Lies, Damned Lies, and Survey Statistics…

Rather like government consultations and inquiries, surveys carried out for government projects are frequently designed to give a particular outcome. They will likely be presented as a test of public opinion, but often that bears little resemblance to reality – they are actually intended to validate a predetermined government position.

Cumbria Trust discovered a few weeks ago that one such survey has been conducted on behalf of Allerdale GDF Working Group to measure public support for burying the UK’s nuclear waste in Allerdale in a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF). We were initially given a small extract from it which happened to show that most respondents supported the policy of burying nuclear waste in a GDF. More surprisingly we were told they even support a local GDF, close to where they lived, but by a narrower margin.

We asked to see the detail of the survey, and to their credit, the following week, this was made available to us. What we found within the survey was less encouraging. The questions had clearly been constructed to lead the respondents to give the desired answer. Before asking respondents whether they supported burying nuclear waste, they asked how they understand it is currently stored. The two relevant options were ‘it is stored at ground level’ and ‘it’s held in multibarrier vaults deep underground’. The difference in these two descriptions is illuminating.

The following question compounds this when asking where we should dispose of radioactive waste. The two relevant options are ‘Continuing to store radioactive waste above ground / near surface’ and ‘Disposing of radioactive waste at a UK site in vaults and chambers hundreds of metres underground’. This is clearly constructed to get the answer that we should be burying nuclear waste in a GDF, with 55% choosing this, despite most having little or no understanding of the issue. The questions are designed to give a particular answer – to demonstrate public support for a GDF.

Had the options been ‘continuing to use secure interim surface storage facilities at high security nuclear-licenced sites’ or ‘burying it underground’, the outcome would no doubt have been reversed. Genuine surveys designed to measure public opinion need to have balanced questioning and this one fell a long way short of that.

Next week Allerdale GDF Working Group are meeting to define the search area for a GDF within Allerdale and off its coast. There is a real danger that they will take their skewed survey as validation that the public are happy to accept the nation’s nuclear waste to be buried in Allerdale. As we highlighted recently, the area around Silloth should pay particular attention to the decision on search area, which is being decided by a handful of individuals, behind closed doors, who may not have their best interests at heart. The results are expected to be made public in August.

Allerdale GDF Working Group tells us that nothing has been decided, which we find rather hard to believe. It appears that government’s GDF developer, Radioactive Waste Management shares our view – they have told us that they are confident Allerdale will proceed to the next stage of the process in the autumn. It appears that Allerdale GDF Working Group, far from being independent, are simply there to give the impression of listening, when the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

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A Voice for Cumbria
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