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Methods and measures to deal with socio-technical challenges in storage and disposal of radioactive waste (SOTEC-radio)

Methods and measures to deal with socio-technical challenges in storage and disposal of radioactive waste (SOTEC-radio)
Project team:

Kuppler, Sophie (Project leader), Peter Hocke, Stefanie Enderle, Elske Bechthold (Project assistance)


Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy

Start date:


End date:


Project partners:

Öko-Institut e.V., Environmental Policy Research Centre (FFU) at the FU Berlin

Research area:

Knowledge society and knowledge policy

Project description

How to carry out the site selection, construction, and operation of a final repository especially for high-level radioactive waste? How to organize the long-term interim storage, which is necessary until this final repository is built? Scientists and technologists contribute considerably to answering these questions. But also social science expertise, e.g. on the socio-technical dynamics especially during the site selection process, can be of great importance in the phase of preparation and realization of measures for radioactive waste disposal.

The experience gained during the last decades has shown that a successful site selection does not only require constant updating of the scientific and technological knowledge, but also proper consideration of the social context and a constructive handling of societal expectations. Many studies confirm the interactions between the technical and social factors. Indeed, the disposal of radioactive waste is a socio-technical task, which has to be addressed and analyzed beyond the established disciplinary boundaries of research. There is a need for further investigation with regard to following issues:

  • How do technology and society interact in decision processes?
  • How do political, legal, and social framework conditions influence the technologies and concepts chosen for final repositories?
  • To which extent are there options and instruments that enable both affected and interested actors to participate in technical debates and decisions?
  • How can the period of time relevant for political and social dynamics and processes be adequately taken into account in planning?

Our project team will look into these questions. We analyze how socio-technical interactions regarding the final repository and interim storage facilities for radioactive waste can be identified and, above all, how these can be recorded, described, and assessed.

The project´s main objectives are:

  1. Systematization
    Development and regular updating of a differentiated and systematized understanding of socio-technical contexts and challenges during the disposal of radioactive wastes
  2. Concept development
    Development of scientific concepts for the analysis of socio-technical challenges
  3. Options for actions
    Development of courses of action to deal with socio-technical challenges in governance structures and radioactive waste management

Further goals are:

  1. Contribute to maintain and develop competence in the research on disposal (Exchange of ideas with the interested public and politics)
  2. Promote young researchers to enhance the long-term R&D capacities: teaching, PhD colloquia, summer/winter schools, etc.
  3. Expand and foster international co-operations on radioactive waste disposal issues
  4. Formulation of policy recommendations.

Our working assumptions:

  1. A prolonged interim storage will precede the final storage of radioactive wastes. This will cause new societal conflicts.
  2. In order to face the lengthy time of the process, the possible changes of the disposal policies and concepts as well as resulting insecurities, institutions are needed that are at the same time steady and robust, but also flexible.
  3. The sooner concrete steps for dealing with radioactive wastes are initiated the more favorable it is regarding scientific, technological, political, economic, and social aspects.

ITAS addresses questions on planning and long-term processes (long-term governance) in a separate work package. The main focus is on the challenge of keeping future developments and requirements for action in mind in today’s planning processes. This is important given the long periods of time which will pass until a final repository is closed. Against this background, the stability of future institutions has to be prepared as effectively as possible, i.e., it has to be avoided that current losses of knowledge impede or even rule out future actions. ITAS focusses on questions such as:

  • Which framework conditions apply for the stability of institutions?
  • How can the societal and political capacity to act be ensured in the future?

To this end, the existing concepts for and experiences with long-term monitoring and governance are examined. Also conclusions which can be used for planning how to deal with socio-technical challenges at safety-related, scientific-administrative, and institutional levels are drawn based on literature, expert interviews, and the results from two focus groups organized by ITAS.

First preliminary works on the subject “long-term governance” were conducted in the framework of the project “Governance between Science and Public Protest. ITAS work package in the research platform ENTRIA“: Workshop on Technical Monitoring and Long-term Governance

Workshop „Das Soziotechnische in der Endlagerung“, 27.02.2018

Wenn technische Großanlagen installiert werden sollen, treffen oft technische Lösungen und sozialer Widerspruch konflikthaft aufeinander. Wie dieses Zusammenwirken sozialer und technischer Prozesse wissenschaftlich zu verstehen ist, wird auf einem Workshop zum Thema nukleare Entsorgung in Frankfurt/Main besprochen. Am Dienstag, 27.02.2018 von 10:30 – 16:30 Uhr laden wir Sie zusammen mit dem Projekt SOTEC-radio daher zu einem Workshop zum Thema „Das Soziotechnische in der Endlagerung“ ein. Das Programm finden Sie hier. Wir freuen uns, dass wir

  • Dr. habil. Monika Müller vom Nationalen Begleitgremium,
  • Prof. Dr. Michael Stauffacher von der ETH Zürich,
  • Dr. Michael Mehnert, Autor von endlagerdialog.de

als Diskutanten gewinnen konnten.

Um Anmeldung per E-Mail an b.schulda∂oeko.de bis zum 24.01.2018 wird gebeten.

Der Workshop findet statt im Mainhaus Stadthotel, Lange Straße 26, 60311 Frankfurt/Main

Wir freuen uns auf spannende Diskussionen mit Ihnen.


Kuppler, S.; Hocke, P.
"Enabling" public participation in a social conflict. The role of long-term planning in nuclear waste governance. In: Scherz, C.; Michalek, T.; Hennen, L.; Hebáková, L.; Hahn, J.; Seitz, S.B. (Eds.): The next horizon of technology assessment. Proceedings from the PACITA 2015 Conference in Berlin. Prague, Czech Republic: Technology Centre ASCR 2015, p. 121-125



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