Science/DGR Social Issues  


Written for Canadian Community News by Mike Sterling

To Comment on this article Click Here


CCNews has featured a number of articles about DGRs and other aspects of the nuclear power industry.  Many letters to the editor are there too.  They can be read on the DGR Page.

I personally have not made up my mind yet about a DGR in or near to Saugeen Shores.  I need more information and I think that's what phase 2 is all about. 

What I'm for is the best place to put a DGR based upon the science.  I don't think you can come to any conclusion about that without Phase 2.  For the nine steps Click HereLike everything else in life, information trumps opinion and emotion.

So why write these articles?  Isn't it just as well to ignore everything until some site is selected even if Saugeen Shores does not go forward?   I write them in support of information freedom without premature cutoff.

I'm interested in the science behind DGRs and the social issues that come with them. There is a lot of information, but to read and understand it takes time.  All the work that the scientists have put in is becoming clearer to me as I read.  Also, the NWMO phased plan makes more sense as I read  about it.

I'm also interested in how people and local groups frame their arguments.  They seem to build their arguments around marketing and try to draw adherents to the cause.  It's hard to do otherwise, because the subject is highly technical.  Putting the technical details into a marketing plan would be hard to do and would not fit the intended message.  There is a tremendous amount of information available.  Most of it is highly technical.

I'm interested in how SRA-SOS markets what they believe. The marketing is a window into what they think, and only partly what they know.

In the best of all possible worlds, we would all have an informed opinion.  I don't have that yet, but I'm getting there on the science.  I'm less interested in the social issues, but those are important too and very complicated, so everyone should pay attention. They are harder to understand because they are not built upon a plan that would help the real problem, which is waste storage.  They are built upon an opinion. I share some of those opinions, but I can't trust opinion.

Another Look from the Social side.

The articles I've written have all been on the known science and engineering and one was a video review of 'Into Eternity' by Michael Madsen. 

Let's shift to the more complicated social issues, keeping in mind the marketing.  It's not bad to try to market your side of an opinion as long as you are flexible to new or learned information.

Part of the social side revolves around 'stewardship'.   We've heard this often in the marketing efforts using other terms like leaving something for our children and grandchildren.  These come up all the time in 5 year plans that are a normal part of community living.  What's this all about?  It's about stewardship.

Stewardship is an ethic that embodies responsible planning and management of resources. The concept of stewardship has been applied in diverse realms, including environment, economics, health, property values, information, and religion, and is linked to the concept of sustainability.

How far does stewardship extend?  Certainly there is a family stewardship  that extends about 2 and sometimes 3 generations forward and back in time from us.

There is our home town, our area, the country and humanity.  The further we are from our home, family and friends, the more tenuous stewardship becomes.  It's probably part of the natural selection process that is built into our genetic code that allows us to survive. Care too much and we lose our personal way.  Care too little and humanity suffers. We can care just so long and so far into the future.

It seems to be difficult for people to think in terms of 100,000 years.  It is for me.   If we have a few generations per century, then that's about 3000 generations in the future for DGR stewardship.  That does not impress people.  Who thinks in terms of all those grand, grand, grand, ...... children?

So all the talk about taking care of things for our children and grandchildren makes sense, but beyond a few decades, it's an issue that does not strike people hard.   Now is not a moment in time, but a few life spans, when we think in terms of 100,000 or 1,000,000 years.

So what was all the fuss about the docu-drama 'Into Eternity' (CLICK HERE) that I watched twice and reviewed?  The interviewed scientists talked about the multiple barriers that they have designed over a 40 year period for the Finnish DGR.  That was rather bland.  They expressed their confidence in a matter of fact way.  They were not asked technical details.  They sure were not Hollywood exciting people.  The director made them kind of like black and white photographs.

Why did our local groups known as SOS-SRA send the link to this video around for all to see?  Did it make their point?  I guess it is dependent upon  your point of view of the observer.  The scientists in the video were clearly DGR advocates.  Nobody tried to obscure that.

The fuss was not over the science, but over darkness and 100,000 years.  If you saw the 111 minute version, it played on darkness and muted light with the light represented by a match, that flickered and then went out.  The implication? The light is us and we don't know a thing about 100,000 year darkness.  We are going to flicker out soon.  It would be better if our light joined the light of future generations, but that was not the point of the video or the director.

Even the interviews with the scientists took place in a kind of a foggy twilight. It was really a half-light, maybe near 5 pm on a winter afternoon in January either here or in Finland. 

Lots of modern movies are made in a kind of dim fog. Even the old 1944 drama Gaslight with Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotton and Charles Boyer with its flickering light had more candlepower than Into Eternity.

