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Engaging the Public on Technical Issues

[+] Author Affiliations
Brendan Breen, Elizabeth Atherton, Steve Barlow

UK Nirex, Ltd., Didcot, Oxfordshire, UK

Paper No. ICEM2003-4876, pp. 1545-1551; 7 pages
  • ASME 2003 9th International Conference on Radioactive Waste Management and Environmental Remediation
  • 9th ASME International Conference on Radioactive Waste Management and Environmental Remediation: Volumes 1, 2, and 3
  • Oxford, England, September 21–25, 2003
  • Conference Sponsors: Nuclear Engineering Division and Environmental Engineering Division
  • ISBN: 0-7918-3732-7 | eISBN: 0-7918-3731-9
  • Copyright © 2003 by ASME


United Kingdom Nirex Limited (Nirex) is responsible for providing the UK with environmentally-sound and publicly-acceptable options for the long-term management of radioactive materials generated by the Nation’s commercial, medical, research and defence activities. An important part of Nirex’s responsibilities in developing these options is to build acceptance of its concepts through effective dialogue and engagement with a wide range of stakeholders. One of the options developed by Nirex for the long-term isolation of intermediate-level and some low-level from the accessible environment is to place these wastes in a deep underground repository, excavated in stable rock formations. The repository would remain accessible to allow future generations to have the choice of continuing to store the waste, or to dispose of the wastes by sealing and closing the repository. In conducting the scientific and technical research on this phased disposal concept, Nirex wanted its work programmes to take account of any public concerns with regard to radioactive waste and its management and proposed to develop its understanding of such concerns through public engagement. In October 2001, Nirex engaged an independent organisation to conduct a series of focus group discussions. Focus group meetings were arranged in 4 locations across the UK, selecting varying groups in terms of age, lifestage and socio-economic circumstances in order to engage a broad cross-section of the UK population. Each group attended two, 2-hour sessions on successive evenings. The first session was a general discussion of the issues of nuclear energy and radioactive waste. The second session focused on the more specific detail of the Nirex Phased Disposal Concept. Explanatory material was given to participants at each session. The work has provided some very useful information on issues, which the focus groups considered significant. The groups were able, in the short time available, to grasp many important issues and to provide their views across a range of technical areas. This work has helped Nirex to better understand ways of engaging the public in technical issues and to appreciate some of the key areas and concerns on the more technical areas associated with phased disposal. Several technical queries were identified, which the facilitators were unable to answer during the focus group discussions — Nirex has subsequently provided answers to these questions and made these available on the Nirex Bibliography. This paper describes the approach taken for the focus groups and outlines key findings from the work and some implications for Nirex in communicating technical issues to the public.

Copyright © 2003 by ASME



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