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Disposal of radioactive waste dialogue continues to impact DECC’s activities

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In February 2014, DECC completed a public dialogue project (with Sciencewise support) on the siting of the geological disposal facility (GDF) for higher level radioactive waste.  Recent Sciencewise research has identified longer term impacts on the way DECC is working to develop and implement policy in this area. DECC has since commissioned another public dialogue (again with Sciencewise support) to focus specifically on working with communities during the next stages of the siting process.

DECC remains clear that the original public dialogue project was highly influential in the development of the White Paper Implementing Geological Disposal, published in July 2014, and that it is of continuing value in the delivery of the policy on the ground:

The dialogue was used in the development of policy for a White Paper, but where we may see it as useful in the future is if we use the tools to engage effectively with communities … it definitely impacted our development of the White Paper … it was about making robust policy …and It is a lot to do with our long term delivery of the programme …  we’re keen to get those kinds of tools involved with the actual implementation of policy on the ground when we start to talk to communities.” (DECC 2016)

The original independent evaluation report on the first dialogue project took the view that “Arguably the strongest influence from the process has been among DECC personnel.” More recently, DECC confirmed that one of the main insights from that original public dialogue project was understanding the potential of talking directly with members of the public:

“It was an understanding that we can have these conversations with the public. We had a view that it was quite complicated and difficult to have a conversation but actually it was quite clear when we were in the meetings with them that they could grasp quite complicated things very quickly and get to grips with the policy quite quickly … we don’t usually get an opportunity to talk to people beyond our usual suspects so using those tools to talk to members of the public, to hear the views from the person on the ground who doesn’t know about this or hasn’t got previous experience of it is very helpful in testing the developing policy.” (DECC 2016)

DECC has also increasingly seen public dialogue as supporting the delivery of robust policy:

“It is about robust policy, it’s about understanding who you are talking to and getting out of the Whitehall bubble. It is about making policies that are actually going to be useful to people or be deliverable on the ground, to ensure better value for money so you are not rolling out things that are not fit for purpose. … It’s about a collaborative approach to delivering policy as opposed to a top down effect. It’s all about making sure the policy of consent-based siting is robust and will deliver.” (DECC 2016)

DECC has also explicitly used public dialogue as an approach to open policy making to inform policy development at an early stage:

“We have tried to develop it into our open policy making so instead of just using it when you have a policy and you’re consulting on that policy, we wanted to do it as part of the actual policy development itself, before we conclude the policy.” (DECC 2016)

The dialogue project has been of interest internationally. Aspects of the approach to collaborative working in this project were discussed at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Review Group on international guidance in Vienna in March 2016. DECC also confirmed:

“We get contacted by quite a few people about our work. We have had international interest from Japan, interest from Chile and also from China about dialogue because of this work. Either through other colleagues in DECC or elsewhere, it is having far reaching consequences that way as well.” (DECC 2016)

The current dialogue project, on Implementing Geological Disposal – Working with communities, is due to be completed in in April 2016.

Sciencewise (2016) Tracing the impacts of public dialogue projects supported by Sciencewise: Disposal of Radioactive Waste. Sciencewise March 2016.  http://www.sciencewise-erc.org.uk/cms/assets/Publications/Sciencewise-GDF-dialogue-impacts-March2016-Final.pdf

DECC (2014) Implementing Geological Disposal - A Framework for the long-term management of higher activity radioactive waste. White Paper. July 2014. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/implementing-geological-disposal

Icarus (2015) Evaluation of the engagement events during the geological disposal facility siting review consultation. January 2015. http://www.sciencewise-erc.org.uk/cms/assets/Uploads/GDF-evaluation-report-final.pdf

For information on the most recent DECC dialogue project on Implementing Geological Disposal – Working with communities, see http://www.sciencewise-erc.org.uk/cms/implementing-geological-disposal-working-with-communities/