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.


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.


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


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


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


Schult, J.; Verbarg, T. (2022)
Nur weil es draufsteht, muss es nicht drin sein. Die Workshopreihe „Mitreden bei der Endlagersuche“ für die junge Generation. Karlsruhe

Frölich, N. (2021)
Die Kommunikation von wicked problems – An den Beispielen der Endlagersuche und des Autonomen Fahrens. Karlsruhe

Hocke, P.; Bechthold, E.; Becker. F.; Bremer, S.; Brohmann, B.; Enderle, S.; Hassel, T.; Leusmann, T.; Lowke, D.; Mbah, M.; Metz, V.; Neles, J.; Scheer, D.; Sträter, O. (2021)
Verzahnungen, Haltepunkte und Wissenskonflikte. Zum Startpunkt und der Verknüpfung der Module und Arbeitspakete im TAP „Handlungsfähigkeit und Flexibilität“.  HAFF‐Arbeitsbericht Nr. 1. Karlsruhe
The publication can be requested by E-mail from the authors.

Frölich, N.; Hocke, P.; Bechthold, E. (2021)
Zivilgesellschaft. Eine Begriffsbestimmung für das TAP „Handlungsfähigkeit und Flexibilität“. Karlsruhe

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.


Book Chapters
Grunwald, A.
The German case for dealing with high-level radioactive waste: taking a socio-technical approach to address a socio-technical problem – chances and risks
2022. Nuclear Waste: Management, disposal and governance. Ed.: K.-J. Röhling, Article no: 16, Institute of Physics Publishing Ltd (IOP Publishing Ltd). doi:10.1088/978-0-7503-3095-4ch16
Smeddinck, U.
Demokratisierung der Technologieabwicklung: Das Standortauswahlverfahren für ein Endlager in Deutschland als Antidot zur Digitalisierung
2022. Digitalisierung und die Zukunft der Demokratie. Beiträge aus der Technikfolgenabschätzung. Hrsg.: A. Bogner, 143–154, Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft. doi:10.5771/9783748928928-143Full textFull text of the publication as PDF document
Grunwald, A.
Safe Disposal of high-level radioactive waste in Germany : Public participation and the role of the German Bundestag
2022. The multifaceted nature of energy politics (2022), Jerusalem, Israel, April 7, 2022 
Smeddinck, U.
Von Bürgernähe und Sicherheit: Öffentlichkeitsbeteiligung bei der Erarbeitung der Rechtsverordnungen nach §§ 26, 27 Standortauswahlgesetz
2022, July 5. 3rd Conference on Key Topics in Deep Geological Disposal (DAEF 2022), Cologne, Germany, July 4–6, 2022 
Book Chapters
Bechthold, E.
Weshalb der Begriff der Akzeptabilität hilfreich ist
2021. Transdisziplinäre Entsorgungsforschung am Start. Hrsg.: U. Smeddinck, 81–86, Technische Universität (TU Clausthal) 
Hocke, P.
Endlagerung hochradioaktiver Abfälle
2021. Handbuch Technikethik. Hrsg.: Armin Grunwald, Rafaela Hillerbrand, 388–392, J.B. Metzler. doi:10.1007/978-3-476-04901-8_74
Hocke, P.; Mbah, M.; Kuppler, S.
Politischer Lernprozess oder naives Hoffen auf positive Effekte zukünftiger Bürgerbeteiligung? Das neue deutsche Standortauswahlverfahren bei der Entsorgung hochradioaktiver Brennstoffe
2021. Gesellschaftliche Transformationen : Gegenstand oder Aufgabe der Technikfolgenabschätzung?. Hrsg.: R. Lindner, M. Decker, 245–256, Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft 
Hocke, P.; Bechthold, E.; Becker, F.; Bremer, S.; Brohmann, B.; Enderle, S.; Hassel, T.; Leusmann, T.; Lowke, D.; Mbah, M.; Metz, V.; Neles, J.; Scheer, D.; Sträter, O.
Verzahnungen, Haltepunkte und Wissenskonflikte : Zum Startpunkt und der Verknüpfung der Module und Arbeitspakete im TAP „Handlungsfähigkeit und Flexibilität“
2021. Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT) 
Grunwald, A.
Hat das Verfahren schon etwas gelernt?
2021. DARF-Workshop „Das Standortauswahlverfahren als lernendes Verfahren“ (2021), Online, March 2, 2021 
Mbah, M.; Kuppler, S.
Governing Nuclear Waste in the Long-Term: On the Role of Place
2021. RGS-IBG Annual International Conference (2021), Online, August 31–September 3, 2021 
Hocke, P.
Kritik als Chance oder Malheur? Herausforderungen für Governance in einem stufenweisen Standortauswahlverfahren mit Rückholbarkeit und Reversibilität
2020. IRS-Ringvorlesung "Kernenergie und Brennstoffkreislauf", Universität Hannover (2020), Hanover, Germany, January 27, 2020 
Roßmann, M.; Berg, M.; Bräuer, P.
Narrative im Standortauswahlverfahren
2020. TRANSENS Arbeitstreffen (2020), Karlsruhe, Germany, November 2–4, 2020 
Smeddinck, U.
Die Konzeption des Standortauswahlgesetzes
2020. IRS-Ringvorlesung "Kernenergie und Brennstoffkreislauf", Universität Hannover (2020), Hanover, Germany, January 27, 2020 
Journal Article Reviews
Smeddinck, U.
Wie innovativ ist das Standortauswahlgesetz?
2020. Bundesgesellschaft für Endlagerung mbH (BGE) 


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