The Journal of Transdisciplinary Environmental Studies' (TES)
Volume 11, Number 1, 2012

ISSN 1602-2297


Industry and Stakeholder Perspectives
on the Social and Ethical Aspects of
Radioactive Waste Management Options



Matthew Cotton
Sustainability Research Institute, School of Earth and Environment, Leeds University, Leeds, UK,
E-mail: m.cotton@leeds.ac.uk


Abstract: The long-term management of radioactive wastes raises significant ethical issues to potential host communities, future generations and the environment. Following successive failures to site a long-term radioactive waste management facility in the UK, in 2001 the Government set up the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely programme and in 2003 the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM), charged with the assessment of potential radioactive waste management options. CoRWM’s option assessment process integrated technical and scientific analysis of risks with social and ethical concerns, and public and stakeholder values. This paper documents the trialing of a Q-method approach to the study of social, ethical and governance issues in the choice of long-term radioactive waste management options. The analysis draws out seven distinct ‘discourses’ each focusing upon different concerns ranging from citizen-centred decision-making, non-anthropocentric and multinational governance, technocratic and utilitarian policy, anti-nuclear opposition, risk governance concerns, final geological disposal and long-term stewardship of facilities and nuclear materials. Though diverse in nature, discursive consensus emerges on the value of citizen-led input in the decision-making process, the necessary consideration of a broad range of ethical positions from a range of public actors, and the rejection of utilitarian and technocratic decision-making, whilst they remain divided on which actors to trust in communicating and governing scientific and risk information, and upon the value of multinational cooperation in waste transportation and governance. This study discusses the implications of these divergent discourses for future radioactive waste management activities and comments on the use of Q-method in drawing out multiple stakeholders’ values in environmental policy processes.


Keywords: Q-methodology, radioactive waste management, environmental values, public participation


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