethical point: having enjoyed the various benefits
from the nuclear power plants, the people should now recognize their respon-
sibility for the wastes as well.
Although the opinions in most municipalities continued to be critical of a
repository in their neighborhood, local politicians began to notice the chang-
ing tone of the public discussion—from sheer opposition to curiosity. In
Eurajoki and Loviisa, representatives of the local government began to talk to
Posiva about their mutual interests in case their municipality was chosen. In
Äänekoski, the situation remained unsettled: none of the major parties wanted
to become stigmatized by taking an active interest in nuclear wastes. In Kuhmo
the main political parties explicitly stuck to their earlier opposing position even
though new voices favoured a more versatile position, seeing the repository as
a possible cure for the region’s poor economic situation.
THE IMAGE PROBLEM
Posiva formulated its EIA based on the outcome of the public interaction cam-
paign. Not surprisingly, people were interested in the safety of the disposal,
both operational and long-term, and also in the safety of spent fuel transporta-
tion. However, many people seemed concerned about an aspect they called
image. They were afraid that the repository would spoil the image of their home
community.
The interest in operational and transportation safety was often quite tech-
nical: What could happen? How could that be prevented? How serious could it
be for public health? The interest in long-term safety was different. Few people
were directly interested in the geological, physical or chemical details of the
safety assessment; instead they wanted to question the basis of expert knowl-
edge. Could the experts really say anything meaningful about the safety of dis-
posal in the long term? The issue here was our scientific credentials.
As the aspect of bad image seemed to pop up in discussions everywhere, we
gave it special scrutiny: What is image? How is it formed and affected? What
would a repository mean for the image of a community? Various definitions
were proposed for image but in general we interpreted it to mean a kind of
mental picture that an individual or a group of people hold on a certain mat-
ter or object. We were curious about the current image of the candidate site
municipalities. It turned out that the image of Loviisa was closely associated
with nuclear power. Äänekoski’s image was of an industrial town with pollu-
tion problems in its past. Kuhmo elicited an image of a natural wilderness with
nuances of chamber music because of its well-known summer festival. And
Eurajoki was hardly known at all, as the nuclear power plant is named after
Olkiluoto island, located in the municipality of Eurajoki.
Some argued that the repository would give a region’s agricultural produce
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a negative image. We studied possible similar effects in related contexts but
found out they were minimal. These days, people rarely know where their food
comes from, and in fact much agricultural produce originates near existing
nuclear facilities, but that has no effect on either demand or prices. Only in the
case of an accident or serious incident would the repository create a negative
labelling effect.
All in all, looking at previous projects, we found little evidence of signifi-
cant image effects that were likely to arise around a nuclear waste repository.
Personally, the more I discussed the subject with people, the more I became
convinced that they were using the concept of image to denote something neg-
ative in general, something that made them uneasy. In effect, that is, they used
the word to denote their negative attitudes about the matter as a whole: some-
thing that concerned or frightened them or was simply unfamiliar. It seemed
that many people referred to bad image to avoid technical discussion of risks.
Lennart Sjöberg’s studies in Sweden suggest similar interpretations of individ-
ual attitudes toward risk.5
TECHNICAL—AND EMOTIONAL—IMPACT ASSESSMENT
Of course the EIA included a technical safety assessment based on geological
data from the candidate sites. The results confirmed earlier conclusions that
geological disposal would not have any significant effects on present or future
generations, or on the natural environment. Moreover, the assessment conclud-
ed that no one of the candidate sites would be significantly more safe than
another. The sites differed, of course, but they all had both negative and posi-
tive aspects, and it would not be possible to rank them in order of safety.
The safety assessment was reviewed by the regulator, the Radiation and
Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK), and its international review panel consisting
of experts in various sciences relevant to geological disposal. In January 2000
STUK concluded (on the basis of the report of the international review panel)
that geological disposal, as Posiva planned it, was not only a possibility, but a
necessity.In their opinion geological disposal could be made safe, provided that
Posiva continued its research and investigations.
We tried to explain the contents and conclusions of the safety analysis to
the public and stakeholders. Personally, however, I do not think these attempts
had much effect. Much more important were the face-to-face meetings and dis-
cussions with various stakeholders as well as interest groups—nature conserva-
tion associations, local business associations, and other non-governmental
organizations. Few people were truly interested in how many “becquerels of
releases” or “microsieverts of doses” our repository might be responsibile for in
the distant future. Instead,many wanted to learn more about our credentials so
they could judge whether or not they should take us seriously. Some said they
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were afraid in any case.
