Hearing the voice of local people, Dr Sam King, RWM Ltd

As an environmental scientist who has spent over 20 years working on the safety aspects of geological disposal, my new role as Head of Community Engagement and Site Evaluation at RWM is allowing me to put that detailed technical understanding at the service of our mission to engage with people on the importance of this project.

I’ve always taken an interest in the ‘people-centred’ aspects of the programme, having helped to set up our Outreach team where technical experts meet groups of the public in order to explain what we are doing and why it is so vital. This current role fuses the technical and the social together, which is in a way an appropriate description of the programme – one that requires people’s understanding and a location’s technical viability.

This project needs long term community engagement and support. That of course brings its own challenges. We have to be aware of – and respond to – a wide range of views, ranging from enthusiasm to aversion. Equally, that doesn’t tend towards neat timelines and delivery schedules: if we are to build real community support, this will take its own time and cannot be rushed, though we will of course provide all the help we can to keep momentum going.

That process of fostering mutual understanding and support over time is of course an essential part of the local political process and local authorities are well-used to the challenges of building informed support for a variety of initiatives.

The creation of a Geological Disposal Facility is a long-term effort. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the GDF won’t be either – but we are building it to last much longer than Rome did. While we don’t expect to be operational for some decades yet, real progress has been made over the past couple of years. With a clear roadmap to work to – in the form of the Working with Communities policy – we are seeing people taking a detailed look at the project and assessing their potential role in it. We are starting to see policy becoming reality on the ground and we are positive that we will see more engagement with communities over the coming months.

We are searching for a local solution to a national challenge. The policy highlights the central role of local authorities in this major environmental protection project as elected representatives of those local communities. Nuleaf, with its specialist understanding of radioactive waste issues, provides a really good sounding board for RWM in our efforts to bring the geological disposal programme to a successful conclusion.

August 2021