Institute for Technology Assessment and  Systems Analysis (ITAS)

Nuclear waste research with citizens: ITAS work packages in the research network TRANSENS (“Transdisciplinary research on the disposal of high-level radioactive waste in Germany”)

Project description

TRANSENS Projekt-Team
TRANSENS project team

Project summary

For the first time in Germany, transdisciplinary research is being conducted on the disposal of radioactive waste. Within the research network TRANSENS (Transdisciplinary research on the disposal of high-level radioactive waste in Germany), ITAS is responsible for two Transdisciplinary Work Packages (TAP / Transdisziplinäre Arbeitspakete). In this context, the experts from the ITAS research group “Radioactive Waste Management as a Socio-Technical Project” are particularly concerned with questions of dialogue, equity, and ability to act in the site selection process launched in 2017. The challenging question of how to safely dispose radioactive waste cannot be solved by science alone. Social discourse and existing conflicts shape decision making in the site selection process for the underground repositrory, as do a number of technical challenges associated with the desired retrievability of the waste.

The ITAS team is responsible for the TRANSENS work packages “Ability to act and flexibility in a reversible process” (HAFF - Handlungsfähigkeit und Flexibilität in einem reversiblen Verfahren) and “Dialogue and process design in the interplay between law, justice, and governance” (DIPRO - Dialoge und Prozessgestaltung in Wechselwirkung von Recht, Gerechtigkeit und Governance). The research work has a consistently transdisciplinary character, i.e., the interested public and other actors are involved at all stages of the repository site selection process.

Research network TRANSENS

The TRANSENS research network pursues three main objectives that illustrate its innovative character: (1) development of important new perspectives on socio-technical processes in connection with nuclear waste management through transdisciplinary cooperation, (2) further development of transdisciplinarity through transdisciplinary application-oriented basic research and systematic self-reflection in order to contribute to solving other important social and technical issues (transdisciplinarity research), and (3) promotion of young scientists required for nuclear waste disposal and maintenance of scientific competence.

TRANSENS is a collaborative project in which 17 research teams from nine German universities and two Swiss institutions work together. Transdisciplinary research is at the heart of the project. The interested public and other actors not specialized in waste management are systematically involved in different research contexts, specifically in the four Transdisciplinary Work Packages (TAPs).

  • HAFF: Ability to act and flexibility in a reversible process (TAP leader: Peter Hocke, ITAS)
  • SAFE: Safety case: stakeholder perspectives and transdisciplinarity
  • TRUST: Technology, uncertainty, complexity, and trust
  • DIPRO: Dialogue and process design in the interplay between law, justice, and governance) (TAP leader: Ulrich Smeddinck, ITAS)

The network systematically reflects on the possibilities of transdisciplinary research in the field of nuclear waste disposal (transdisciplinarity research).

TRANSENS is funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) and the Volkswagen Foundation together with the State of Lower Saxony. TU Clausthal leads the research network.

Repository research with citizens

On the one hand, the technocratic narrowness and limited willingness to engage in public discussions, which characterized waste management policy for many years, have contributed to a loss of confidence. This also applies in particular to the confidence of civil society actors in the actions and statements of scientists. On the other hand, society in general has changed. Citizens demand much greater opportunities for co-determination and participation and distrust experts or scientific institutions as much as formally responsible organizations and authorities.

The two TAPs lead by ITAS respond to these challenges.

TAP HAFF – Ability to act and flexibility in a reversible process

The new German site selection process according to StandAG and the work of the Repository Commission define a number of characteristics that should shape the process up to the identification of a deep geological repository itself, but also the repository policy beyond that. Reversibility, in particular, is placed at the heart of the thematic framework, thus putting conceptual weakness of linear development into perspective (Repository Commission 2016, NEA 2012). In addition to the definition of scientific criteria, the element of flexibility is also included in the process. Checkpoints in the process, the option of sensible steps backwards, and new research results should be appropriately considered. The TAP HAFF carries out basic research to support this work.

Cooperation:

The TAP HAFF brings together the disciplines of labor and management psychology (University of Kassel, Department of Labor and Management Psychology), interdisciplinary repository research (KIT-ITAS; Öko-Institut, Darmstadt), social geography (Öko-Institut), political science (KIT-ITAS), sociology (KIT-ITAS), technology assessment (KIT-ITAS), geosciences (Öko-Institut; KIT, Institute for Nuclear Waste Disposal), radiochemistry (Institute for Nuclear Waste Disposal), radiation protection (Institute for Nuclear Waste Disposal), law (KIT-ITAS), and engineering sciences (TU Braunschweig, Institute of Building Materials, Concrete Construction and Fire Safety; Leibniz Universität Hannover, Institute of Materials Science).

TAP DIPRO – Dialogue and process design in the interplay between law, justice, and governance

Questions of justice are of great social significance. This is especially true for unpopular, burdensome, and risky projects such as the site selection and the realization of a repository. The feeling of being treated unfairly is ­– besides the fear of danger – probably one of the primary driving forces of collective action and protest. Many processes in the implementation of a repository – and the previous site selection – are perceived as fair or unfair, depending on one’s own feelings, knowledge, and positioning. But questions of justice are questions of valuation. The impression of justice or injustice arises not only from the potential risk posed by the waste but also from the design of the legal framework and the political repository governance, i.e., the way decisions are made about where, why, and how to construct a repository.

Cooperation:

TAP DIPRO involves the disciplines of philosophy (Kiel University, Chair of Environmental Philosophy and Ethics), law (KIT-ITAS), and political science (FU Berlin, Comparative Politics/Environmental Policy Research Centre), supported by the disciplines of economics (TU Berlin, Workgroup for Infrastructure Policy), engineering (Leibniz Universität Hannover, Institute for Materials Science; TU Braunschweig, Institute of Building Materials, Concrete Construction and Fire Safety), as well as computer and information science (Kiel University, Department of Computer Science.

ITAS research topics

HAFF:

  • Path dependency as a risk and a challenge
  • Spatial impact and governance

DIPRO:

  • Voluntariness and compensation
  • What do we learn from the transdisciplinary research approach to the site selection?
  • Comments on the Site Selection Act (amended version)

Previous publications

  • Smeddinck, U.; Mintzlaff, V.; Pönitz, E.: Entsorgungsforschung am Wendepunkt? Transdisziplinarität als Perspektive für die Forschung zur Entsorgung hochradioaktiver Abfälle – ein Projekt-Buch. Berlin 2020
  • Smeddinck, U.; Kuppler, S.; Chaudry, S.: Inter- und Transdisziplinarität bei der Entsorgung radioaktiver Reststoffe – Grundlagen, Beispiele, Wissenssynthese. Wiesbaden 2016
  • Smeddinck, U. (Hg.): Standortauswahlgesetz – Kommentar. Berlin 2017
  • Ott, K.; Smeddinck, U. (Hg.): Umwelt, Gerechtigkeit, Freiwilligkeit – insbesondere bei der Realisierung eines Endlagers. Berlin 2018
  • Hocke, P.; Smeddinck, U.: Robust-parlamentarisch oder informell-partizipativ? Die Tücken der Entscheidungsfindung in komplexen Verfahren. GAIA 2017, 125 ff.

Contact

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

Tel.: +49 721 608-26893
E-mail