Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Nuclear Waste Transportation: Case Studies of Identifying Stakeholder Risk Information Needs. (Research)

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Nuclear Waste Transportation: Case Studies of Identifying Stakeholder Risk Information Needs. (Research)

Article excerpt

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is responsible for the cleanup of our nation's nuclear legacy, involving complex decisions about how and where to dispose of nuclear waste and how to transport it to its ultimate disposal site. It is widely recognized that a broad range of stakeholders and tribes should be involved in this kind of decision. All too frequently, however, stakeholders and tribes are only invited to participate by commenting on processes and activities that are near completion; they are not included in the problem formulation stages. Moreover, it is often assumed that high levels of complexity and uncertainty prevent meaningful participation by these groups. Considering the types of information that stakeholders and tribes need to be able to participate in the full life cycle of decision making is critical for improving participation and transparency of decision making. Toward this objective, the Consortium for Risk Evaluation with Stakeholder Participation (CRESP) participated in three public processes relating to nuclear waste transportation and disposal in 1997-1998. First, CRESP organized focus groups to identify concerns about nuclear waste transportation. Second, CRESP conducted exit surveys at regional public workshops held by DOE to get input from stakeholders on intersite waste transfer issues. Third, CRESP developed visual tools to synthesize technical information and allow stakeholders and tribes with varying levels of knowledge about nuclear waste to participate in meaningful discussion. In this article we share the results of the CRESP findings, discuss common themes arising from these interactions, and comment on special considerations needed to facilitate stakeholder and tribal participation in similar decision-making processes. Key words: environmental information, hazardous waste, risk communication, risk perception, stakeholders.

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Citizens of the United States face many difficult challenges regarding nuclear waste cleanup. Cleanup issues include the large volumes of waste, the toxicity of the waste, potentially severe human and environmental impacts, technical complexity, lack of previous experience, a legacy of secrecy, staggering costs, a history of inequitable practices, and a jumble of intricate federal and state regulations. Many entities, including decision makers; tribal, state, and local government agencies; regulators; citizen groups; and contractors, must be involved in the decision process. Given the complexity of the cleanup, including all these groups is difficult.

In this article we explore ways to determine what information stakeholders, and particularly Native American tribes, need to become involved in nuclear waste cleanup decisions. The term "stakeholder" is defined as parties interested in or affected by U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) cleanup. The term generally includes citizens groups, regulators, DOE managers and contractors, state and local governments, and the general public. Tribal peoples assert that their "government-to-government" relationship with the U.S. government means they do not fall within standard definition of the term "stakeholder." In this article we therefore use "stakeholders and tribes" to refer to these groups.

We focus on several questions: What are the major issues? Who is involved and who is absent from the discussions? What information do people need, and how can it be best presented? What tools and approaches enable stakeholders and tribes to participate in meaningful dialogue with these issues? Considering such questions is critical to improving participation in these complex decisions. Toward this objective, the Consortium for Risk Evaluation with Stakeholder Participation (CRESP) participated in three stakeholder and tribal interactions involving nuclear waste transport. CRESP is a national consortium of university-based researchers operating under a grant from the DOE (for more information, see Boiko et al. …

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