You are hereHome ›
Get to Know Nuclear: Nuclear Fuel Cycle Engagement in South Australia
Get to Know Nuclear: Nuclear Fuel Cycle Engagement in South Australia
This case is ongoing - if you know something about it, let us know! Article contents are subject to change.
Problems and Purpose
In 2015 the South Australian government established a Royal Commission to investigate the implications for the state's involvement in the four stages of the nuclear fuel cycle (mining, enrichment, energy and storage). The final report was presented to the government in May 2016 and forms the starting point for this state-wide engagement process. The report concludes that is safe for South Australia to participate in these activities and makes some recommendations on costs and revenue.
The Royal Commission's findings provide a solid evidence base on which South Australians can evaluate their positions on the state's future role in nuclear fuel. The aims of the engagement process are two-fold: to inform the community of the findings and understand the evidence, as well as considering the options available. The Royal Commission is independent from state government.
The South Australian government has a strong record for implementing deliberative democratic processes and seeking community engagement in politics. This initiative is part of the SA government's Reforming Democracy agenda, announced in 2015 and intended to deliver 'four deliberative democracy projects' as well as a range of other engagement processes which "include a focus on the use of digital technologies and explore the application of crowd sourcing, collaborative working and resource sharing, and design thinking approaches to areas of government activity" (YourSAy 2016).
The impetus behind the Nuclear engagement was the presence of "a tradeoff worth exploring" (newDemocracy Foundation 2016). The Royal Commission Report concluded that nuclear fuel storage could add significantly to the SA economy. However, this is a controversial issue with strong feelings on either side. The engagement strategy for the initiative was prepared by newDemocracy and outlined two key problems that the process aims top counter: firstly, that no one really reads Royal Commission reports and secondly that most people assume that despite engaging with the community, government decision-makers have usually already made a decision either way. The process was designed with these two challenges in mind.
Originating Entities and Funding
This process was instigated and funded by the government of South Australia. newDemocracy Foundation, an independent nonprofit organisation, designed an engagement strategy for the nuclear issue and designed the engagement process for the two citizens' juries. DemocracyCo facilitated the first jury in July 2016. Information about the jury as well as ongoing updates are published on the state's online community engagement platform YourSAy.
The recruitment of participants for Citizens' Jury 1 was carried out by newDemocracy, independently from the government. Invitations were sent to a random sample of 25,000 households generated by software. Addresses were provided by Australia Post's database and invitations were sent by post. 1,121 people then registered their interest in taking part, and a random stratified sample was taken from this group to ensure that the final jury reflected the demographics of the South Australian population. The final jurors selected numbered 54 - with 4 of those as reserves in case of emergency (YourSAy 2016a).
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
This engagement program is ongoing, with the first stage ending in November 2016. Below are the details of the process so far (August 2016). The YourSAy website has a number of videos and documents about the first Citizens' Jury.
Citizens' Jury 1
The first stage in the nuclear engagement was a citizens' jury of 50 South Australians that took place over four days (two weekends) in June - July 2016. The purpose of this jury was to examine the Royal Commission's report and produce some key issues that should be discussed during the state-wide consultation. The jury's task was essentially to set the agenda for wider community consultation: identifying key issues from the report that the whole community needs to consider. This involves balancing and processing a large amount of complex information, but also having to write a report in accessible terms for the whole community who have not participated in the jury. The SA Premier Jay Weatherill emphasised that the aim of Jury 1 was not to say yes or no to nuclear fuel storage, but to "assist us [the gov't] to make the best possible decision" (Weatherill 2016).
Day 1 of Jury 1 focussed on explaining the jury process and extending welcomes and introductions to fellow jurors. Welcomes were given by the Premier and a representative of the Kaurna people whose country it is.The key objective for the day was to explain the Royal Commission in terms of its process and outcome. In particular, there was a panel discussion with members of the Royal Commission and scrutiny over its independence from government. The jury also worked towards identifying which experts they were like to hear from, and the parts of the Royal Commission report that they wanted to explore in more depth. Jurors worked together in small groups and in plenary to do this and settled on the areas of consent, safety, trust and economics. This work also involved preparing for Day 2, where jurors would hear from expert witnesses.
Day 2 of Jury 1 was dedicated to expert witness presentations. There were 8 presentations in total, given in two panels of four, with Q&As. The jury heard from a variety of perspectives including aboriginal views, scientist, business, tourism and agriculture. Videos of the jury reflected positively on the day, with jurors commenting that their views were being challenged, and they enjoyed hearing a range of perspectives (YourSAy 2016b).
The Day 3, Jury 1 program focussed deliberation on four key areas: consent, safety, trust and economics. These were areas that the jury had selected in previous deliberations as areas of importance. Jurors could join what group they were particularly interested in. Group deliberations on the four areas took place in three rounds of discussion. In the first two rounds that took place in the morning session, expert witnesses were available for the jury to provide extra infromation and answer questions in the form of panels on each topic. After lunch for the third round, the jury could deliberate by themselves on the topic. Facilitators split the room into four with tape on the floor to indicate the different groups. Day 3 paved the way for the jury to begin planning the report they would need to write and present to the Premier on Day 4. The final part of Day 3 enabled nominated jurors from each group to feed back to the whole group on their deliberations from the four areas. Central to this exercise was the jury working towards consensus - not on the question of fuel storage itself but on what should go in their report.
Jurors commented that they felt everybody had the opportunity to participate in some way in the jury. They felt that they were making progress, but some felt that they still needed additional information, or were grappling with the complexity of the issue. Some people felt that they were still at the beginning of the process - which is true given that Jury 1 is the first stage in a state-wide engagement (YourSAy 2016c).
