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

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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 approaches.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Risk Research
Publication statusPublished - 24 Dec 2020


  • Radioactive waste, Literature review, Risk, Participation, Socio-technical devide

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