Detta är ju ingen forskningsblogg i och med att jag knappast alls gör inlägg om min forskning. Det ska jag inte göra nu heller: Men jag ska i alla fall publicera en text som jag nyligen presenterade på en konferens om kärnkraft och säkerhet. Den handlar om svårigheterna att skapa förutsättningar för lekmannadeltagande i diskussionerna om hur vi kan och bör hantera använt kärnbränsle, ett område där Sverige och Finland i omvärldens ses som föregångsländer. Presentationen följer här:
Dear organizers and participants. Thank you for inviting me and for giving me this opportunity to present some of my ideas regarding scientific knowledge and social interaction. Scientific and technical knowledge is indeed a major battleground in the debates and discussions regarding nuclear waste management. What are the best solutions? How can repositories be constructed? Scientific and technical methods are used to develop safe storage techniques and these techniques are then again tested and evaluated. In fact, science and technology is so closely connected in these processes that there is no telling where one finishes and another one starts. That is the reason people involved in science and technology studies like myself refrain from talking about science and technology as if they could be separated. They cannot, and so we rather talk about technoscience.
The technoscience of depositing used nuclear fuel is often empirical and astonishingly simple. A standard automobile cruising the Zubovsky Boulevard just outside of here is far more technically advanced than the technologies used to test the methods proposed to take care of used nuclear fuel. Nevertheless, the projects waged to achieve this are neither simple, nor inexpensive. The Swedish project launched in the 1970s by the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company, the Swedish implementer abbreviated SKB, has up until now costed 6-7 billion dollars equivalent to about 220 billion rubles. And that is only up until today when construction haven’t even yet begun. This makes it by far the biggest research-and-development program in Sweden ever.
One would of course assume that this would be a hotly debated program in Sweden today, especially since the Swedish implementer SKB, the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company, submitted a license application in 2011 to construct a final repository for used nuclear fuel in the form of a deep geological disposal in the municipality of Östhammar in mid-eastern Sweden. This application is now under review by the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority, that is the Swedish regulator, and an Environmental Court. Statements are expected during next year as well as a local referendum in the municipality of Östhammar, the site picked in the license application for the construction of the final repository.
But no, this program is not debated at all. Although the result of a 30-years long research-and-development program, by far the most expensive ever in the Swedish history of science and technology, is under evaluation as I speak, not a word is heard on public television, radio or in the bigger newspapers. Not a word….
How is this possible? How can it be that when the municipality of Östhammar are announcing public hearings in connection to the construction of the repository, only a handful of laypersons appear, merely a fraction of a per mili of the Östhammar population? Why indeed are the discussions regarding the feasibility—the pros and cons—of Sweden’s biggest research-and-development program ever, restricted to the closed halls of the implementer SKB and the regulator, the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority as well as an unknown Environmental Court and, perhaps, a small number of academics who for one reason or another are interested in these issues, perhaps through an appointment to the Swedish National Council for Nuclear Waste as myself or through their engagement in one of the many different Non-Governmental Organizations and interest groups which also follow developments more or less closely. Why is this?
The answer to this conundrum, this mystery, lies in a widespread misconception of how technoscientific knowledge is created and how it evolves. We experts think we know best. We think that if we as scientists, engineers, public officers and professionals, if we are allowed to communicate what we know about different solutions to the problems of managing used nuclear fuel, everyone with lesser experience, skills and knowledge will be convinced. We think that if we repeat that nuclear power is safe and that its used fuel can and will be safely managed, either in a repository or through reprocessing for use in yet non-existent fast reactors (so help us God), we will be heard and everyone else will be convinced that this is indeed the case. But, unfortunately, expert knowledge does not work like this. Expert knowledge does not disseminate like it used to.
The model of how knowledge can be spread, disseminated, from experts to a lay audience, which quietly accepts what they are told is dated. It does not hold water any longer. It does not work. It doesn’t matter if the experts in question are professionally educated and have spent a whole lifetime pursuing a science career to find out the best way to pack up used nuclear fuel in a canister or if the canister in turn should be stored vertically or horizontally in the deep geological repository (while simultaneously deserting family, children and friends). It does not matter if they are world authorities in their field. The world has changed and the legitimacy and authority of technoscience is constantly questioned today no matter what the underpinnings of the claims are.
Today, knowledge does not trickle down from centers of technoscience like Rosatom or its Swedish correspondent implementer SKB. In order to be convincing, to be legitimate and to be accepted, knowledge can no longer be disseminated to stakeholders, citizens, the man or woman in the street, even through the skillful operations of communication consultants. In order for technoscientific knowledge to be accepted, it needs to be circulated.
