Waste Disposal" is a double whammy, a deadly designation. "Radioactive"
strikes a chord of fear to generations nurtured on the images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. And no one wants "waste disposal" in their
backyard, no matter how benign the waste may be or how beneficial a disposal facility may
be to a community.
- Ignorance about the beneficial role of
radioactive materials in our society is rife among the general public. At the same time,
there is little understanding of the realistic risks of exposure to small amounts of
radiation-and little willingness to assume responsibility for the waste that results
during the processes that use nuclear materials.
- Most opposition in New Jersey resulted from
spontaneous, gut-level fear on the part of a plurality of residents in a community that
announced it was looking into the issue. Opposition was neither created nor stirred up by
organized opposition groups. National opposition groups, particularly NIRS, the Nuclear
Information and Resource Service, did provide informational materials, arguments, and
anecdotes that, particularly with the growing use of the Internet, was quickly
disseminated in each town. Many of the "facts" cited by these groups seemed to
be half-truths and misrepresentations based on their belief that all nuclear power plants
should be shut down immediately.
- If siting a disposal facility in any town is
to have a shot, proponents who want to learn about the issues must be identified-and be
willing to be vocal and visible. They need not be convinced that they want their community
to host the facility but only to have the opportunity to uncover the facts, then make up
their own minds on the whether or not to volunteer.
- It is important to work closely with
community leaders to develop a plan-and to plan a series of mailings, forums, and
events-to let residents know about the interest community leaders have in exploring the
- Getting people to discuss an issue that has
a legacy of misinformation and mistrust, an issue that has been demonized in the popular
culture, takes an extraordinary effort to address public fears and apprehensions.
- Commencing any public dialogue at a large
meeting is a tactical blunder. Those opposed to the idea of siting can shout down
advocates of learning about the issues. A dialogue on the facts gets subsumed by the
emotion of the encounter.
- Proponents in favor of initiating a dialogue
need a good reason to stand up to the arguments of those who dont want to even
discuss the issues, and to endure a lengthy debate and a heated controversy.
- Communities may want to see money up front
if they are to go through a wrenching and cantankerous public process/dialogue, and they
may deserve such funds simply for agreeing to try to help solve a state problem. Elected
officials and other community leaders cannot be expected to take flak for something for
which, even if ultimately successful, their successors will reap all the benefits. And the
public cannot be expected to trust that the benefits will be forthcoming without seeing
tangible gains now.
- Community leaders-even those with experience
in dealing with difficult and controversial public issues-are not prepared for the scope
and depth of fear and anger that surfaces when people think that a facility for
radioactive waste might be sited in their backyard.
- Speaking of backyards, in a small, densely
populated state like New Jersey, nobody wants anything built near them, certainly not in
their backyard. And the opposition-it is a lot easier to be opposed to a controversial
proposal than it is to be willing to learn about it-often is more significant than the
specifics of the proposal.
- Given the dramatic decrease in the volume of
waste generated in New Jersey, it does not appear economically viable at this time to
build a disposal facility for New Jerseys waste alone. The problem of securing a
safe, dependable, long-term disposal option for the disposal of low-level radioactive
waste generated in New Jersey remains. If New Jersey is to restart a siting process at
some point in the future, it should consider designing a facility to accept waste from
Connecticut as well as New Jersey generators-and perhaps from other states as well.
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Last updated January 1999