Participatory Planning Germany's Nuclear Waste Disposal Strategy

August 6, 2018 Scott Fletcher Bowlsby
July 6, 2018 Lucy J Parry, Participedia Team
March 5, 2018 dennis.arnold
February 6, 2018 dennis.arnold

Facing the need for a suitable location for its nuclear waste disposal, Germany undertook a process of open public discourse, critique, and participation. By using a participatory democratic approach, stakeholders hoped to legitimize the final decision and preempt disagreement.

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Problems and Purpose

This project which is led by the Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management deals with the question of finding a location for nuclear waste disposal in Germany by involving public participation. The discussion is based on problems to find a location for nuclear waste disposal in Germany which may cause several conflicting situations in society, due to a lacking discourse about a final nuclear waste disposal in the past. A research group nominated by the Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management is going to lead a project called "Public Participation during the Search for a Final Disposal: Challenges of an Intergenerational, Reflective, and Learning Procedure."

We are facing the problem that future generations are responsible for nuclear waste management which was caused by older generations: How can we make the public feel more sensitive and responsible for this topic? This situation is also calles "wicked problem" as the unfair distribution concerning risks and bearing the brunt is unsolvable. A further problem is caused by several aspects of time management. Firstly, the final decision of a perfect location of nuclear waste has to be made until 2031. Secondly, since nuclear waste lasts for one million years we are not able to predict actual future circumstances and need to find a solution for continuing regulations which has to be decided today.

Facing these problems this project is about to find a solution by involving society through participation: How does a democratic participation process look like and which systematic structure represents public, regional, political, and economic interest in the same way?

During the process the project team forms a base which is available for everyone (citizens, politicians, economics), and which gives space for a grounded discourse as well as for criticism. Throughout the process the project team wants to gain clarification concerning scientific background information of nuclear waste, so experts know how to assess danger and citizens can get informed fairly.

The process of decision-making system and participation system is devided into four phases. By now, the process  is to be found in the preliminary phase in which the participating system is structured and the location determination law is evaluated. Furthermore, it follows the establishment of the National Advisory Group (Nationales Begleitgremium) and the handing of the commission report. The preliminarly phase started in 2017 and is expected to last until 2019. Within the first phase German Parliament and Federal Council localize appropriate regions for nuclear waste disposal after expert conferences of the subsections and regional conferences checked corresponding reports concerning subsections. The second phase performs the above- grounded exploration of the regions. And again, regional conferences double-check proposals and possibly confers a review of the commission concerning the regions. Finally, after checking the regions German Parliament and Federal Council decide which regions are to be explored undergrounded. Within the third and final phase investigations are focussed on deepened undergrounded explorations as well as on the decision of the final location. Regional conferences double- check proposals and are able to apply for reviews. After that at the end of the final phase, which is expected to be dated in 2031, Parliament and Council announce the location.

Background History and Context

In past times, the German government designated temporal storages for nuclear waste disposals without any given possibilities for citizens of getting involved in this process. As a consequence, there were formed several anti nuclear power movements and the topic of storing nuclear waste became highly emotional.

In 2011, after the big reactor accidence in Fukushima German government decided the withdrawl from producing nuclear energy until 2022. In 2016, the newly founded Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management introduced the beginning of a project to find a location for final storage with help of public participation.

Problematic example of the Gorleben Case.

In 1978, the provincial government of Lower Saxony announced an area of the city of Gorleben to be the perfect location for temporary nuclear waste storage (and also to be a probable final disposal one day). During the preperations for the storage were happening several incidents.

Main mistakes that have been made through the government:

  • The lack of information for citizens living in this area. The dicision was made by a democracy guided from above based on interest- driven policy.
  • The lack of experts involved. There were only politicians in the commission who decided about the location but there were no experts such as geologists included within the decision- making process.

These aspects led to a deep mistrust within the community in Gorleben which lasts until today and also led to the biggest anti- nuclear movement after WW2. Furthermore, Gorleben shows that the culture of participation has been mostly ignored by policy-making in the historical context.Especially, due to this negative development public participation is an important factor during the search for a final nuclear waste disposal. 

Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities

This project is funded by the Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Mangement which coordinates and supervises the research project during the whole process. 

Participant Recruitment and Selection                     

The Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Mangement is forming a project team which consists 25 specialists. Participants taking part at this project come from all areas in society and are devided into decision- making system and participation system:

  • Bundestag (German Parliament) and Bundesrat (Federal Council)
  • Bundesregierung (Federal Government)
  • Bundesgesellschaft für Endlagerung (Federal Company for Radioactive Waste Disposal)
  • Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz, Bau und Reaktorsicherheit (Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety)
  • Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz (Federal Office for Radiation Protection)

These bodies form the expert groups that supervise, evaluate and make final decisions concerning legislation and implementation.

  • Nationales Begleitgremium (National Advisory Group) which operates as mediator
  • regional conferences
  • expert conferences consisting regional advisory boards
  • citizens

These bodies represent public interests and allow a democratic public participation. Eventhough public participation is mainly supposed to be mandatory to avoid a possible negative repitition like the Gorleben Case and it is questionable if any citizen groups are to be formed successfully in the future but initiators of this project (Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management) try to prepare in the best way. The National Advisory Group is meant to play an important role within the whole process, as it intermediates between society and the German Government and Federal Council since the latter ones are the final decision- making instances. This complicate structure is expected to guarantee public participation on every level of the on-going process and it is conflict oriented to solve any conflicts between society maintaining safety and the government striving a final disposal. 

Methods and Tools Used

The participative approach includes systems theories in order to form informal and formal initiatives and administrative bodies that represent all interests of science, experts and citizens.

Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction

The project is based on public participation and interaction. As already mentioned above participants are selected with help of a complexe system consiting the participation system and the decision- making system. The final dicision is made by the latter but also the general public which is directly effected by nuclear waste disposal and wishes to contribute to discussions and dicisions.

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

So far, there are no influences, outcomes, and effects to be analysed.

Analysis and Lessons Learned

As the project just has started in 2017 and a research group which reflects, analyses, and accompanies the process, in the context of public participation during the search for a final disposal, still has to be formed there is no ongoing analysis of the process collected which can be presented so far.

See Also


  • "suche:x" (information brochure to find a nuclear waste disposal by the Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management), 2017
  • "Unterschiedliche Rollen - ein Ziel" ("Different Roles - One Goal"; a position paper by the Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management supporting public participation), January 2018
  • "Eine Frage der Beteiligung? Die schwierige Suche nach dem Endlager" (A Question of Participation? The Difficult Search for a Final Storage). Kamlage/ Knappe/ Warode. 
  • "Analyse komplexer Beteiligungs- und Entscheidungssysteme: Die Suche nach einem Endlagerstandort in Deutschland." Kamlage et al. 2017. 

External Links


This case needs a lot of time for editing, since the process lasts until 2031 and further information as well as an advanced analysis and developments will be edited within a long-term period.

Lead image: BFE-Blog energeiaplus