Judging from the psychosocial research and the interviews that were part of
the opinion research we had no reason to doubt these statements. This was how
we learned to distinguish between the “objective” risks as defined and estimat-
ed by the technical and scientific experts, and the “subjective” risks the lay peo-
ple talked about. Moreover, the subjective risks would be decisive. In the end
the most important decisions would be made by the public—and the politi-
cians who depend on them.
We could try to inform the decision-makers about the expert’s judgments
of the risks and explain the basis of these judgments, but we could not directly
persuade anyone to believe in them. What we could best do face to face was
acknowledge the different views and learn about individuals’ backgrounds. I
am sure that this acknowledgement gained us more in trust than we ever won
through our attempts at public education in safety assessment.
In the late 1990s a significant change took place at the regulatory agency,
STUK. Previously, STUK had refrained from participating in local discussions
about nuclear waste issues. Now it took a more active role, making spokesper-
sons available to the media and at public meetings at the candidate municipal-
ities—provided that the invitation came from the local community. STUK
tried to keep a distance from Posiva’s public activities at the municipalities, and
they succeeded in demonstrating that a body of independent expertise exists on
the issues. Thus the public could compare the message of these independent
experts with the message coming from Posiva. Although STUK was reticent
about the current maturity of the plans, Posiva could usually share STUK’s
view of the future primary needs for research and development work in the
area of geological disposal.
ALTERNATIVES ASSESSED
The closer we came to the decision, the more we talked about alternatives. In
1998 the local communities were forming their positions about the siting issue.
In Loviisa and Eurajoki, representatives from the municipality had started talk-
ing with Posiva about possible forms of support and cooperation in case either
of their areas was chosen. The Eurajoki municipality had officially changed its
position on the siting issue and the majority of local residents seemed ready to
accept a repository. In Loviisa the majority opinion was also favorable, but a
vocal minority opposed it. In Kuhmo the opposition against nuclear wastes
seemed to persist despite some individual attempts to organize a public move-
ment in favor of the repository. In Äänekoski the interest in siting began to
wane as the opposition movement succeeded in the local elections; now the
ruling parties became more cautious about their future support lest they be
seen as eager to site a repository in the municipality.
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It was not difficult to understand the positions of the candidate municipal-
ities. Loviisa and Eurajoki already had nuclear wastes in their areas; for them
the choice was between interim storage and geological repository. Interim stor-
age would always need maintenance and supervision, whereas a geological
repository should not require any attention from future generations once it was
closed. The plans included a “multi-barrier system”: a container for the nuclear
waste itself, with bentonite clay surrounding the canister and then the bedrock
around the repository. Together these should protect people and the environ-
ment from the dangers of the wastes without any need for continued mainte-
nance. Thus the repository would provide a safer place for spent fuel than the
water storage pools already familiar to them. In addition, the repository could
bring economic benefits to the local community, as described above. In the
other two municipalities the question was positioned differently: the reposito-
ry would not lower any pre-existing risk to local people and the local politicians
saw little reason to risk their careers for abstract benefits obtainable some time
in the future.
For Posiva the situation became clear early in 1999. From the point of view
of both geology and safety, all the site candidates would be suitable.6However,
according to the opinion survey, in both Kuhmo and Äänekoski about two
thirds of the population opposed the repository, while in Loviisa and Eurajoki
the balance was about the opposite. In many respects both Loviisa and Eurajoki
would be equally suitable. Still, Loviisa had its strong, if small, local opposition
movement and the siting was much less of an issue in Eurajoki. Moreover, the
majority of the waste was already in Eurajoki and more would be generated
there, so, the outcome of the site assessment was clear for Posiva. In its applica-
tion for the DiP in May 1999, it proposed Olkiluoto in Eurajoki as the site of
the repository. As mentioned above, STUK gave a positive assessment of the
application in January 2000 and soon thereafter the Municipality Council of
Eurajoki voted 20-7 in favor of the repository.
