Thomas Rosenberg
sociologist, chairman of the former Lovisa-movement, the citizen movement against nuclear waste disposal in Lovisa.

Drottninggatan 28  FIN-07900 Lovisa
+358 19 533 365; gsm +358 50 528 7171; fax +358 9 618 21 200

What could have been done?
- reflections on the radwaste-battle, as seen from below

How best to describe the three-year long battle between Posiva, the company promoting final disposal of spent nuclear fuel, on one hand, and the local resistance, mobilized in a citizen movement, on the other? A battle undoubtly reminding that of Goliat vs David, i.e. rather uneven what comes to resources, influence and knowledge.

Probably one word is enough, and that is ’theatre’. This because so much in the whole process, especially concerning the environmental impact assessment (EIA), reminded a dramatic spectacle with everything written in advance: the parts, the complicated and stepwise choreography – and, above all, the whole narrative, from the very beginning to the (from the resisters’ point of view) bitter end.

What was, then, to be done, as the outcome of it all seemed absolutely clear from the beginning? Why bother, at all? If we, as citizens in Lovisa, were doomed already, as nuclear sites usually are, nothing would, of course, change the main script. Besides marginally, i.e. by choosing the location for the disposal plant, between one of the two nuclear sites in Finland. Quite early as it had become obvious that only these two sites (i.e. Hästholmen in Lovisa and Olkiluoto in Eurajoki) were among the potential ones, despite the official game with four candidates, of which two were non-nuclear sites (Kivetty in Äänekoski and Romuvaara in Kuhmo).


This was, in short, the situation confronting all those on the local level who decided, still, to resist the location of the final disposal facility for radwaste in their own municipality, in this case the small town of Lovisa. A town whose citizens had, after all, always been explicitly promised not be left with the spent nuclear fuel. (Note that I wrote Lovisa with only one “i”, thus pointing out one of the main characteristics of the Lovisa case, i.e. the language dimension - something I will return to later.)

In my speech, I will try to describe the spectacle as seen from below, especially from the activists’ point of view. I will do this by accounting for the strategy adopted by the Lovisa movement, the citizen movement rapidly mobilized against Posiva’s deposit plans, as soon as they became public the 4th of January ‘97.

Of course one could claim that the narrative offered above implies that the anti- nuclear waste movement was rather preconceived in its attitudes. In a way this was true. But so were, I’m positive, also the attitudes on the other side of the table. This makes the theatrical metaphor even more accurate, as both parts played their roles according to a prescribed scheme. Something which made the desired confidence and trust from the very start a rather limited resource.

Much can be said about the matter of trust, of course, but let me here summarize two of the reasons why there was such a great lack of confidence and credibility from the start.

(i) The first reason lies in the David vs Goliat constellation, i.e. in the feeling that the stakeholders in this case were completely uneven, representing fundamentally different weight categories. You don’t have to suspect any sort of conspiration in order to judge the battle lost beforehand – so big and strong were the vested interests.

(ii) The second reason lies in the divison of power and the relationship between the applicant and the regulating authorities. It is for most people unacceptable especially that the applicant itself (according to the legislation) is obliged to master the EIA, but also that the regulatory mandate is given to the two state authorities so deeply involved in the nuclear industry as The Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Nuclear safety authority, STUK. This arrangement eliminated most of the confidence from the very start, at least among those familiar with the nuclear network in Finland.

As this session deals with the stakeholder involvement, particlarly in the EIA-process, I will concentrate on this aspect, though it in many ways blurs the perspective. In Lovisa, drawn into the location battle on a very late stage as we were, the whole and intensive three-year campaign against the disposal was almost parallell with the EIA-process. This forced the movement to react in consequence with this, even if we considered the whole thing rather useless and frustrating, I must admit. (Observe that we were targeted also by another, almost parallell EIA, concerning a new power plant. According to the official rhetoric totally independent of the radwaste-EIA, but of course in many ways connected with this.)

From the beginning, it was very clear for us in the Lovisa-movement that we had to the adopt a simultaneous double-strategy, on one hand totally refusing to discuss on the premises given by Posiva as well as by the authorities (as defined both by the legislation concerning the radwaste and the stepwise EIA-process), on the other participating in the process, in order not to be totally marginalized. (But now, looking at the process in retrospective, I’m not sure whether the latter was necessary. I think we would have done quite well also by simply boycotting the EIA – perhaps even better.)

This is not the place to discuss the disposal concept offered by Posiva, not to talk about nuclear power in general. But of course the often very strong sentiments against nuclear power heavily influenced those active in the movement. If there was a lack of confidence, the reasons for this were, therefore, to be found much earlier, and were much more basic in nature.

