Thematic corridor and transdisciplinary research approach
We live in a highly technical society. In this society, not everyone can perform all the tasks themselves (such as on a self-sufficient farm); the work is divided among specialists. This division of labour must be well thought out, the individual activities must be well coordinated so that a community can function. Certain social tasks must therefore be transferred to institutions and people who have the necessary expertise. In the example of the proper disposal of high-level radioactive waste, these are certain institutions, such as the Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management (BASE), the Federal Company for Radioactive Waste Disposal (BGE) or experts from various scientific disciplines. Those who do not have the necessary expertise - and this concerns most citizens - must be able to rely on the work of the respective experts, they must trust them. After all, they are supposed to guarantee the safety of nuclear facilities on behalf of society as a whole. Trust in the actors (and institutions) involved therefore plays a central role in safety-relevant issues such as the disposal of nuclear waste.
Trust in experts and institutions is not given per se, but is essentially determined and built up by the (perceived) expertise, integrity, independence and also transparency of the acting actors. Trust is a major challenge in such a controversial topic, which is sometimes also emotionally charged. In TRUST, we therefore investigate which factors are conducive to building trust. Among other things, we are investigating how the ever-present uncertainties in the communication and assessment of knowledge and their communication influence the building of trust.
Site selection preparations are already underway, led by BASE and executed by BGE. The future phases of the disposal pathway (site selection, licensing process, construction, emplacement phase, etc.) are also casting their shadows ahead and influencing the site selection process. The foundation for trust must also be laid for these phases. Appropriate instruments of procedural participation can help in this process.
This leads to the following guiding questions, which determine our topic corridor (topic corridor means here that the topics still allow room for shaping by participants from civil society for transdisciplinary research ):
- How do technology- and time-related uncertainties and insecurities as well as trust interact in nuclear waste management (and what difficulties arise for the associated decision-making processes)?
- An important social science question revolves around the role of trust in responsible actors (e.g. BGE) and regulatory bodies. In TRUST, technical equipment and free training will be provided to enable citizens to measure environmental radioactivity on their own. Of interest to TRANSENS is, for example, whether and how the perception of measurement results and their uncertainties changes?
- The scientific-technical questions in TRUST are also complex in themselves and have to do with uncertainties in content and time, and so the question arises as to how uncertainties and insecurities in the course of technical-scientific processes can be communicated and dealt with. In TRUST, this is worked out using the example of the models and techniques necessary for monitoring a repository.
- In summary, the question for TRUST is: How can engineering and scientific research and its communication be designed so that, in conjunction with social science research approaches and with the involvement of actors from the general population, it generates added value in the sense of confidence-building in nuclear waste disposal?
The technical disciplines have a dual role to play here. On the one hand, they create the necessary basic knowledge for a better understanding of the above-mentioned construction and storage phase and the possibly necessary retrieval; on the other hand, they are part of the interaction of scientific-technical expertise, system-immanent uncertainties, communication, public participation and trust that is to be investigated (cf. transdisciplinarity research).