NATIONAL DEBATE BEGINS …
After the municipality decision the process moved to the national level. For the
politicians and national authorities the question was again mainly about alter-
natives: What would happen if the application for the DiP were denied? What,
in fact, would it mean to approve the application? Ultimately, then, the ques-
tion revolved around available alternatives. At the time of the EIA some of the
opposition groups referred to research on partitioning and transmutation
(P&T) technology and suggested that in the future the nuclear waste could be
made harmless; therefore disposal would become unnecessary and obsolete.
They knew, of course, that nuclides can be changed to other nuclides by bom-
barding them with particles (“transmuting” them), but usually the nuclides to
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be transmuted must first be separated (partitioned) from each other. When
first developed, the process was considered too laborious, but when geological
disposal made little progress, some renewed their interest in these P&T tech-
niques. However, those opposing geological disposal in Finland lost interest
quite quickly as they realized that P&T technology would likely mean increased
large-scale use of nuclear technology. Not to mention cost!
The discussion soon changed direction. Now the opponents of geological
disposal focused on the alternative of “retrievable” underground storage, in
which nuclear waste could later be retrieved from storage if desired. In practice,
however, such storage must also be supervised and kept in good condition, in
contrast to geological repositories, which could safely be forgotten.
Before the DiP application was submitted, the opposition to nuclear waste
disposal was based on local groups with loose connections to national or inter-
national anti-nuclear organisations. Now international Greenpeace became
more active, bringing in experts from abroad. Their main message was that the
case for the safety of geological disposal was insufficient and that any decision
towards such a solution should be postponed. Two British scientists, Helen
Wallace and Stuart Haszeldine, were invited by some opposition groups to
bring this message to the Finnish Parliament. Of course the British dimension
was important because of the Sellafield inquiry a few years earlier.There, on the
basis of insufficient data about underground conditions, the UK firm Nirex
was denied permission to construct an exploratory shaft to study the bedrock
in order to consider siting a repository.
Both Wallace and Haszeldine got some publicity in the media and Posiva
was asked to respond to the points of safety they raised. We agreed that we still
needed more information about the Olkiluoto bedrock, but that was exactly
why we wanted to go ahead with our investigations and start constructing an
underground facility to study the rock. According to the Finnish Nuclear
Energy Act we would need the DiP to go underground.
It seems that few Parliament members bought the arguments of the British
scientists. Most of them saw two alternatives: either approve the DiP applica-
tion, in which case the studies would continue and the case for safety could per-
haps be substantiated during the coming years, or deny it and leave the situa-
tion open without any solution in sight. However, the first alternative would
still leave the option of stepping back in the future, while offering at least a pos-
sibility of something better than open-ended storage in facilities that need con-
tinued monitoring and maintenance. In this respect, it was pointed out, the
underground retrievable storage proposed by some of the opposition groups
would not be any major improvement. Much of the final debate focused on
comparing the risk of abandoned spent fuel in interim storage against the risks
of geological disposal.
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…AND ENDS
As it turned out, Parliament voted almost unanimously to approve the DiP. The
vote was 159-3 in favor, with 37 members absent. Remarkably, the Green Party
members also voted for the DiP. According to Janina Andersson, a Green mem-
ber of Parliament, the party saw itself as following up on the discussion of the
1994 amendment of the Nuclear Energy Act. The Green Party had advocated
for the amendment that prohibited all exports and imports of nuclear waste.
In fact, two years before the vote on the DiP the government had decided
on the general safety requirements for spent fuel disposal—and that decision
included the requirement on retrievability.It had not been included in the orig-
inal draft prepared by the regulator, STUK, which considered it as potentially
counterproductive to long-term safety, but during the EIA process it became
clear that the majority of Parliament members considered retrievability to be
an essential part of the solution. Finally STUK also gave in to that idea. At the
time of the DiP vote, retrievability, or more generally, reversibility, was proba-
bly a key element that helped many politicians to make a positive decision
despite contradictory advice and apparent uncertainties. For them the decision
was mainly a conditional “yes,” in case nothing better would appear. For them,
retrievability meant that the decision could be reversed in the future.
WHAT MADE THE FINNISH DECISION DIFFERENT?
As I mentioned above, in the mid-1990s it was still far from clear that we real-
ly could choose a site for the repository in 2000. Siting decisions had been very
difficult in most countries in similar positions. So what was different in
Finland?
