The combination of its unique developmental history, early safe and successful operations, and recent occupational safety and environmental contamination concerns have made the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) a timely case study for an emerging theory and model on stakeholder acceptance for socially controversial projects. From the reception of its first waste shipment in 1999 to early 2014, WIPP had successfully operated for 15 years and maintained high levels of acceptance and support across various stakeholders. Support for, experiences with and perceptions of WIPP were so high that the Presidentially appointed Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future called WIPP a ‘model’ of consent-based operations (Hamilton, et. al. 2012). In this context the Golay-Williams Model for Stakeholder Acceptance of Socially Controversial Projects was employed to describe the dynamics underlying these stakeholder reactions and behaviors. Applying our theory and model to describe the events at WIPP resulted in several interesting lessons learned, including:
- Alignment between different levels of stakeholder is necessary for project acceptance (e.g., local and national support overcame state level opposition to the facility during initial WIPP discussions)
- A need for intentional and timely communications to improve stakeholder acceptance (e.g., regular online updates provided at www.wipp.gov)
- That accumulated benefits of a socially controversial project change the dynamics of stakeholder acceptance (e.g. WIPP’s successful operation has built significant amounts of local, state and national political capital); and,
- The existence of an independent, ‘honest broker’ is vital to stakeholder management (e.g., the Environmental Evaluation Group (EEG) – a third party oversight committee mandated by the state of New Mexico to regularly evaluate WIPP’s design and operations).
In summary, the WIPP case study helped to refine and validate our theory and model of managing stakeholder acceptance for socially controversial projects – including the importance of initiating, maintaining and (if need) recovering stakeholder acceptance.
Nuclear Systems Enhanced Performance