Accepted Paper:

Citizen stakeholder's visions of monitoring strategies in nuclear waste disposal sites: an inquiry into the political life of a 'counter-imaginary'  


Axelle Meyermans (Universiteit Antwerpen)
Pieter Cools (Universiteit Antwerpen)

Paper short abstract:

Confronted with diverging visions on the future of repository monitoring in geological disposal, this paper assesses the various dynamics at play in the 'opening up' and 'closing down' of this debate by relating this discussion to considerations of materiality and power.

Paper long abstract:

The IAEA (2014) emphasizes that monitoring activities are necessary in each phase of a geological disposal facility for nuclear waste, furthermore recognizing its potential as a confidence building tool towards the public. Nevertheless, imaginaries concerning the purpose of monitoring strategies vary between expert conceptualizations of monitoring as confirming long-term predictions stated in their safety case, and local citizens who stress the enduring risk of not-knowing the long-term future and therefore oppose this conception by creating a 'counter-imaginary' of monitoring as a means of checking the supposed safety of the repository (Bergmans et al., 2014). Drawing from fieldwork conducted in a transdisciplinary EU-project on repository monitoring, I argue that this stakeholder imaginary of 'monitoring as vigilance' is not only intrinsically related to diverging approaches of dealing with future uncertainty, but also interferes with further (political) concerns of transparency and democratic decision-making with regards to nuclear waste management. Whilst the EU-project has expressed the intention to 'open up' the development of monitoring to these stakeholder concerns, a meaningful politicization of the debate is subtly 'closed down' (Stirling, 2008). This occurs in a public participation space where future visions are at play in both discursive and material terms. Looking beyond traditional notions of power differentials in decision-making between experts and lay people, I draw from authors such as Tutton (2017) and Groves (2017) to unpack how the materiality of monitoring's ongoing research and development becomes enacted upon different actor's imaginations of a wicked future, potentially locking in specific political choices in public engineering projects such as geological disposal.

Panel D02
Challenging formal arrangements and decision-making in the energy sector