Some media researchers have criticized the way the discussion in Finland
was directed away from long-term safety issues to what they call a pragmatist
debate on alternatives. For example, Pentti Raittila’s analysis of the media dis-
cussion around the DiP suggests that this was part of Posiva’s strategy.7In my
opinion, we did not need that kind of strategy; we certainly did not see the DiP
as a test of safety, but instead as a policy decision on alernatives for managing
spent fuel. However, I think what most surprised Raittila was that the debate
did not follow the example of other countries. The UK stopped the develop-
ments at Sellafield and the Swedish municipalities voted against site investiga-
tions. Why, then, was the Finnish parliament almost unanimously in favor of
geological disposal?
One difference between the Swedish and Finnish situations is evident: in
Finland the local right of veto is absolute (it can only be changed through a
long legislative process) whereas in Sweden it can be overridden. Some of the
opposition to site investigations in Sweden arose because local people did not
know what else might evolve if they were to accept the site investigations. In
innovations / fall 2006 77
Juhani Vira
Finland, I think it was important that we were given the chance to start the sit-
ing process—but people still knew they could say no in the end, if they wanted
to.
A difference from the British case is also evident. We had gone through a
long, well-defined siting process before the decision; in the UK the public was
not sure why Sellafield was to be studied.
There are probably no simple explanations for the different decision in
Finland. Ilkka Ruostetsaari, from the Department of Political Science and
International Studies of Tampere University, suggested that the outcome of the
DiP discussion could have been expected in advance, given the pragmatic polit-
ical culture in Finland.8For instance, he said, in Finland the authorities are still
well respected. This may be part of the explanation: STUK’s involvement in the
discussion and, later, its positive preliminary safety assessment, probably influ-
enced the vote in the Eurajoki municipality council. However, on the national
level people likely saw the DiP as just another step in a process that had started
almost twenty years earlier and had proceeded through a number of mile-
stones, of which the DiP was important, but not the final one. Pragmatism was
an ingredient in the judgment by the majority of Parliament members that no
real alternative was in sight for geological disposal. In 2006 similar conclusions
were made in both France and the UK.
The discussion on the DiP for nuclear waste disposal took place before the
decision to build a new nuclear power plant unit at Olkiluoto; it focused on the
spent fuel arising from the existing plants. However, as the EIA was prepared it
allowed for possible new units as well. Parliament had voted against nuclear
power in 1993, but then it became more popular among those discussing alter-
natives to ensure a future electricity supply, as the Kyoto Protocol placed ambi-
tious requirements on countries like Finland. One year after the DiP on spent
fuel disposal, Parliament ratified the DiP on the third nuclear power plant unit
at Olkiluoto.
CONCLUSION
Since the 2001 Decision-in-Principle we have seen a lot of interest in Finnish
nuclear waste management solutions. Masses of visitors have come from for-
eign countries and we have been invited to various meetings to describe how
we did it. In particular, how was it possible to get local acceptance for the repos-
itory? Sometimes people seem to believe that if they follow what we did in
Finland they will succeed in their own country as well.
I do not believe that our process, as such, can be duplicated anywhere else.
But neither do I believe that the conditions were unique to Finland. What I
think was important to our success was that we had a well-defined, sufficiently
fair process that the main stakeholders could accept and follow. It was formu-
78 innovations / fall 2006
Winning Citizen Trust
lated as a stepwise approach from the very beginning because the authorities
wanted to control the progress and decision-making. That control meant
restrictions and extra reporting requirements for the waste producers, but it
also legitimized activities connected to the site investigations in areas that had
nothing to do with nuclear power. It also made the siting process a national
task. Of course, by definition, the stepwise nature of the process meant that
decisions could be made on the basis of incomplete information, because more
information would be collected in the next phase. At the time of the DiP Posiva
could simply acknowledge that more research and development issues still had
to be solved before implementation. We never had to promise more than we
honestly believed to be realistic.
Another important fact is that communities near nuclear power plants are
apparently more trusting about nuclear waste solutions than communities else-
where. In Sweden the siting process seems to be moving towards an outcome
like the Finnish one, as in a couple of years SKB is likely to propose either
Oskarshamn or Forsmark as the site of the repository. Both are nuclear power
plant municipalities. Of course, such choices may not be available in all coun-
tries with nuclear power plants.
