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Governance between Science and Public Protest. ITAS work package in the research platform ENTRIA (“Disposal Options for Radioactive Residues”)

Governance between Science and Public Protest. ITAS work package in the research platform ENTRIA (“Disposal Options for Radioactive Residues”)
Project team:

Hocke, Peter (Project leader); Sophie Kuppler, Armin Grunwald, Elske Bechthold, Melanie Mbah, Nele Wulf

Funding:Federal Ministry of Education and Research
Start date:2013
End date:2017
Project partners:Niedersachsen Institutes of Technology, FU Berlin, Kiel University, Risicare
Research group:Knowledge society and knowledge policy

Project description

Project summary

The research activities on "Governance between Expertise, Public Protest and Governmental Action. Lines of Conflict in a Complex Decision-making Situation and Challenges in Coming to a Robust Decision” were concluded in the end of 2017. The results of the five-year activities are presented in a multitude of disciplinary and interdisciplinary publications. The final report of the project ENTRIA “Disposal Options for Radioactive Residues: Interdisciplinary Analyses and Development of Evaluation Principles” will be published until February 2019 (full text). Within ENTRIA, the ITAS team was involved in close interdisciplinary exchange with several other academic institutes. The highlight of the project ENTRIA was the international final conference, which took place in Braunschweig over several days (https://www.entria.de/final-entria-conference.html). The research results were presented to the international research community as well as to the interested public.


  • Governance
  • Social science research on final disposal
  • Expert action and expert communication
  • Policy analysis
  • Technology assessment

Research on Governance and Nuclear Waste Disposal

At the start of the ENTRIA project in 2013 as well as today, nuclear waste management faces major challenges particularly in the area of governance. Different actors articulate a multitude of complex expectations, while controversial political positions for a long time have fueled a domestic political conflict. With the implementation of the site selection law (StandAG), this political conflict has changed and defused. However, some important questions remain unanswered. How a high-quality nuclear waste disposal can be realized will only become apparent in the course of the new site selection procedure. In particular, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research is necessary for an adequate scientific analysis. Within the ITAS work package “Governance between science and public protest” the ITAS-team developed fundamental knowledge and worked on analyses of applied problem situations.

In addition to working with the concepts of technology assessment, the ITAS team integrated in their research many disciplines that are not close to the classical approaches of technology assessment. Interdisciplinary partnerships have been widely implemented and resulted in numerous interdisciplinary publications. The project partners were in particular:

Furthermore, ITAS cooperated with

  • Prof. Konrad Ott and team (Kiel University, Institute of Philosophy, Department Philosophy and Ethics of the Environment)
  • Dr. Anne Eckhard and team (RISICARE, Zollikerberg / Switzerland)
  • Prof. Edmund Brandt, PD Dr. Ulrich Smeddinck and team (TU Braunschweig, Institute of Law)
  • Prof. Klaus-Jürgen Röhlig and team (TU Clausthal, Institute of Disposal Research)
  • Prof. Clemens Walther and team (LU Hannover, Institute of Radioecology and Radiation Protection)

as well as the other teams of the research platform.

ITAS research topics

  • Governance theory and forms of nuclear waste governance including participatory processes
  • Interfaces between formal and informal dialogue and consultation processes
  • Conflict lines between key actors of the general and interested public as well as the respective framing of the “disposal problem”
  • Evaluation of international experiences (especially Switzerland and Sweden)
  • TA analysis on “Mine as Technological Artifact”

Key findings of the ITAS work package

Main results from governance research

  1. The governance dimensions ‘cooperation and coordination in networks’ are currently opening up a new scope of action and decision-making options for key actors (formally responsible government organizations as well as stakeholders and civil society).
    It will depend on these actors whether a reliable disposal policy for highly radioactive waste in Germany can be achieved despite a complicated historical background.
  2. Building on the governance principles, state action consists primarily in “discursive action”: Processes of arguing and advising as well as preparing decisions are not only realized through transparency (information policy). Participation in and organization of deliberative events and other formats also contributes to the robustness of decisions.
    Disposal policy always takes place in the “shadow of the hierarchy” (Torfing 2006).
    Whether output legitimacy is achieved depends on the way  how participatory processes are implemented and how the results of these processes are incorporated into the decisions taken.
  3. Nuclear waste disposal as a “wicked problem”: no win-win situation possible for the local community
    A description of the disposal problem as merely technically demanding falls short. Nuclear waste disposal is rather a socio-technical problem.
    Societal consultations seem necessary in order to solve the problem. At the same time, these consultations can delay implementation of a solution.


Main results from the international comparison

  1. Comparative study on effects of deliberative governance impulses in Germany and Switzerland (Kuppler 2017):
    Modern nuclear waste policy requires institutionalized spaces for debates between key collective actors and stakeholders. Such spaces need to provide room also for difficult dialogues about uncertainties as well as their political dimension.
  2. Sweden study on ignorance: its construction, assessment and ways of dealing with it in nuclear waste disposal (Wulf):
    The predominant idea is that ignorance is not-yet-knowledge.
    The actors formulate thresholds of ‘enough’ knowledge to influence processes.
    The political nature of this approach and other strategic access to ignorance should be addressed in the consultation process.
    Potential siting regions will have to signal willingness to accept uncertain burdens.


Main results Long-term governance

The public expects planning for the near and medium-term future.

The current German nuclear waste management policy has to find answers to questions such as:

  • Under which conditions should nuclear waste be retrieved from deep repositories?
  • When retrieval becomes necessary and expert disagreement arises, how can a stable and acceptable compromise be found?

The compromise should be convincing for scientists as well as for civil society and politics and should find answers to conflicts that can be expected.

