RWM seeks to fund PDRA in Applied Social Science

The permanent disposal of nuclear waste is always a topic that stokes a wide-ranging and vociferous debate. Nowhere is this more pronounced than within any local community which could be under consideration to host the disposal facility.  Few such facilities already exist – especially for higher level wastes – although several countries (including the UK) are at some stage in a process of identifying a suitable host community.

We know a great deal about the science of waste behaviour, the materials used to keep the waste safe and secure, the geologies that would be most appropriate to host such a repository and the way in which materials might move through rocks and the environment after many thousands of years when their containment might eventually degrade. Even so, Radioactive Waste Management (RWM) established a Research Support Office (RSO) and have committed to making significant investment in academic research to gather additional insight into all of these areas. Alongside the technical research is an important workstream looking at the applied social science related to community and wider public engagement.

Technical scientific research can be shared between countries with experience in nuclear waste disposal. However, understanding a community is location specific, related to the level of nuclear awareness the community already has, the national culture, levels of education and economic development or deprivation. Trying to simply replicate one approach, which may already have been successful, to a new landscape will almost always end in failure. Not only that, but the ways in which members of the public engage with Government and other bodies has changed over recent years, due to developments in technology and COVID-19 among other things. RWM seek to fund research in Applied Social Science to better understand how community involvement and decision making regarding the development of major infrastructure projects can be made as effective as possible. A call for PDRA project proposals is open now and is the first step of a wider programme of work planned in this field.

Prof Adrian Bull at the Dalton Institute – the RSO Discipline Lead for Applied Social Science – commented:

“This is an exciting time to be researching the latest thinking in the important area of citizen participation – and the work of RWM means there is real potential for this research to have a major impact on the delivery of a unique national infrastructure project. We’re keen to hear from anyone who feels they may have something to bring to this space – and we’re already starting to plan how the next phase of the programme may take shape. Although it’s a long term programme, getting the community engagement right in the early stages will be a vital cornerstone of the whole programme.”

The research call for an 18 month post-doctoral study, beginning in mid-2022, can be found here.



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