This is a report on the UNECE International Workshop on the Applicability of the Espoo Convention to Nuclear Power Plant Lifetime Extensions that took place in Vienna, 2 December, 2019.

The need for a full range of stakeholder engagement in decisions implicating nuclear safety seems obvious enough. But in practice, opportunities for engagement are few and far between for organizations representing non-commercial interests.

Without transparent institutional frameworks that offer opportunities to weigh in on important decisions, how can the public have faith in the resolutions that ensue? Many of the bodies dealing with nuclear matters brand themselves as “inclusive” without allocating the resources essential for civil society to actually be included. The result: well-resourced industry actors and government representatives have a say, European citizens do not.

The main purpose of the UNECE event was to take into consideration stakeholder views in the drafting of guidance for Espoo Convention terminology; the one-day forum allowed for the positions of environmental NGOs and other organizations concerned with matters of public interest to also be included in the discussions.

Legal Uncertainty over NPP Lifetime Extensions

There is still no consensus among the signatories of the Espoo Convention regarding the length of lifetime extensions (LTEs) of nuclear power plants (NPPs). With so many plants around the world approaching the end of their initially designed lifetime, this is problematic.

One Ukraine case of non-compliance triggered a deluge of other cases and the Espoo Compliance Committee felt that it needed guidance in this area. The United National Economic Commission for Europe tasked an ad hoc group, chaired by Germany and the UK, with drafting the terms of reference that would establish cases in which the LTEs of NPPs may be 1) the subject of a “decision,” 2) regarded as a “major change,” and 3) “likely to cause a significant adverse transboundary impact”.

Guidelines Expected by End of Year

The ad hoc group first elaborated the terms of reference for key questions to be explored in May of 2018. It will meet again in June of 2020 and submit a final draft to be endorsed by the Meeting of the Parties in December 2020.

Without Backing, “Stakeholder Engagement” is in Name Only

Some NGO representatives refer to the transparency of such a forum as “pseudo,” since (they argue) calls to participate without the allocation of adequate resources will not allow for genuinely representative engagement.

Mobility support from organizations like Citizens for Europe that encourage small, outlier stakeholders like Association Common Earth to participate in such discussions is welcome – and crucial!

About the Author: Christiana Mauro is a member of Association ‘Common Earth’.