Circulation means that experts, stakeholders and others are continually and from the start exposed to each other. While universities all around the world today are required to be ever more relevant and create impact, from commercial innovations at medical and engineering departments down to the most unworldly and detached researchers in the humanities, experts contracted by an implementer of nuclear waste management can go on without ever having to be exposed to anyone. But the experience and views of stakeholders also need to be incorporated into the solution right from the outset. It does not work to have a number of scientists and engineers locked up in a hard rock laboratory for thirty years to develop a plan for how to manage used nuclear fuel and then present the solution ready-made to those who are expected to accept it. No, instead solutions must be discussed with stakeholders continually throughout the process. Stakeholders need to be invited to participate in the process of developing and designing the final repository from the start. The technoscientific expertise must be forced out of their comfort zones down deep below in hard rock laboratories and out in the streets of the municipalities to communicate with members of the communities involved.
But if the dissemination model of technoscientific knowledge is dead, how do we create circulation regarding actual problems? Well, just like the source code of operating systems in our cell phones are open source making it possible for anyone with programming skills to construct and sell apps, the research-and-development program for a final repository for used nuclear fuel should be open for contributions from the public. Social interaction should begin with the research-and-development program itself. It should not be something to be reluctantly added on as the program ends. Much of the input may of course be unreasonable or unrealistic. But circulation means that ideas from one perspective is used and reworked in other contexts and then again confronted in a third context and so on. Repetitiously, again and again, circulating and slowly transforming as it circulates. Circulation means that the outcome is the result of a process where many different voices have been heard and stirred together.
Let me be concrete. There are still a number of unresolved issues regarding the license application for a final repository in Sweden, at least according to some of the stakeholders. For instance the possibility of monitoring the repository after it has been closed through the positioning of different measurement instruments to follow developments underground at a distant. Over the past years there have been attempts to engage the local municipality to discuss this issue, but it is hard to involve stakeholders in a creative process at this late stage. They simply do not seem turn up since they are convinced that all the problems have already been solved. And if they haven’t, it is too complicated for them to have anything to contribute with.
Another example is that of copper corrosion. In the license application, the canisters containing used nuclear fuel will be of five centimeter thick pure copper surrounding an insert of cast iron, a solution relying on the assumption that copper cannot corrode in the oxygen-free environment of the deep geological disposal. A number of different experiments have been carried out over the past decades to prove that copper can respectively cannot corrode without oxygen. But the scientific community remains undecided, there are at least some researchers that fear that copper can corrode without oxygen. Complicating the issue is also that some involved researchers have patents for alternative alloys that can be used instead of copper. But why not engage non-experts in this matter? Not to settle the dispute. But to have it discussed outside the narrow circle of chemical experts and suggest solutions to how the dispute can be settled. The circulation of knowledge could be a method to unlock the dispute. But again, I fear it is too late.
A third unresolved issue is that of deep boreholes, an alternative method placing single canisters at considerably deeper depths than in a deep geological disposal. There are stakeholders who think that this alternative has not been investigated thoroughly enough and that deep boreholes could be a better solution. Again, the resolution could be engagement of larger crowds to circulate the knowledge of deep boreholes and have others than experts consider the pros and cons and suggest how to resolve the issue. And again, the solution involving knowledge circulation is no longer realistic since the research-and-development program has used up the better part of thirty years to try to convince everyone that their deep geological disposal is the best way of managing used nuclear fuel. The circulation of knowledge about alternatives such as deep boreholes outside of the group of technoscientific experts was never itself an alternative.
Knowledge circulation is not the solution to technoscientific problems. It is rather the solution to stakeholder engagement that may simultaneously create new leads to how to solve technoscientific problems. It is more than anything else a model for how to achieve social interaction regarding technoscientific problems and technoscientific knowledge. But it is important that knowledge circulation is initiated as early in the process as possible. The app industry for cell phones would have taken considerably longer to develop if the operating system had not been based on open source code already from the introduction of android-relying smartphones in 2008.
The reason it is important to introduce knowledge circulation as early as possible in the process, is that the construction of a final repository for used nuclear fuel is an activity that, like any other technoscientific activity, slowly solidifies as years and decades go by. And as it solidifies, it takes more and more effort to stir it, more and more energy to circulate the technoscientific knowledge invested in it. I am afraid that the Swedish efforts to build a deep geological disposal is already solid through and through. It can no longer be stirred. It is no longer possible to circulate the knowledge invested. But it is not too late in other countries where the disposal of used nuclear fuel is still in its infancy. Here, the process is still liquid enough for knowledge to be circulated.
This is the reason we should not be in here at all, at the Rossiya Segodnya International Press Center discussing in a room without windows where participants are placed in roundtables thus turning their backs against each other. It is not surprising that everyone is constantly on their cell phones texting and answering emails given these circumstances. Instead, we should be out in the Zubovsky Boulevard discussing with the pedestrians. That is the only way to make technoscientific knowledge be part of social interaction.
 The full Apollo program running 1960-1973 cost a total of 25,4 billion dollars in 1973. In today’s value, this adds up to 140 billion dollars, about twenty times the costs of the Swedish program for depositing spent nuclear fuel. Per subject, the Apollo program cost about 700 dollars and the Swedish program for a final repository for spent nuclear fuel has so far cost 1000 dollars per subject. The repository is still being planned though. It is still to achieve the correspondence of three crews on the moon.