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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