When I say that the process was “sufficiently fair” I admit that we could
have done some things differently. One problem was the imbalance of resources
in the EIA phase. One main purpose of the EIA is the stakeholder interaction
in which all parties seek alternatives that can best minimize negative impacts
and lead to a solution that will be acceptable for everyone. However, on issues
like nuclear waste disposal, local stakeholders will likely lack the expertise they
need to engage in such discussions. The Ministry of Trade and Industry showed
an interest in the social dimensions of the waste issue by establishing a social
nuclear waste research program, but it could not allot significant resources to
the local communities themselves. The municipalities were empowered by the
local veto on siting, but this possibility hardly encouraged them to spend
money on independent experts.
Another thing that bothered me during the EIA was the apparent lack of
real alternatives. The EIA was established to seek out and assess alternatives,but
could we really offer any other realistic alternative than our own and the zero
alternative (continued interim storage)? If we did not know of any reasonable
alternatives, how could local lay people find them? Now, in 2007 I feel relieved:
geological disposal has also been deemed a necessity in France and the UK; in
the UK this happened after a lengthy consultation that must have considered
every last possibility.
For us at Posiva the period 1990-2001 was a learning process in which some
of our earlier roles were turned upside down. Instead of educating others, we
started to listen to the public and other stakeholders and acknowledge different
viewpoints and perspectives. This, I believe, brought us much more public trust
innovations / fall 2006 79
Juhani Vira
than all the previous reports and brochures combined.
1. NEA (2002): “Stakeholder involvement and confidence in the process of decision-making for the
disposal of spent nuclear fuel in Finland,” Nuclear Energy Agency, Paris
(NEA/RWM/FSC(2002)1), available on NEA’s website <www.nea.fr/html/rwm/docs/2002/rwm-
fsc2002-1.pdf>. Those who participated in the workshop may recognize both similarities and dif-
ferences between the ideas presented in the workshop and my comments here.
2. The name of the second nuclear power company was Imatran Voima Oy (IVO), now called
Fortum Power and Heat Oyj). For further information on Posiva, see <www.posiva.fi>.
3. Based on Finnish law the nuclear facility owners pay a special municipality tax proportional to
the investment value of the nuclear facility. This is a significant source of income for “nuclear”
municipalities.
4. See, for example, Sjöberg, L. (2004): Local Acceptance of a High-Level Nuclear Waste Repository.
Risk Analysis 24 (3), 737-749.
5. T. Vieno & H. Nordman (1999): Safety assessment of spent fuel disposal. In Hästholmen, Kivetty,
Olkiluoto and Romuvaara, TILA-99. Posiva Oy, Report POSIVA 99-07.
6. Pentti Raittila, ed. (2001): Mediat ydinjätettä hautaamassa (”Media burying the nuclear waste”),
Publications of the Tampere University Institute for Media Research, Series C 34/2001.
7. NEA, op. cit.
80 innovations / fall 2006
We invite reader comments. Email <editors@innovationsjournal.net>.
... NEA 2002; Darst and Dawson 2010, 16-26), whose disposal project has advanced without significant citizen opposition, thanks to careful long-term preparation (e.g. Vira 2006;Kojo 2009;Lehtonen et al. 2017). In France, protest and local opposition against the project persist, despite significant efforts towards participatory and deliberative governance since the early 1990s (e.g. ...
... As incentive measures, voluntary opt-in and opt-out have been evoked as one of the reasons for the relatively smooth siting process in Finland (Vira 2006;Varjoranta and Paltemaa 2010, 24;Litmanen et al. 2017b), and for its relative success in mitigating against the 'bribe effect' (Kojo and Richardson 2012, 38). However, the opt-in was 'semi-voluntary' in the sense that it applied only after TVO had narrowed down the options through preliminary site investigations, and identified a handful of potential sites for a repository in the late 1980s and early 1990s (Kojo 2009, 168-174). ...
Chapter
Various types of community benefit schemes have been implemented in order to mitigate potential harmful effects and facilitate the construction of nuclear installations, to compensate for real or potential damage (e.g. harmful distributive effects), and to incite communities to volunteer in planning and construction. This chapter draws on examples from Finland and France in order to illustrate the challenges associated with community benefit schemes in nuclear waste disposal policy. Drawing on interview and documentary material, and earlier literature concerning typologies of benefit measures, the chapter explores the role of benefit schemes in the relatively smoothly advancing Finnish waste disposal project and the more conflict-ridden French project. The mitigation and compensation functions of benefit schemes have primarily served the overarching objective of obtaining local acceptance for the repository projects. In France, the benefit schemes have occupied more space in public debate and have arguably played a greater role in winning local support for the project than in Finland. The schemes also differ in their success of minimising the accusation that the schemes would constitute illegitimate bribery. The reasons include the differences between the host regions – a nuclear community in Finland and a ‘nuclear-virgin’ region in France; a single municipality in Finland and a patchwork of small communities in the French host area – and in the approaches to nuclear and nuclear waste policy (the state-led approach in France and industry-led approach in Finland).
