Social sciences and radioactive waste management: acceptance, acceptability, and a persisting socio-technical divide

Marika Hietala, Robbe Geysmans

Research outputpeer-review


Radioactive waste management (RWM) is a complex challenge, spanning
various timeframes and societal domains, ranging from the technical, to
the social, political and economic. As such, it has also attracted substantial
attention from the social sciences. This article reviews social scientific
engagement with RWM over the past two decades (2000-2019),
with a particular focus on how this literature has engaged with and can
be positioned vis-a-vis the ‘socio-technical’ challenge posed by radioactive
waste. Analyzing a total of 275 published articles, we identify and
discuss three dominant strands of research that all relate to the issue of
acceptance/acceptability of RWM in society, focusing respectively on 1)
individual(ized) perceptions about risks, benefits and facility siting; 2)
governance approaches; and 3) ethical and epistemological issues connected
to RWM. While calls have been made for a socio-technical
approach towards radioactive waste, we argue that the majority of
social scientific engagement with RWM has focused on ‘social’ processes,
thus reinforcing a divide between the ‘social’ and the ‘technical’
aspects of RWM. Overall, social scientists should engage in and would
benefit from greater reflection on their engagement with RWM, and direct
efforts towards moving beyond multi-disciplinarity towards interdisciplinary
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)423-438
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Risk Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2022

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