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DGR The Game of Experts 

DGR

What am I for and what I know

 I'm for the selection of the safest spot for DGRs based upon facts including all the risks for long term storage of nuclear waste.  It's too important an issue to be derailed.

Further, I don't care where it goes as long as it is the best site geologically and strategically with risk minimized.  There are no scientific breakthroughs required.

 

Written for Canadian Community News by Mike Sterling

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Two Experts

At the recent four-week hearings held in Bruce County regarding the proposed deep geologic repository (DGR) for low and intermediate waste at the Bruce Nuclear site, there has been a long line of anti-nuclear people testifying. The names of the groups blend one into another after a while. So many groups and so many acronyms and only a 26 character alphabet. 

Some of these groups depend  in part on what they think they know.  Some speak of things they wish they knew. Others bring in experts who they hope will trump those who testify about issues that come before the panel. 

One small group up near Owen Sound called Huron-Grey-Bruce Citizens on Nuclear Waste brought an expert to support their case. 

 It was interesting testimony. Their thesis was that nobody knows much about this issue of a DGR.  By that they meant that the ten year process did not reach out to them.  It did not engage them.  It's all been a rude surprise.

In the beginning there was an air of confidence about Dr. Stephanie Rutherford of Trent University their chosen expert.  She's used to speaking.  Her profession is lecturing to students.  Her testimony can be found on Day 20 in the evening session.  She was introduced by Sharen Skelly Kolohon of Huron-Grey-Bruce Citizens on Nuclear Waste.  (I hope they come up with an acronym for that long name)  She was sure tourists would not come, if they knew that a DGR was nearby.

Rutherford teaches in the area of policy and environmental ethics.  She did not speak about the technology of DGRs at all. 

At the start it seemed she was confident of her grasp of the social aspect of the DGR for low and intermediate waste. She depended upon her interpretation of the environmental impact study that was before the panel and her background.   She is not an expert in the technology or science and was not expected to be.

The social issues are difficult to grasp because they are difficult to quantify.  She did not attempt to quantify much of anything.  She did not attempt to define much of anything. This was a wise decision because OPG and CNSC have a lot of statistics and she would just be debating facts and that's a loser in every case.

Instead she concentrated on what she called a "Nuclear Oasis".  By that she meant the towns near the largest nuclear power plant in the world.  She meant where we live or come as summer tourists.  She meant us as residents within a bubble. 

I was puzzled by the phrase "Nuclear Oasis".  She meant it to be something bad, but why use that phrase?   The why came quickly.  The usual meaning of oasis is "a fertile spot in a desert where water is found".  People are attracted to an Oasis, but she meant something else. 

It was odd in that Ms. Kolohon in introducing her made much of people in the area knowing nothing about what the acronym 'OPG' meant, let alone what a DGR was. She was sure tourists would not come, if they knew that a DGR was nearby.  The largest nuclear power plant in the world did not cause her any concern.  All the waste stored above ground did not seem to bother her.

Rutherford meant that there are those who know too much for their own good and others who know nothing, but have not been informed by the many articles, presentations and open houses that have taken place in the last decade.

Rutherford for sure had another meaning for the phrase 'Nuclear Oasis'.  She meant it to be a murky area, where everyone acts in lock step because they work in the nuclear power industry, are retired from it or benefit from it.  This fertile spot is so lucrative, it beguiles us over time. 

 I don't think the phrase was apt or meaningful.  What does the desert part of her phrase mean?  Does it mean that others outside the area see things in a clearer way?  Are they clamoring to enter the Oasis or running from it?  I don't think she meant all that mystery of meaning in a simple phrase "Nuclear Oasis".

She should have just said.  Well, panel, I think these local people all live in a company town and they can't think for themselves because they could not make a living like they do in any other place!   They are willing to say yes when asked because they are a captured audience.  So you see panel members, you should discount what people say, if they are on the voting lists inside the Oasis and believe a DGR is what is needed for low and intermediate waste."

She never entertained the idea that maybe the Oasis people know something about the industry that the people outside the Oasis have not paid much attention to over the last 50 and more years. So rather than have a bias in the Kincardine area, could it be that it was an informed public who answered yes?  She did not explore that possibility.

She could say the people in the area support something they should reject  That would be honest. Rutherford did not need to dance around with  phrases which do not inform.

I know she meant to demean in some way because she slipped in a reference to Sinclair Lewis.  He was the Nobel Prize winning writer of the 20's and 30's who brought into stark focus industry segments that can dominate in a sinister way.  He had a general message that changed some industries like meat packing.

He looked at small town America and said it could not handle certain types of stress that events sometimes produce.   Big issues overwhelm tranquil small areas according to novelist Lewis.

Lewis was all about the small and the large and how the large (meaning rich and powerful) can fool ordinary people.  So that was Rutherford's message plain and simple.  That's ok, we can judge the validity of her argument stripped of modifying phrases.

Her confidence showed a bit of wear and tear when the panel began to ask a couple of questions.  She began to say "That's a good question".  This gave her time to think about something that she had not considered or was confident she would not be asked.

You could see her take stock of her own preparation.  This panel can't be fooled and she had made a mistake in not being careful, I thought. She was an excellent presenter schooled as she is in lecturing her students.  She had nothing unusual or new to present, however.

One interchange was about referenda versus polls.  The panel was probing her because she had stepped into the subject of a willing community and what it means a bit too carelessly.  Finally she admitted that referenda have very low turn out percentages.  She mentioned 30% and below. 