... NEA 2002; Darst and Dawson 2010, 16-26), whose disposal project has advanced without significant citizen opposition, thanks to careful long-term preparation (e.g. Vira 2006;Kojo 2009;Lehtonen et al. 2017). In France, protest and local opposition against the project persist, despite significant efforts towards participatory and deliberative governance since the early 1990s (e.g. ...
... As incentive measures, voluntary opt-in and opt-out have been evoked as one of the reasons for the relatively smooth siting process in Finland (Vira 2006;Varjoranta and Paltemaa 2010, 24;Litmanen et al. 2017b), and for its relative success in mitigating against the 'bribe effect' (Kojo and Richardson 2012, 38). However, the opt-in was 'semi-voluntary' in the sense that it applied only after TVO had narrowed down the options through preliminary site investigations, and identified a handful of potential sites for a repository in the late 1980s and early 1990s (Kojo 2009, 168-174). ...
Chapter
Various types of community benefit schemes have been implemented in order to mitigate potential harmful effects and facilitate the construction of nuclear in-stallations, to compensate for real or potential damage (e.g. harmful distributive effects), and to incite communities to volunteer in planning and construction. This chapter draws on examples from Finland and France in order to illustrate the challenges associated with community benefit schemes in nuclear waste disposal policy. Drawing on interview and documentary material, and on earlier literature concerning typologies of benefit measures, the chapter explores the role of benefit schemes in the relatively smoothly advancing Finnish waste dis-posal project and the more conflict-ridden French project. The mitigation and compensation functions of benefit schemes have had as their overarching objec-tive to obtain local acceptance for the repository projects. As compared to Fin-land, in France, the benefit schemes have occupied more space in public debate, and have arguably played a greater role in winning local support for the project. The schemes also differ in their success of minimising the accusation that the schemes would constitute illegitimate bribery. The reasons include the differ-ences between the host regions – a nuclear community in Finland and a ‘nucle-ar-virgin’ region in France; a single municipality in Finland and a patchwork of small communities in the French host area – and between approaches to nuclear and nuclear waste policy (state-led in France and industry-led in Finland).
... Since the first discussions in the USA during the 1950s, geological disposal has been accepted worldwide as the most feasible option for the long-term management of HLW, regardless of the pros and cons of nuclear power generation (Tochiyama and Masuda, 2013). Finland is the first country in the world that selected a site for HLW repository due to their 'well-defined, sufficiently fair process, which the main stakeholders could accept and follow' (Vira, 2006). Sweden has recently made great progress, and some other countries (e.g. ...
... In Finland and Sweden, feelings of deception seemed absent, 13 and the industry and authorities underlined the importance of continuous political commitment, patient and determined long-term work towards implementation, following prescribed steps and a realistic timetable [e.g. 106,107,60]. ...
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The concept of social licence to operate (SLO) is an increasingly popular tool for companies to manage their relations with the local communities. SLO is very seldom used in the nuclear sector, which has nevertheless applied similar approaches, under notions such as partnership and participatory governance. This article explores the specific challenges that the application of SLO faces in the nuclear waste management (NWM) sector, by applying an often-used SLO framework of Boutilier and Thomson to illustrative case studies concerning nuclear waste repository projects in Finland, France and Sweden. Among the specificities of this sector, the article focuses on the central role of the state in the governance of a project designed as a local solution to a national, even a global problem, entailing extremely long-term challenges, in a context when the state has a vested interest in the project obtaining an SLO. The article suggests that state-related elements be added to the four key criteria of the Boutilier and Thomson framework, which consists of economic and socio-political legitimacy, and interactional and institutionalised trust. To account for the diversity of settings, such as the ‘high-trust’ contexts of Finland and Sweden and the French ‘society of mistrust’, further analysis and conceptual refinement are needed, especially concerning the multiple dimensions of trust and mistrust, the relationships between legal, political, and social licences, and the specific challenges of intergenerational justice in SLO work.