The Lovisa movement was, however, mobilized explicitly in order to resist the disposal plant, nothing else. The board included, e.g., even members who were pro nuclear power. This deliberate narrowing of the focus didn’t, of course, prevent almost every public event to get stuck into a discussion about “the ancient Greeks”, i.e. disputing over and over again about all the elementaries, which is, as we all know, quite frustrating for both sides. But people simply aren’t that rational as it may look from the EIA-technocrat’s desk. Or, to put it another way: the EIA, with its over-rational logic simply does not fit here. (I.e., in contrast with Pekka Hokkanen, I don’t find EIA a good thing!)

In short, Posiva’s manuscript, in accordance with the main interpretation of the legislation concerning spent nuclear fuel, offered no alternative to final deposit in bedrock. The EIA, on the other hand, implied participating in a long, frustrating, and co-optative process, however scientifically camouflaged as it was - a process which from our point of view only legitimated a discourse we refused to accept. And we were all the time quite aware of this Trojan nature of the EIA; the more you got involved, the more you had to accept the agenda-setting given.


Our strategy was, as I mentioned above, double-sided in character, and based on three corner stones: 1) broad representativity, 2) professionalism, especially in the media, and 3) refusing to discuss on the premises given, offering alternatives instead.

1. As the planned disposal of radwaste affected not only Lovisa but also its surroundings the movement included representatives not only from this town (with about 8 000 inhabitants), but also from the four neighboring municipalities traditionally regarded as the Lovisa region (in sum about 20 000 inhabitants - but the movement actually included also more distant municipalities). Also in this respect the movement thereby rejected the definition made by Posiva and the legislation. From the very beginning the demand of a public referendum was raised, and then explicitly concerning not only Lovisa, but at least the neighbouring two municipalities, too. (Lovisa itself is geographically quite small.) This demand was never put into practice, but evitably effected the discussion, well known as it was that the anti-waste disposal feelings were more pronounced in the surrounding municipalities.

A kind of referendum was, however, put into practice, as the movement as one of its first steps in April ’97 decided to publish a petition against the disposal plant, thereby giving people living in the Lovisa region a possibility to declare their standpoint with a clear and simple NO, as an alternative to the written expressions of meaning in the EIA. The collection of names continued during the whole process, and finally (in February ’00) included almost 3 900 names.

In this connection something must be said also about the language dimension, as the cultural and linguistic aspects were of significant importance, in many ways dividing as they were the attitudes concerning the question at stake. Lovisa, and the whole region, had formerly been dominantly Swedish in character, something rapidly changed by the nuclear epoque, beginning in the early 70’s. From that on, the attitudes towards nuclear power in general, and radwaste in specific, have been strongly language- and culture-related. Or simplifying it: the nuclear age in Lovisa is strongly connected with change also on the cultural level, with its loss of former privileges, tradition and language. Or as I use to say: the nuclear age in Lovisa has splitted not only atoms in the power plants but also the town itself and its socio-cultural climate.

Much could, of course, be said about these cultural cleavages (well known also from other parts of the world), but let me restrict myself to one statement: I’m sure that the language aspect involved affected the outcome of the location contest at least as much as most of the investigations made as a part of the EIA-process! It was, in short, for the actors involved too irritating to be forced not only to play the EIA-game on many sites at the same time, but also to do it simultaneously in two languages.

2. The professionalism of the movement implied always keeping a very serious and knowledge-based profile, in order to gain maximal credibility (especially in contrast to the former anti-nuclear movement in the region, labelled populistic as it usually was). This was possible by the relatively high degree of experts from various fields in the movement, e.g. journalists, sociologists, lawyers, teachers, actors etc. And, from the political feld, many of the leading politicians in the different municipalities in the region.

Special attention was payed to the publicity, especially in the local media, i.e. the two local newspapers and the local radio (both of them in both Swedish and Finnish). Though many of the journalists did not sympatize with the movement’s program (in contrast with the situation in the 70’s and 80’s), we didn’t have any greater problems in getting publicity, and in many ways succeeded to keep the initiative, at least in the first, and perhaps most decisive, problem-defining period. As every social scientist knows (especially today, with a paradigm so dominating as social constructivism), the question is about who defines the problem, and thereby setting the agenda.

I think the Lovisa movement, though David-like in proportion, succeeded in redefining the scene of the combat, thus tilting Goliat - at least a little bit.

3. Refusing the discourse given meant offering alternative solutions and critizising both the deposit-model offered by Posiva and the dramaturgy prescribed by the legislation and the EIA-process.

The very first, and rather successful, seminar was titled “There are alternatives!”, in April 1997. It introduced an alternative concept to the final bedrock deposit, developed in Sweden (the so called Dry Rock Deposit, or DRD), described more in detail by its designers in a following seminar one year later.

We didn’t have, of course, resources enough to develop this theme deeply enough, but I think we succeeded at least to keep in mind that there are - and above all, should be! – alternative solutions. Especially such ones satisfying the demands concerning a morally sustainable solution to the waste problem, i.e. stressing the waste retrievability and reversibility. (This seems, by the way, to be the most important adjustment caused by the critique from the “anti-finalists” against the idea of a final deposit. Though it, for sure, has been mainly cosmetique.)

