The process to find a process for governance: Nuclear waste management and consent-based siting in the United States

Jennifer Richter, Michael J. Bernstein, Mahmud Farooque

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


In 2013, the United States (U.S.) Department of Energy (DOE) attempted to initiate a consent-based siting (CBS) approach to better engage diverse publics and thereby begin to remedy a legacy of technocratic decision-making and inequitable public engagement processes plaguing historical high-level nuclear waste siting efforts. DOE's remediation work included a contract with the Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology (ECAST) network to employ participatory technology assessment (pTA) to help co-create the CBS process with lay publics. In late 2016, the DOE terminated the process to develop a CBS process. To date, little in the public record explores DOE's novel foray into CBS. As researchers on DOE's aborted ECAST efforts, we situate the novel pTA process to create a CBS process amidst the technocratic political-historical context of commercial nuclear waste siting in the U.S. Lessons from ECAST's effort highlight persistent institutional barriers inhibiting U.S. capacity to more equitably approach the challenge of siting nuclear waste facilities. We identify the undermining consequences of DOE's focus on expediency; imposed limitations on the scope of CBS; bureaucratic obstacles to public input; a lack of continuity in values across executive administrations; and absence of top-level commitment to procedural and institutional learning, innovation, and adaptation. Through our case history and critical reflection, we aim to inform future efforts in the U.S. and beyond to overcome failed technocratic histories and instead steward participatory, equitable, and democratic processes to manage high-level nuclear waste.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102473
JournalEnergy Research and Social Science
StatePublished - May 2022


  • Consent-based siting
  • Nuclear
  • Nuclear energy
  • Nuclear waste
  • Participatory technology assessment
  • Public engagement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Nuclear Energy and Engineering
  • Fuel Technology
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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