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Deliberative events in nuclear waste governance

Sophie Kuppler, ITAS expert for nuclear waste disposal and governance, investigates in her Ph.D. thesis whether public participation approaches in Germany and Switzerland lead to a fundamental change in nuclear waste politics and policy.
Dissertation Sophie Kuppler Effekte deliberativer Ereignisse in der Endlagerpolitik
Source: Springer VS

High-level radioactive waste has to be safely stored for up to one million years. However, the question how to comply with these enormous periods of protection can hardly be answered. But still the best possible solution according to current knowledge has to be found. The search for such a solution caused societal conflicts in many places. The responsible waste disposal organizations and authorities tried to respond with more dialog-oriented processes. Both scientists and citizens’ initiatives expressed strong criticism of their practical implementation since they suspected conflict pacification without any real participation of the interested public.

Against this background, ITAS scientist Sophie Kuppler has explored two questions in her recently published PhD thesis: First, does the organization of dialog events alone already contribute to changes in nuclear waste politics and policy and the respective public debate, and second, which factors turn out to facilitate or inhibit the occurrence of such effects. To this end, Sophie Kuppler compared the German case with the search for a final repository in Switzerland between 2001 and 2010.

The results show that micro-deliberative events – like dialog events or regional conferences – can indeed contribute to changes in nuclear waste governance. However, this effect often only applies to certain criteria, like, for example, an increased plurality in the problem description and is, especially in Germany, mainly a temporary one. The comparison of the two countries reveals: Institutionalized spaces for discussions between different actors (environmental groups, citizens’ initiatives, authorities, industry, etc.) and the joint development of a transparent work practice are important for a lasting change towards a deliberative nuclear waste governance. This means that it has to be discussed which types of information from authorities and the industry are disclosed and which type of support is needed, e.g., for regional conferences, to be able to process this information.

Sophie Kuppler concludes in her work that a final solution for the conflict is impossible given the long periods of time of final storage and its classification as hardly solvable “wicked problem”. In fact, all those involved have to accept compromises regarding their work which have to be constantly renegotiated in the framework of such a process. (10.08.2017)

Bibliographical data

Sophie Kuppler
Effekte deliberativer Ereignisse in der Endlagerpolitik. Deutschland und die Schweiz im Vergleich von 2001 bis 2010. Wiesbaden: Springer VS 2017.
Details from the publisher