Orientation knowledge on the consequences and side effects of nuclear waste management policies were developed.

  • Poster 1 „Technikfolgen und modernes Regieren: Das ITAS-Arbeitspaket“
  • Poster 2 „Wie sieht die praktische Forschung bei ITAS aus?“
  • Poster 3 „Zu welchen Ergebnissen kommen wir?“
  • Poster 4 „Endlager-Governance in der Schweiz von 2001 bis 2010. Partizipation unter schwierigen Bedingungen“
  • Poster 5 „Die Bedeutung von Nichtwissen beim Unterfangen Endlagerung“

Selected events and activities

Workshop “Technical Monitoring and Long-term Governance 2016”

The planned retrievability of highly radioactive waste from a deep geological repository poses considerable challenges for science and society. In addition to technical monitoring, which is to provide reliable measurement data over decades to several centuries, social institutions are needed that are able to interpret the data and take a decision on a regulated basis. For example, this decision may mean that waste has to be retrieved. At the two-day interdisciplinary ENTRIA workshop, 20 scientists from technical and non-technical disciplines discussed this problem. They agreed widely that a long-term governance should be institutionalized within a “learning process”. Given the numerous uncertainties such as the socio-political development over the next centuries, predeterminations are only possible to a limited extend. The discussion was enriched by presentations on experiences regarding the long-term problem from the US as well as on considerations on monitoring in other European countries. The keynotes were given by Daniel Metlay (Senior Professional Staff of the US Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board) and Anne Bergmans (University of Antwerp).

further information

ENTRIA world map

Fact sheets on Switzerland and Sweden developed and revised by ITAS staff Sophie Kuppler and Nele Wulf for the ENTRIA world map. For the current ENTRIA world map see: http://www.ibmb.tu-braunschweig.de/entria-weltkarte/

Selected publications

  • ENTRIA-Abschlussbericht
  • Kuppler, Sophie (2017): Effekte deliberativer Ereignisse in der Endlagerpolitik. Deutschland und die Schweiz im Vergleich von 2001 bis 2010. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.
  • Smeddinck, Ulrich; Kuppler, Sophie; Chaudry, Saleem (Hg.) (2016): Inter- und Transdisziplinarität bei der Entsorgung radioaktiver Reststoffe. Grundlagen – Beispiele – Wissenssynthese. Wiesbaden: Springer Vieweg.
  • Hocke, Peter; Smeddinck, Ulrich (2017): Robust-parlamentarisch oder informell-partizipativ? Die Tücken der Entscheidungsfindung in komplexen Verfahren. In: GAIA (Hg.): Schwerpunkt „Jahrhundertprojekt Endlagerung“. GAIA – Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society (2), S. 125–128.
  • Mbah, Melanie (2016): Bergwerk als technologisches Artefakt. Ein Beitrag zur untertägigen Entsorgung radioaktiver Abfälle aus Perspektive der Technikfolgenabschätzung. ENTRIA-Arbeitsbericht-06. Hg. v. ENTRIA. Hannover / Karlsruhe.
  • Wulf, Nele (2017): Decision Making in Spite of Ignorance? Phenomena of Ignorance in Sweden’s Radioactive Waste Management. ENTRIA conference „Research on Radioactive Waste Management. Ethics – Society – Technology“. Braunschweig, 26.09.2017.
  • Röhlig, Klaus-Jürgen; Walther, Clemens; Geckeis, Horst; Grunwald, Armin; Hocke, Peter; et al. (2014):
    ENTRIA-Memorandum zur Entsorgung hochradioaktiver Reststoffe. ENTRIA. Hannover.

ITAS ENTRIA working papers

Mbah, M.
Partizipation und Deliberation als Schlüsselkonzepte im Konflikt um die Endlagerung radioaktiver Abfälle? Herausforderungen für die repräsentative Demokratie (ITAS-ENTRIA-Arbeitsbericht 2017-01). Karlsruhe: ITAS 2017

Buser, M.
Short‐term und Long‐term Governance als Spannungsfeld bei der Entsorgung chemo‐toxischer Abfälle. Vergleichende Fallstudie zu Entsorgungsprojekten in der Schweiz und Frankreich: DMS St‐Ursanne und das Bergwerk Felsenau (beide Schweiz) und Stocamine (Frankreich) (ITAS‐ENTRIA‐Arbeitsbericht 2017‐02). Karlsruhe: ITAS 2017

Brunnengräber, A.; Hocke, P.; Kalmbach, K.; König, C.; Kuppler, S.; Röhlig, K.-J.; Smeddinck, U.; Walther, C.
Grenzwerte beim Umgang mit radioaktiven Reststoffen (ITAS-ENTRIA-Arbeitsbericht 2015-01). Karlsruhe: ITAS 2016

Kuppler, S.; Hocke, P.
'Enabling' public participation in a social conflict. The role of long-term planning in nuclear waste governance (ITAS-ENTRIA-Arbeitsbericht 2015-02). Karlsruhe: ITAS 2015

Wulf, N.
Die schwedische Endlagersuche: Zur Kommunikation von Wissen und Nichtwissen. Exposé des Dissertationsvorhabens (ITAS-ENTRIA-Arbeitsbericht 2015-03). Karlsruhe: ITAS 2015

Wittstock, F.
Die nuklearkritische Opposition im Kontext der Endlagersuche. Überlegungen zum aktuellen Stand und Vorschläge für weitere Untersuchungen (ITAS-ENTRIA-Arbeitsbericht 2015‐04). Karlsruhe: ITAS 2015

Complete list of publications


Dr. Peter Hocke
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS)
P.O. Box 3640
76021 Karlsruhe

Tel.: +49 721 608-26893