Institute for Technology Assessment and  Systems Analysis (ITAS)

Effects of implemented deliberative procedures in the decision making process for a final repository for highly radioactive substances

  • Project team:

    Kuppler, Sophie (Dissertation)

  • Start date:


  • End date:


  • Research group:

    Knowledge society and knowledge policy

Project description

The question what the safest option is for storing highly active waste for up to one million years can never be conclusively answered. Nevertheless, the best solution has to be found in accordance with the current state of knowledge. Many countries have opted for a disposal deep under the surface in geological formations that have been there for a very long time and will most probably still be there in one million years from now.

In many of those countries, the search for a suitable repository site has led to temporary or longer-lasting societal conflicts. In reaction to these conflicts, the responsible waste management organizations and governmental institutions in some of those countries have tried to implement a dialogue-oriented selection procedure. Citizens' initiatives and scientists voiced strong critique regarding the implementation of these ideas in different countries. They suspected that the aim was to prevent conflict rather than to enter into a real dialogue and create possibilities for the interested public to participate in decision-making.

Against this background, two research questions were pursued in this study: First, if the mere organization of dialogue events already leads to an opening up of nuclear waste politics and policy as well as in the media discourse on them. Second, which are promoting and inhibiting factors for the evolution of such effects. A comparative analysis of the German and Swiss case was conducted. During the investigation period (2001-2010) in Switzerland a new site selection procedure was implemented, while in Germany an attempt to re-start site-selection was not successful.

A theoretical-conceptual approach was developed in order to investigate effects on nuclear waste politics and policy as well as on the media discourse. This approach draws on theories on "governance" and "deliberative democracy". An actor-centered approach was developed, which focuses on questions such as the plurality of collective actors involved in the preparation of decisions as well as the quality of their involvement. Based on these and on further criteria, two ideal governance types were identified: nuclear waste management and deliberative nuclear waste governance. A change in a country regarding one or several of the criteria was interpreted as an indicator for an effect of the micro-deliberative events. Effects can only occur if collective or single actors act. For this reason, promoting and inhibiting factors for the evolution of such effects were also analyzed. They can be of structural nature, but e.g. also lie in the collective or single actors' (lack of) will to agree on basic discursive rules.

A multi-method approach was chosen for the empirical data collection: A media analysis was carried through with a quantifying and a qualitative part and interviews were conducted with key persons as representatives of different collective actors involved. As background for the analysis of nuclear waste politics and policies, government documents were sighted.

The results show that effects of micro-deliberative events regarding a change of nuclear waste politics towards deliberative nuclear waste governance can be observed. The change often only takes place regarding single criteria, such as for example an increased plurality in the problem definition, and are often only temporary – particularly in Germany. Comparing the two countries, it shows that especially institutionalized spaces for discussions between different collective actors and the development of a working definition of transparency are crucial for a lasting change towards deliberative nuclear waste governance. Due to the very long time-spans for disposal and because the nuclear waste problem has to be categorized as "wicked problem", no final conflict resolution is possible. Rather, a series of working compromises has to be found which are constantly re-negotiated within the frame of a procedure which has to allow for learning processes to take place.

Kuppler, S.
Effekte deliberativer Ereignisse in der Endlagerpolitik. Deutschland und die Schweiz im Vergleich von 2001 bis 2010. Wiesbaden: Springer VS 2017, DOI: 10.1007/978-3-658-18360-8

Administrative data

Supervisor: First supervisor: Prof. Dr. Ortwin Renn, Department of Social Sciences V, University of Stuttgart
Second supervisor: Prof. Dr. Armin Grunwald, Institute of Philosophy, KIT
Advisor: Dr. Peter Hocke
Related projects: Conflicts and barriers in decision-making with respect to nuclear waste management and Governance between Science and Public Protest
Doctoral students at ITAS: See Doctoral studies at ITAS


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

Tel.: +49 721 608-24807