The final day of Jury 1 was dedicated to the jury writing the report for the Premier which would identify the agenda for wider community consultation. Jurors worked in small groups on the different sections of the report, then came together to finalise the overall report. Towards the end of the day the jury presented their report in person to the Premier. Several jurors were nominated/volunteered to give informal presentations and summaries of the report, including outlining the jury process itself. The jury also came up with some principles for decision-making to encourage people to think about the issue in a thoughtful way. These principles included transparency, inclusivity, accountability and ongoing consultation.
The jury's final report aims to answer the question "What are the parts of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission'’s Report that everyone needs to discuss?" It focuses on the four key areas mentioned above. The document is intended to set the agenda and kick-start discussions on nuclear fuel storage in the state-wide engagement that followed Jury 1.
Between August and October 2016, around 100 events will take place across South Australia. These are informal, drop-in sessions in various locations, where people are encouraged to come in and talk about the issue. There is not much information available on the format or content of these sessions. Venues range from local shopping centres to aboriginal communities and town halls and sessions are generally open from 11am - 7pm.
Alongside the face-to-face meetings around the state, online forums on each of the four areas are open for discussion through YourSAy. There are a fairly high number of comments on each thread, but they are made by a smaller group of commenters. The same individuals also comment on multiple threads. Notably, the tone of the online discussions is predominantly anti-nuclear, with a few dissenting. Whilst the discussions do delve into some of the more complex technical issues, the comments are at times vitriolic. Several posts are re-posted in different threads, somewhat blurring the four key areas as outlined by the original jury. There is also a feedback survey to comment on the Royal Commission and social media pages; the majority of the comments there are also predominantly anti-nuclear as well as anti-government and in some cases, anti-citizens' jury.
Citizens' Jury 2
The second citizens' jury will bring together the original 50 jurors from the first jury, along with an additional 300 South Australians.
"This jury is to review all the community feedback from the state-wide consultation program, in addition to finalising their own perspectives from examining the Royal Commission’s Report. The Jury will capture their deliberations in a report that will be provided to the Premier, Jay Weatherill, as a key input to the Government’s decision-making process" (YourSAy 2016d)
Following this jury, the final decision will be with the state government in November 2016.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The beginning of the Citizens' Jury process received a good deal of media and public attention. Anti-nuclear protesters gathered outside the jury venue and "mobbed" the Premier as he arrived on the first day. The first jury took place two days after the UK voted to leave the EU, and this was also discussed in the news in relation to the media. Advocates of deliberative approaches pointed to Brexit as an example of what happens when meaningful political engagement is not possible or facilitated by government. This purportedly leaves concerned citizens with only more radical means of getting their voices heard such as protest.
As this case is ongoing, it is too premature to speculate on the influence or outcomes of the process.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The analysis below is the view of the writer. This case is ongoing and any analysis is preliminary and tentative.
It is too early to draw any solid conclusions from this case given it is still ongoing. However, there are a few points worth noting at this stage. Perhaps the most significant from a deliberative perspective is the marked difference between the tone of the online discussion forums and the citizens' jury. There is a large repository of videos of the first jury so it is possible to infer something about the atmosphere and the way deliberations were conducted. Feedback from jurors on these videos seem to show satisfaction with the process, enthusiasm to learn about the issue from all perspectives, and commitment in taking part. On the other hand, online discussions appear to show mistrust of the government in its agenda and in the engagement process itself. Some commentators are suspicious of the citizens' jury process itself.
There are two related issues that can be discerned from this distance. Firstly, the citizens' jury process aims to include the voices of everyday citizens. The aim of sampling, ideally, in a citizens' jury is based on the representative logic of a mini-public - creating a microcosm of the public. In doing this, the sample is more likely to comprise of a mix of viewpoints on the issue. By contrast, self-selecting processes may attract the most passionate voices to participate in discussion. Whilst it is obviously important for passionate advocates to express their views, typically these loud voices will dominate a debate.
Concomitantly, the online discussions on nuclear in SA seem to (so far) be dominated by anti-nuclear activists. There are to be sure, some pro-nuclear commentors. There is far less indication of those people may be undecided or not have a strong view. This binary can lead to divisive commentary. Nuclear fuel storage is clear a controversial issue, with strong views on either side; any debate is likely to spark high emotions.
From a deliberative democracy perspective, the more concerning point is the mistrust in the process itself, regardless of the issue. This could indicate the need - more generally - to better explain the process of citizens' juries including the selection process and information provision to wider publics.
newDemocracy Foundation (2016) Nuclear fuel cycle engagement - South Australia's department of premier and cabinet, available at: http://www.newdemocracy.com.au/ndf-work/316-sa-cj-nuclear-fuel-cycle
Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission (2016) Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission - tentative findings [pdf], available at: http://nuclearrc.sa.gov.au/app/uploads/2016/02/NFCRC-Tentative-Findings.pdf
Weatherill, J (2016) Interview with Channel 9 News [YouTube], 25 June, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BhAIO5tQmE&feature=youtu.be
YourSAy (2016) Reforming Democracy: Deciding, Designing and Delivering Together, Government of South Australia, available at: http://yoursay.sa.gov.au/reforming-democracy
YourSAy (2016a) Background of the jury, Government of South Australia, available at: http://nuclear.yoursay.sa.gov.au/background-of-the-jury
YourSAy (2016b) Citizens' Jury Day 2: thoughts from the jury [YouTube] available at: https://youtu.be/9RA-4VKFcf0
YourSAy (2016c) Day 3 update: thoughts from the jurors [YouTube], available at: https://youtu.be/jCZQflKgBf0
YourSAy (2016d) The Engagement Process, Government of South Australia, available at: http://nuclear.yoursay.sa.gov.au/know-nuclear/engagement-process
Royal Commission on Nuclear Fuel Cycle: http://nuclearrc.sa.gov.au/