The scientists in Into Eternity were not actors and they sat there and were asked questions.  It was like watching Jeopardy with the category being time and DGRS. 

 I wonder what they do on their time off?  They were so mild that they nicely blended with the twilight world around them. That was the director's point.

Do you trust these people?  Can you trust anybody or any process?  That was the implication.  Where is their spark and personality?  No spark needed was the implication, because these are muted people and not like us.

The main technical part of the docu-drama revolved around the idea of how to deal with thousands of  generations over 100,000 years with the ebb and flow of humanity or what may be known as some form of humanity in the future.  The video worried most about the distant future people than it did about our close relatives and grand and great grandchildren.

How do we protect future regressed humans or human like creatures  from the danger?  The scientists were not in love with that question. They were sure about the DGR, but not about these future people. They had some good ideas on how to inform them about the danger, but they were not sure the future people could understand their Rosetta Stone.

Can this secret place be opened as the tombs of the Pharaoh were once opened? How do we safeguard the possible dim witted future humanoids, who have lost our languages and our symbols? The spirit of danger leaks out and engulfs these future archaeologists by implication.  No mention is given to an advanced society, maybe because they would be alert to the danger and would spoil the drama.

The time invested in this stewardship of the future was not really genuine in the video.  It was intended to impress us with the long term danger of spent fuel and how the darkness can overcome us too.

That seemed to make the DGR case rather than the anti-DGR case.  No alternate bright light was put forth.

Interesting Things

The most interesting issue for me has been the surprise at the concept of a DGR, when the low and intermediate planning has been going on for years right here at the Bruce.  A part of the community seems to not have paid much attention to it.  Hello!  Where was that in our 5 year plan?  Opps, we forgot. The Bruce is the largest nuclear power plant in the world.  Where has all the spent fuel gone one must ask?  Where is the low level 'stuff'' anyway?

Maybe it was because so many people in Saugeen Shores know about waste storage, because they work at the Bruce.  They understand it and are trained. They don't talk about it all the time, though.  Do these groups interact at all?  Maybe it's because of the possible age differential.

Those that don't work in the industry or are summer residents seemed to come awake with the high level DGR proposal.  The light dawns, but it is a brief candle when juxtaposed with 100,000 years, isn't it?

I've also been puzzled at people's surprise about the current volume of nuclear waste stored with high security at the Bruce.  Some people were shocked to find that 40% of Canada's waste is stored at the Bruce.  Just the Bruce alone is a huge plant.  Where did the waste go, if it was not at the Bruce, one would ask?

There has been no lack of publicity on these issues over the past number of years.  One only has to look at the DGR page to see that there has been significant outreach of information, by NWMO and OPG. You cannot fault the industry.  They have spent a lot of time and money on information and outreach.

Even at Pumpkinfest there were booths and outreach.  I was across from one of the booths for two days and it was almost completely ignored. 

The opening of the real drama took place many years ago when radiation was discovered.  We know the story, ... Rutherford,  Roentgen, Curie, Einstein, Bohr, Openheimer, the Manhattan Project, peaceful uses of nuclear power, waste awareness and here we all are in 2012. 

We are not in 1905 with E=MC2.  Einstein settled the scientific community on this atomic theory, also in 1905, with his Brownian motion paper.  We all know this story.  It's been part of most of our lives and our education.

What happened?  Did the world forget that the waste was building up?  No, those in charge did not.  They started on a long meander to safe storage of waste many years ago.  Some nations are trapped with no geological advantage, however.  I have no idea what their plan is all about.  Japan is in a fix.  Their geology is all wrong.

It's been a rocky road with lots of arguments and many proposals.  To date nothing has been finished.  Finland is pretty far down the path with digging already started.  Serious attention did not arise until the 1970s in most countries.

Where is the community of nations now on this issue?  With some details different, they have agreed that DGRs are the way to go.  Are there treaties and formal agreements.  That does not seem to be the case.   Above ground is not the answer, most say.  This is due to the time spans (100,000 years and 1,000,000 for some nations), costs and safety issues. 

Shooting spent fuel into space has been rejected.  Ocean depths are out of the question.  No technology has arisen to get rid of all of it safely, although some methods have been developed to help reduce it like fast breeder-reactors. 

The scientists know a lot about radiation underground.  Remember the underground nuclear tests? What happens down there is understood quite well, but classified.

Where are the social issues?  They are about where they were 40 years ago, when serious thoughts about storage began. 

