Citizens’ juries show potential as a way for governments to take the heat out of contentious issues, with evidence-informed consideration of contentious policy by regular people having the ability to reshape often staid debates.
So as South Australia is tossing up whether to create a nuclear waste dump to take spent fuel from around the world, the state government has decided to convene two citizens’ juries to consider the future of the nuclear fuel cycle in the state.
SA’s Nuclear Fuel Royal Commission report, publicly released on Monday, argues it can safely increase its participation in the nuclear fuel cycle, bringing economic benefits to a state in need of a boost and even helping cut carbon emissions.
It made 12 recommendations, including that SA pursue the opportunity to establish facilities for the storage and disposal of used nuclear fuel and intermediate level waste, and that federal restrictions on nuclear power generation be removed.
Premier Jay Weatherill says the citizens’ jury deliberations will help South Australians have an “informed discussion” about the nuclear fuel cycle, based on the body of evidence presented in the royal commission report.
The work of the citizens’ juries and other consultation processes “will play a key role in informing the decisions we make”, he stated yesterday:
“I know that some people are worried about safety and the environment whilst others see the economic opportunities. This is why before the government decides, we want South Australians to understand the choices and to be able to put their perspective on this issue.”
Deliberations will begin next month, when a group of about 50 South Australians will be asked to identify the key questions that need to be considered during the debate.
Invitations will be sent this week to 25,000 randomly selected citizens seeking an expression of interest for their participation in the jury, with members selected by an independent, non-political organisation.
Later, in October, a second citizens’ jury of about 350 people will be convened to evaluate the feedback from the state-wide consultation and weigh up the choices and options on the important issues raised by the royal commission.
In November, this second jury will produce a report summarising the community’s position for the government to consider in its response to the royal commission’s report by the end of the year.
New agency to ‘facilitate’ debate
The government will introduce a range of other consultative measures to help it come to a decision.
An independent advisory board to guide the consultation process will soon be appointed, and a state government nuclear fuel cycle agency established to help facilitate the discussion.
A campaign titled “Nu-Clear” was launched on Tuesday to promote discussion and encourage people to explore the facts on the nuclear fuel cycle, with advertisements to be run on radio, television, print and social media.
Citizens are able to comment on the royal commission report on the state’s YourSAy consultation website.
The key questions identified by the citizens’ jury will guide a number of community consultation activities from July, which will include meetings held across the state, as well as social media engagement, information centres and a free call 1800 service.
A specific program of Aboriginal engagement will also be undertaken across SA with the guidance of Aboriginal community leaders.