Radioactive waste governance

Radioactive waste management is an exemplary case of the interwoveness of technical and social dimensions and decision making at the science-policy interface. Its complexity urges the need for a multidisciplinary reflection upon topics such as dealing with (scientific and societal) uncertainties, the merits and limits of participatory democracy and intra- and inter-generational justice.

In the past, SCK•CEN took part in international research programmes on the governance of radioactive waste within the EC 6th Framework Programme. PISA researchers participated in the projects Community Waste Management (COWAM2) and its follow up COWAM In Practice (CIP), as well as in Arenas for Risk GoverNance (ARGONA) (see previous projects) and were asked to deliver expertise to the European Observatory for Long-term Governance on Radioactive Waste Management (OBRA).

PISA researchers also follow up and where possible contribute to the first of its kind local participation process on the siting of a low and medium active short-lived (cat. A) waste disposal site in the region Mol-Dessel in Belgium (see on-going projects).

Additionally the technologies and processes proposed for the management of high level waste and spent fuel (cat. B&C) are critically investigated and closely followed up, notably related to geological disposal. In this regard we do not only interact with and study the Belgian and international radioactive waste management scene, but also organize interaction between PISA and the more technically oriented expert groups working on radioactive waste management within SCK-CEN.

On-going projects

  • Belgian Partnerships on low and medium active short-lived waste disposal

PISA researchers follow up the local participation process on the siting and implementation of a low and intermediate level waste surface disposal in the region Mol-Dessel in Belgium.

We interact with the partnerships by presenting our research (e.g. on the results of the SCK•CEN Risk Perception Barometer) and offering tools for the assessment of their functioning (e.g. enquête for STORA).

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ContactSchröder Jantine


  • OECD-NEA project on the Preservation of Records, Knowledge and Memory (RK&M) Across Generations

A project of the OECD/NEA Radioactive Waste Management Committee (RWMC), 2011-2018

This project is about the long-term preservation of records, knowledge and memory (RK&M) related to geological disposal of radioactive waste. Although this management strategy is designed to be passively safe and final, there is no intention to forgo, at any time, knowledge and awareness of either the repository nor of the waste it contains. Long-term preservation of RK&M is a challenging, multidisciplinary work area in which much learning is expected over the coming years.

Contact: Schröder Jantine

More information: 


  • Geological disposal as a socio-technical challenge

Current activities in the framework of developing and implementing geological disposal of radioactive waste can be described as an ongoing struggle to integrate and/or disintegrate social and technical issues, and to find a balance between ‘opening up’ and ‘closing down’ technological options and decision-making procedures. It is this struggle that lies at the core of current PISA research on radioactive waste management. In light of technical and social uncertainties, we investigate the development and implementation of geological disposal as a socio-technical experiment and critically examine the idea of passive safety.

Contact: Schröder Jantine

More information:
Geological Disposal of Radioactive Waste: A Long-Term Socio-Technical Experiment
Safety in long term radioactive waste management: Insight and oversight


  •  The impact of the inclusion of microbiology on expert conceptualization and public perception of geological disposal

Geological disposal is typically presented as a passive isolation strategy for long term radioactive waste management, while a microbial influenced environment can be considered as continuously dynamic on a range of scales and time spans. Within the European Microbiology In Nuclear waste Disposal (MIND) programme, PISA researchers study potential differences in the understanding and presentation of geological disposal, depending on the exclusion or inclusion of microbiology in the knowledge production and evaluation process. In addition, risk communication with the general public and informed civil society will be studied, taking into account the scientific uncertainties, the risk perceptions and the specifics related to the biotic vs. abiotic environment of the repository.

Contact: Schröder Jantine, Michiel Van Oudheusden, Catrinel Turcanu, Tanja Perko

More information:


Previous projects

  • Internal exchanges on the relationship between geological disposal and advanced nuclear technologies

Both researchers on geological disposal and on advanced nuclear technologies present their research as offering a solution for the challenge of radioactive waste. Having both research streams present at SCK-CEN, between 2012 and 2013 three internal exchange sessions were organized at SCK-CEN, with the aim of getting to know each other’s work better; improving internal communication; enhancing a culture of bottum up critical reflection and dialogue; and integrating technical and social aspects.

Contact:Schröder Jantine

More information:


  • Community Waste Management (COWAM2 and CIP)

Community Waste Management (COWAM) was an international network and research programme with support from the European Commission, that ran between 2000 and 2009. It brought together a diverse group of stakeholders with the aim to investigate a range of governance issues in radioactive waste management, notably related to participatory democracy. A specific methodology was developed and tested as part of the project.

Contact: Meskens Gaston

More information:
read more on COWAM2
read more on CIP


  • Arenas for Risk Governance

ARGONA stands for "Arenas for Risk Governance" and the project investigated how approaches of transparency and deliberation relate to each other and also how they relate to the political system in which decisions, for example on the final disposal of nuclear waste, are ultimately taken.

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Contact: Meskens Gaston


  • Waste depositionism - A philosophical inquiry on technoscientists and nuclear waste

PhD thesis, Gunter Bombaerts, University of Ghent, Belgium, 2005.

Waste Depositionism - Gunter Bombaerts 2005 (2 MB)