Sometimes DGRs are called dumps by detractors, rather than repositories or storage facilities or spent fuel storage.  The word 'dump' has become a marketing term.  I guess you'd call it a pejorative word in polite society, but derogatory over a beer.

Mr. Jackson, who spoke at the Southampton Town Hall a few weeks ago in support of SOS-SRA compared DGRs to municipal waste disposal areas.  He talked about the plastic liners.  He highlighted leakage of these 'dumps' into ground water.  He tried to make DGRs and dumps mean the same thing.  A dump or to dump is defined as:

Deposit or dispose of (garbage, waste, or unwanted material), typically in a careless or hurried way.

DGRs have been anything but hurried, so we have to discount that word.  Careless does not apply either.  In fact they have taken a long, long time to define and move to any point even close to approval.  Most have not moved forward at all.  The above ground storage at the Bruce has not been hurried or careless either.

Click the orange arrow to read the second column

Survey Participate in our latest Kincardine Times survey Read More Survey Participate in our latest Saugeen Times survey Read More Survey Participate in our latest Walkerton News survey Read More

So a  more neutral word or phrase should be conjured up by all the groups.  It just does not make sense to use dumps with DGRs even if you totally disagree with the concept of doing something.

What has been careless about nuclear waste is the early use and disposal in the US, UK and the former Soviet Union.  Also, it has been careless of governments to avoid the problem during their tenures. 

A lot of that waste was stored in a way that requires extensive cleanup.  Did scientists and politicians know better?  Probably, but those were very early cold war days and there was a rush.  Now there is no excuse.


So what's the fear?  It's part of the marketing, but what is it based upon?

Let's call a spade a spade.  People are fearful and are nudged to the borders of fear.  It's just plain good marketing practice, if you can move people toward fear, justified or not.

Here is a summary and there are good points to the fear with only some of it generated from lack of information.  The social issues are vital to solve.   Without respecting the complexity of the social side, there can be no way forward.  The people on the No side have to recognize that they are dealing with social issues regardless of where they live or how far is far away. 

Social Issues

1.  Some people just don't like Nuclear Power at all, so anything to do with it is rejected.  I don't know the number of people with this opinion. 

This still leaves the over 250,000 metric tons of waste to be cared for in some manner across the globe.  This group does not seem vocal with solutions for this other than "I told you so".  They do have a point and to be fair they are concentrating on no votes for new reactors and not no on cleanup.  They want cleanup.

This stance has to be respected and some people have held it for a very long time.  They are consistent at least.  In some people's minds there is a respect for DGRs, but a fear of 'tampering' with the status quo.

2.  Many people recognize the need for safe storage, but want it 'someplace' else.  Someplace else is not defined.  How far is far enough?  Should we put it in location B even though A is better suited?  What about transportation?  Are we at risk even with distance and if so, what distance is safe?   This shouts out for more information.

Someplace else is hard to deal with for sure, because lack of confidence in DGRs brings with it a fear of catastrophic wide ranging disaster.  So would a DGR in the centre of Michigan be safe for those on the eastern shores of Lake Huron?  Would an event of some kind there spread havoc here due to wind currents? 

How about the transportation issues from here to there, where there is anyplace but here?  It's not just a matter of one to one or many to one with a central site having the only risk.  In between and close can cause fear also.

3. There is the fear of unwanted growth and disturbance.  This could be the most important social issue, because people don't think in terms of 3000 generations.  Some people, if properly informed, could accept or reject the science based upon information. 

But some are really objecting to growth.  They are absolutely sure of that right now and they are right.  Things will change and there will be disruption and growth even in high tech small business startups.

This means that some well meaning communities don't want growth in population, development of infrastructure to support DGR workers and equipment.  That's a fair stance to take.  If that is their real message, then use it.  Don't obscure it.   It has to be delicately stated because it is hard to use in  in a marketing campaign.  You see, people have a hard time not being all out for jobs.

This is a serious issue because towns and county governments are always trying to bring new and well paying jobs to areas, while some members of their communities don't want the jobs no matter their type or wage scales or the industry they represent. 

Change in the Bruce area has been dramatic over the last 40 years due to the large amount of jobs and the high pay scales.  If a person is retired, good jobs are not as important as they are for younger people.

Many of us have attended economic development meetings.  The theme always has been "Good jobs for the next generation."  Not everyone agrees, if development pressure goes with them.

Any change in the infrastructure is questioned, if it is conducive to development.  This has a long history as communities have zoning laws, and they change them over time.  This bothers people ... all of us.

Tranquil low density housing gets threatened by change, not just caused by zoning issues, but even infrastructure changes.  This is seen in complaints about access to recreational areas, beaches and trails.  Bad traffic patterns and air pollution are feared too.  Fear of loss of value of existing housing is there too.

