U.S. researchers urge federal nuclear waste panel to address public mistrust

08:43, August 13, 2010      

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A group of U.S. researchers have urged a special White House panel on high-level radioactive waste to shift its attention from technical issues to the public mistrust hampering storage and disposal efforts.

Writing in the latest issue of the journal Science, 16 researchers from around the country said the panel should focus more on the social and political acceptability of its solutions to succeed.

The report criticized the 15-member Blue Ribbon Panel for focusing so much on technological issues while neglecting to address the public mistrust.

"While scientific and technical analyses are essential, they will not and arguably should not carry the day unless they address, substantively and procedurally, the issues that concern the public, " they write.

Their paper comes while a "nuclear renaissance" has more than 50 reactors under construction and another 100-plus planned over the next decade. Meanwhile, some 60,000 tons of high-level waste have accumulated in the United States alone as 10 presidential administrations have failed to develop a successful waste-disposal program.

President Barack Obama is bolstering the nation's commitment to nuclear energy with 8.6 billion dollars in loan guarantees to two new plants in Georgia and a 2011 budget request for tens of billions more. Obama appointed the Blue Ribbon Panel to review the storage, processing and disposal of nuclear materials.

The panel is dominated by science and technology experts and politicians, said Eugene Rosa, the paper's lead author and professor of sociology at Washington State University who is a widely published expert on technological risk and environmental change.

But disposing of nuclear waste, Rosa said, "will ultimately require public acceptability. Current efforts by the administration, such as the composition of its Blue Ribbon Panel, indicate that this important element may be overlooked."

Public mistrust has been fueled by decades of failed attempts to effectively work with those affected, said Tom Leschine, director of the University of Washington School of Marine Affairs.

That mistrust "is arguably among the chief reasons for the relative lack of progress," said Leschine, another contributor to the paper.

But the psychological and social sciences have learned a lot about how the public has come to view the risks of nuclear waste and can inform policy on selecting stakeholders, discussing the issues and integrating both technical and lay knowledge, the researchers write.

"Taking advantage of this knowledge would be a very inexpensive step in developing a publicly acceptable solution to the nuclear waste problem," said Rosa.

Source: Xinhua


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