... Most countries that are looking for specific repository sites are faced with sustained opposition, as demonstrated in France (Oroschakoff and Solletty 2017), the United Kingdom (RT 2015), Japan (Ryall 2017;Suzuki 2017), and South Korea (Richardson 2017). Even in countries that have chosen specific sites, namely Sweden and Finland, there is a history of opposition (Sjoberg and Drottz-Sjoberg 2009;Swahn 2011;Vira 2006). ...
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Climate change is a key problem of the 21st century. China, as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has committed to stabilize its current emissions and dramatically increase the share of electricity production from non-fossil fuels by 2030. However, this is only a first step: in the longer term, China needs to aggressively strive to reach a goal of zero-emissions. Through detailed discussions of electricity pricing, electric vehicle policies, nuclear energy policies, and renewable energy policies, this book reviews how near-term climate and energy policies can affect long-term decarbonization pathways beyond 2030, building the foundations for decarbonization in advance of its realization. Focusing primarily on the electricity sector in China - the main battleground for decarbonization over the next century – it provides a valuable resource for researchers and policymakers, as well as energy and climate experts.
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Nuclear energy production leaves behind waste that endangers human health for over 100,000 years. Governments and nuclear power producers around the world are scrambling to safely and sustainably dispose of these byproducts. To manage nuclear waste, Finland began constructing the Onkalo spent nuclear fuel repository, which is the first structure in the world engineered to last over one hundred millennia. The purpose of this article is to examine competing imaginaries in the deep-time policymaking process. This paper analyzes the history of the repository and the decision-making process authorizing its creation, arguing that deep time policy decisions are mediated by the expected technological progress of future generations. I present two different imaginaries: the progressive and the precautionary. The progressive imaginary believes that the technology of future generations will outpace natural challenges, so contemporary decisionmakers should prioritize future flexibility. In contrast, the precautionary imaginary is skeptical that technology will consistently advance and favors immediate action to mitigate long-term risks. I suggest that Onkalo’s development and adoption rested upon a prevailing precautionary imagination, which is explained in part by Finnish society’s general deference to established expertise. I argue the progressive-precautionary framework can help explain both cross-national variations in deep time policymaking and single case studies of long-term policy decisions. I conclude by considering the generalizability of my analysis and areas for future research.
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The siting of nuclear waste facilities has been very difficult in all countries. Recent experience in Sweden indicates, however, that it may be possible, under certain circumstances, to gain local support for the siting of a high-level nuclear waste (HLNW) repository. The article reports on a study of attitudes and risk perceptions of people living in four municipalities in Sweden where HLNW siting was being intensely discussed at the political level, in media, and among the public. Data showed a relatively high level of consensus on acceptability of at least further investigation of the issue; in two cases local councils have since voted in favor of a go-ahead, and in one case only a very small majority defeated the issue. Models of policy attitudes showed that these were related to attitude to nuclear power, attributes of the perceived HLNW risk, and trust. Factors responsible for acceptance are discussed at several levels. One is the attitude to nuclear power, which is becoming more positive, probably because no viable alternatives are in sight. Other factors have to do with the extensive information programs conducted in these municipalities, and with the logical nature of the conclusion that they would be good candidates for hosting the national HLNW repository.
Mediat ydinjätettä hautaamassa ( " Media burying the nuclear waste
  • Pentti Raittila
Pentti Raittila, ed. (2001): Mediat ydinjätettä hautaamassa ( " Media burying the nuclear waste " ), Publications of the Tampere University Institute for Media Research, Series C 34/2001.
Stakeholder involvement and confidence in the process of decision-making for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel in Finland
NEA (2002): "Stakeholder involvement and confidence in the process of decision-making for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel in Finland," Nuclear Energy Agency, Paris (NEA/RWM/FSC(2002)1), available on NEA's website <www.nea.fr/html/rwm/docs/2002/rwm-fsc2002-1.pdf>. Those who participated in the workshop may recognize both similarities and differences between the ideas presented in the workshop and my comments here.
Media burying the nuclear waste
  • Ed Pentti Raittila
Pentti Raittila, ed. (2001): Mediat ydinjätettä hautaamassa ("Media burying the nuclear waste"), Publications of the Tampere University Institute for Media Research, Series C 34/2001.