We've seen that in Saugeen Shores in such diverse things as trail development and sewer extensions, access to the beach, bathrooms at the beach, trimming dunes and other areas. There is a vocal segment that does not want tourism either as the tourists put pressure on the tranquility and services.  It's true too.

People who are settled and secure financially, don't want dramatic change. They have worked a lifetime to 'settle down'.  They feel it's their time now.  They've invested not just in property, but in an ambiance that they have in mind.  It's hard to fault them.  We all feel that way to some extent.  Deep down development is a powerful and not to be trusted force.  They don't think tourists pay for the bother they incur either. 

Oddly in the DGR issue, some use decline in tourism as a thing to hold on to now.

4.  For some there is a lack of confidence in the science and engineering. They don't believe what science brings forward.  They can bring up good examples of human failures.  What is safe anyway?  Look at Chernobyl and Fukushima.  How about those smart engineers and Challenger crashing.  What the heck or oh-rings anyway?

Whether or not this can be overcome with information and education is not known. The truth is that science and fear are familiar bedfellows.  Many books on this subject have been written.

It's hard to blame people for that.  It takes a lot of confidence and they just don't know the people involved nor do they know the science. The sober scientists of Into Eternity strike a distrust chord.

Many fear scientists and see them in stereotypical images.  They are just nerds, who need to be moderated by good managers and 'common sense'.

We see that in many public comments like "Who the hell would do that?  Have they lost their mind?" 

They, the scientists, are not normal and are not really creative, they say.  Real study of the science is hard to do.  If in doubt, don't believe. Sew doubt and you can make your point.  To be convinced it takes work. To say no, I know or yes for a reason is hard to do. 

Study can take a lot of time and requires active participation.  Where do we look and who do we believe?  People who did not like mathematics and science the first time they studied it are not about to go to round two with any form of enthusiasm.

5.  We just don't want it and it's being shoved down our throats.  This group wants control of the no button.  They don't trust the process.  It's not so much the science as it is the process.  They play the conspiracy  card.

It would be good to have the public know exactly what the no button means and who controls access to it?  Plans for this are in the step process of NWMO (Click Here), but there is a lack of belief in it.  There is a procedure, but some just don't trust it. This issue should be cleared up as quickly as possible. Is there a vote or what?

Looking at the issue world-wide, it seems that the public has a good, but not absolute control of the no button. No has a great record, so far.  Solutions have been rejected in some countries purely from public opinion.  This usually  manifests itself in elections.  Not that elections have been referendums on Yes DGR vs. No DGR.

What has happened is that the fear has been strong enough to push governments to place DGRs at a lower level of importance in and around election cycles.  Nobody seems to run an election with a pro or anti DGR platform.  It's just kind of a rejection by neglect.  Political cycles are relatively short versus DGR planning times.  This could change, however.

Some in politics are trying to get more information, some would like the whole issue to go away and push it to the next generation or election cycle.

Meanwhile the science and information sharing goes forward.

6.  We should wait and a better solution will come along.  This is a social response and has some merit in science too.  The problem is time of course.  If you believe the danger is now or nearly now, then you may opt for the current proposals rather than wait for a better science that makes fear go away.  In this case time to getting the perfect solution is totally unknown.  That's the weak point of the wait argument.

Also, many of the DGR designs take note of this possibility and allow for secure reopening of the DGR in case of some new solution. 

The likelihood of a new solution being discovered is impossible for experts to predict at this time.  A new solution could come along with a safe and secure method of waste disposal.  At that same time the secure DGR could be left alone due to the cost and danger of digging it up. Nobody knows this for sure.

At least now, it appears that the problem is not current science vs. detractors, but it very much involves social issues.  The literature available from other countries affirms this as being true. 

The people who are directly concerned with DGRs know this.  Wherever and whenever a DGR gets approved, it will be due to an accommodation of social issues and not the science and engineering being judged by non-experts.  All we can do is read and study enough so we know the basics.  It all boils down to informed trust or distrust.

Next time we will go back to some of the science and engineering.  It's much more fun. 

How about a little more on risk management?  It's really an interesting subject, far more than the social side, which is riddled with diversity and hidden meanings.

Today, I talked to a young man that I know.  He's studied risk management and will take more courses in it soon.  It's part of his advanced education requirements and he's very interested in it.  That's good news for the future.

Scrolling stops when you move your mouse inside the scroll area.  You can click on the ads for more

for world news, books, sports, movies ...

Monday, April 30, 2012