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Outcomes in referenda tend to be very sensitive to campaign money spent, turnout and passion for or against an issue.  Polling can be done economically and the sample size can be managed.  She was for referenda and did not like the poll conducted in Kincardine by phone and mail.  The homes were phoned up to ten times to reach them and then a mailing was done to the official address.

Interestingly in the mayors' segment of questions and answers, election campaigns were featured. 

Both mayors past and present of Kincardine said they ran on a plank featuring the DGR.  They showed examples from their literature and web sites.  It was hard to believe that anyone voting for either of them could miss their positions. Their support for the DGR was printed in their pamphlets and door hangers.

From the referendum point on you could see Rutherford's demeanor change a bit.  Her confidence was still there, but somewhat diminished.

The person who brought her was interesting to watch too.  Ms. Kolohon started with a smile on her face as she looked at her expert in the early parts of her presentation.  When the questions began from the panel, you could see Kolohon's smile wane and other emotions take over. 

Rutherford's presentation and the question and answer period that followed were in stark contrast to another testimony given by Dr. William Leiss (see Read More starting on page 114)

He really is an expert and the panel thought so too as they asked him to elaborate on more and more of his views.  He did not stumble once.  He told them when he did not know or was not sure.  He had a very good interchange concerning First Nations too.

He had a short presentation but a very, very long question and answer period fueled by the panel's interest.  It was clear that they had read his written submission carefully.  He was not just an expert on the nuclear industry and its impact on society, he gave a real insight into ideas that Rutherford had never reached with her "Nuclear Oasis" argument. 

Others like Rutherford, had raised the idea that many nuclear workers are farmers taken out of the fields, paid well and trained to do a job. The implication is clear.  They are just uneducated people trained to do a job and not to be consulted on policy issues.

Captured employees is what they mean. This does not sit well with me.  Farmers are business people with lots of skill and a connection to the land. Their children learn from them.

They are a very intelligent segment of society.  Also, over time the work force at the Bruce has changed and the training is much more intense.  Everyone living in the area knows that on big build projects the real estate prices go up as does rents as workers and specialists come from afar.  Skilled trades people are among the most intelligent people I've ever worked with as are farmers.  They have to make things work.

Leiss talked plainly about stigma.  Ah, there is a word we can understand.  Stigma and stewardship are at the heart of some of the social and cultural issues brought forward by First Nations and others. 

The idea of stewardship is of the first order of issues.   Rutherford never spoke to it.  Leiss even talked about quantifying stigma and mitigating it.  Now we have something, I thought.  He talked about establishing a baseline to measure trends over time.

Leiss' talk was perfectly clear.  He broke stigma down into parts.  For example you can have area stigma due to an industrial blight or fear.  You can also have a far worse stigma that comes from race relations or religion.  Some stigmas are easily overcome and some have deep roots that defy remedial action.  You can't say that area stigma is the same as race stigma  Race and culture stigma are of the first order.

You can see coal stigma down near Marine City and Sombra.  Can it be overcome?  Yes, it could be.  Does the chemical city of Sarnia have a stigma about it?  Yes indeed.

Many industries tend to grow in limited geographic areas.  The auto industry is an example. Leiss spoke to that industry and Detroit's efforts to reinvent the city, while keeping the main industry.

He spoke clearly on anticipated stigma vs. real stigma.  There is a difference.  The former can be fueled by fear and lack of awareness.

He told the panel he can help with concise answers about risk because he has been involved in that for many years and has great confidence in the methodology and risk analysis for decision making that is being used.  He also is confident in the multi-step process developed by NWMO for the high level waste.

He said that overcoming lack of knowledge and fear of stigma is difficult. How can people come to an understanding?  He talked at length about the slow development of methods of engagement such as those now being used by NWMO, which is early in the high level DGR process.

He said that education on the technical issues is vital.  People have trouble with the highly technical ideas.  We've seen that at these hearings.  He called for constant efforts to simplify the information to reduce doubt and fear.

He spoke about all the waste disposal solutions he has investigated and what was important about them.  He said that Canada was the only country that actually did a risk analysis on the alternates.

He talked of Finland and Sweden and others he had visited and studied.  He talked about how much the social side has progressed. He explained the extensive decision matrix that he worked with along with many other world experts evaluating social considerations, choices and risks as well as the technology.  The low and intermediate DGR proposal has been built over a decade and more time frame.

His entire talk is worth reading.  I ask you to view it or read his  testimony.  If you want to view it, it will be 2 hours and 15 minutes into the morning session on day 8.  Rutherford's testimony does not have much content, but is interesting by contrast to Leiss.

I liked Leiss for his precision of argument.  I admired his depth of knowledge as he had visited and studied many known and potential DGR sites.  He had been on the cutting edge of policy and technology.  Keep in mind he was contracted by the panel to look at the social issues so they looked at his submission closely.

He knows the technology and science over the 20 plus year history of the study in Canada.  He knows risk analysis very well, but he spoke clearly on the social side and knew the issues there too.  He called clearly for a base line to be established for stigma and then measure it in the future.  He was glad that OPG responded well to that suggestion.  Measuring something is a lot better than saying it exists deep within our psyche. 

I found Rutherford's presentation superficial.  I think the panel paid a lot of attention to Leiss and not so much to Rutherford.  Leiss gave useful information.

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Monday, October 14, 2013