Refusing to play the part of the perfect citizen in the EIA-process meant participating in the endless chain of seminars, hearings, surveys etc. - but only half-hearted. Parallell with this participation (including writing several expressions of opinion), we all the time found it much more important to introduce alternative solutions and perspectives. One such alternative was to put the whole EIA-process in question, e.g. by arranging a seminar explicitly focussing on this matter.


After this short and rather sketchy description of the strategy adopted by the Lovisa movement, let me conclude some of the observations made.

In all the three respects mentioned above (the broad representativity, the professionalism and the altering of the agenda) the citizen movement can be said to have been successful  - even if I, due to my position in the movement, of course could be disqualified from making such assessments! We succeeded, at least partly, if not to change the definition and the agenda at stake, at least to put it seriously in question. We also partly succeeded, as mentioned above, in keeping the initiative in the media, at least on the local level *). But above all, we succeeded in our main and only purpose (at least explicitly), i.e. to stop the radwaste deposit in Lovisa. The movement therefore decided officially to put and end to its activities in February 2000, by arranging a last public seminar, analyzing the whole process.

But we didn’t succeed - and that, at least in my opinion, is of much greater importance - in our most crucial issue, i.e. resisting the whole idea of eliminating the problem by hiding it deep in the bedrock. Passing it over to the neighbour (in this case the Eurajoki municipality) was absolutely no victory in our mind. The Lovisa movement, together with our colleagues in Kuhmo (Romuvaara movement) and Äänekoski (Kivetty movement), never accepted the accusations according to which we were suffering the usual NIMBY-syndrome, i.e. “Not In My BackYard”. For instance, the Lovisa movement stated that we even prefer a prolonged temporary deposit on the ground in Lovisa, instead of a final deposit in the bedrock in Eurajoki.

But all that was, of course, in vain. The nearer the end of the EIA-process we came, the more it showed its real Potemkin-character. Or, as I used to say in the first phase of the process: the mission for Posiva didn’t lie in finding the rock best suited for the purpose, but the community naive, brave or stupid enough (choose the word) to accept the radwaste. Posiva itself disqualified the process by first launching an advertisement campaign in the autumn 1998, cheaply underestimating all the critical voices, and then definitely nullified the dialogue (as the researcher Matti Kojo put it in an article analyzing the process) by the Vuojoki-agreement with Eurajoki in May 1999 - i.e. before the EIA-process had been brought to a close. 

Or to summarize, in contrast with most of the speakers on this conference, I don’t think the EIA-instrument suits this kind of a complex problem – it is far too rational in logic, expertise-driven in practice and – in this case – betraying by intention.


At last, some words about moral. The nearer the end of the play we came, the more the discussion was turned into a moral issue – but now turned up side down, at least in the opinion of all those who always had rejected nuclear power, explicitly from a moral point of view, i.e. referring to the unsolved waste problem. Now, Posiva in its rhetoric tried to convince that the moral issue at stake was to solve the problem at last, and definitely, and not to leave it to the generations to come. That is, however, precisely what the anti-nuclear movement had always claimed, as the crucial and morally most weighty argument against dealing with nuclear power, altogether!

We were, therefore, trapped - and still are. A fact even more obvious today, living as we are after September the 11th. But even a short glance in the annals of the anti-nuclear movement shows that we knew it from beginning, and always warned against it: nuclear power is incompatible with terrorism. And terrorism is something we never can exclude from our scenarios, at least if we are serious – whatever our leaders may say.


*) One of our major mistakes, and this goes for all the three citizen movements, was in mainly keeping to the local level – something which suited Posiva perfectly. As a matter of fact Posiva can be said, by intention or not, to have successfully followed the ancient strategy of divide et impera. The three citizen movements dominated the local arena during the first, local phase, that’s true – but who cared, as nobody knew anything of all this on the national level! The discrepancy between the massive discussion and activity on the local level and the total silence on the national one was, indeed, huge.

When the process in the end of the Millenium reached its second phase, and the radwaste-question was lifted to the political level (by bringing the decision in principle to the Government and the Parliament), we all realized – too late – that we didn’t have energy, time nor resources to go through it all again. We were, after all, amateurs fully occupied with our ordinary jobs, families etc. No wonder, then, that the decision ran so smoothly through the political apparatus – the fighters lied half-dead on the local battle-grounds, too tired to take part in the last and most crucial battle.

There are, still, some organizations that have been active also on the national level, such as the nature protection organization, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth etc., but these are not always defined as stakeholders, and thereby excluded from the scene. (This goes, by the way, also for the FSC Workshop, as the opponent side was represented only by two local activists, but no organization on the national level – some of which I know have been openly critical against this.)

The Finnish decision concerning a disposal facility for spent nuclear fuel may look like a miracle of confidence and trust. But let us not forget that the last part of the play gives a rather biased picture of the process. From the local point of view, it looks quite different. But how to make that reality visible?

Päivitetty 25.10.2007