Articles | Volume 2
Conference Abstract
06 Sep 2023
Conference Abstract |  | 06 Sep 2023

Public participation in nuclear waste storage and disposal: a comparative analysis of German and US approaches

Denia Djokić and Friederike Luise Kelle

The national nuclear waste management programs of Germany and the United States of America currently both find themselves at critical junctures. The US government is reviving its efforts for consent-based siting of a consolidated interim nuclear waste storage facility (, ), in the momentary absence of, but with future hope for, a viable permanent disposal solution for the nation's nuclear waste. Germany is in the process of implementing legal directives to find a final disposal site for its nuclear waste that meets high safety standards (BASE2022), while further developing its strategy for public participation in the process (Weißpflug et al.2022). The two national contexts exhibit significant differences in political systems, historical trajectories, institutional roles, and societal structure, as well as attitudes towards nuclear energy and radioactive waste disposal strategies (Richter et al.2022; Saraç-Lesavre2021; Joppke1993; Blattmann et al.2023). However, respective approaches to public participation in managing and disposing of nuclear waste exhibit some commonalities in motivations, strategies, and goals. What can policy audiences in both countries learn from the respective national nuclear waste management programs, creating the potential for participatory processes to be more adaptive, responsive, and flexible to a diversity of values and social actors? How do the findings from the comparative analysis of US and German cases translate into policy-relevant lessons for other national waste management programs engaging with the design of participatory processes and nuclear waste governance frameworks?

We offer a systematic comparative analysis of the foundations and rationale of the US and German programs for nuclear waste disposal. We aim to illuminate conceptual and empirical contrasts and comparisons between the two nations' engagement of the public in the storage and disposal of spent nuclear fuel, leading to nationally appropriate policy-relevant insights. Categories for analysis include national disposal goals, historical trajectories, institutional setup, and definition of partners in participation processes. Through comparison and contrast of these categories across the two nations, we allow for deeper insight into the conditions, frameworks, and assumptions in which policy makers operate and can draw from Hopkin (2010).

This discussion will identify and compare relevant knowledge, narratives, and legal frameworks in each nation's approach to incorporating public participation in the process of searching for a site to store or dispose of nuclear waste. We encourage reflection and learning through comparing and contrasting core principles of these two cases, with the aim of maximizing avenues of mutual learning towards responsible, safe, and democratic nuclear waste management.


BASE: Atomausstieg in Deutschland: Viele Aufgaben in der nuklearen Sicherheit bleiben, Bundesamt für die Sicherheit der nuklearen Entsorgung, (last access: 7 June 2023), 2022. a

Blattmann, H., Clauser, C., Geckeis, H., Grathwohl, P., Grunwald, A., Kühn, M., Markl, G., Röhlig, K.-J., Scheck-Wenderoth, M., Scherbaum, F., Teutsch, G., and Wenzel, F.: Safe Management and Deep Geological Disposal of High-Level Radioactive Material – Research Perspectives, acatech Discussion, 28 February 2023. a DOE Releases First Update to Consent-Based Siting Process For Spent Nuclear Fuel, Prioritizing Environmental Justice For American Communities,, last access: 7 June 2023. a

Hopkin, J.: The comparative method, Theory and methods in political science, 3, 285–307, 2010.  a

Joppke, C.: Mobilizing Against Nuclear Energy. A Comparison of Germany and the United States, University of California Press,, 1993. a

Richter, J., Bernstein, M. J., and Farooque, M.: The Process to Find a Process for Governance: Nuclear Waste Management and Consent-Based Siting in the United States, Energ. Res. Soc. Sci., 87, 102473,, 2022. a

Saraç-Lesavre, B.: Issues in Science and Technology: Nuclear Waste Policy, (last access: 7 June 2023), 20 May 2021. a

Weißpflug, M., Kübler, L., Ahlswede, J., Stelljes, I., and Nanz, P.: Experimente erwünscht: Öffentlichkeitsbeteiligung und staatliche Verantwortung bei der Endlagersuche in Deutschland, FJSB+ Forschungsjournal soziale Bewegungen, edited by: Klein, A., Legrand, J., Leif, T., Roose, J., and Sommer, M., De Gruyter, 35, (last access: 7 June 2023), 2022. a

Short summary
In this contribution, we offer a comparison of the US and German public participation approaches to nuclear waste management and disposal. Our comparative analysis broadly can offer valuable policy-relevant insights in light of the differences between the two cases. Our goal is to encourage reflection and mutual learning for policy makers in the two nations. We believe that comparing these two cases can inform cases beyond just these two.