Nuclear waste repository as a scenario problem: Developing epistemic understanding

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The goal of this report is to increase understanding of the nuclear waste repository as an application case for the scenario method. The project was part of the Finnish research programme on nuclear waste management (KYT2022). The project goals were: (1) to “contribute to the advancement of overall safety by distilling “lessons learned” from several application domains on the uses of scenario analysis in the identification and analysis of uncertainty factors”, and (2) to “formulate systematic frameworks and structured approaches which can be deployed to assess the overall safety of nuclear waste repositories”.The report is organised as follows:• Chapter 2 gives the necessary background information on a nuclear waste repository system and the context of scenarios in decision-making in connection with nuclear waste management.• Chapter 3 shows the results of an extensive literature review of scenario approaches. The data consisted of almost 400 articles published in academic journals in four fields (Energy studies, Environmental studies, Risk & Safety analysis, and Foresight). We identified four main scenario approaches that represent different epistemic traditions characterised by different goals of knowledge production and methodological approaches. In order to create an integrative view on scenario approaches, we developed an epistemic scenario framework, which is a 2x2 matrix that differentes scenario purposes (normative/explorative) and scenario contents (focus on the system / external environment).• In Chapter 4, we apply the developed epistemic approach in the analysis of nuclear waste repository scenarios, and we analyse the special characteristics of the nuclear waste repository system and requirements for the scenario analysis as part of the overall safety assessment of the repository systems.• Chapter 5 presents our findings and shows how the epistemic scenario framework can be useful in the analysis of scenario problems and evaluating the needs for a proper scenario approach in the context of nuclear waste management.Our analysis of the nuclear waste repository scenarios concludes that the task requires systematic approaches that involve normative and explorative elements. In the literature review, we found similar epistemic features in relation to approaches called scenario analysis and safety analysis. These approaches combine scenarios and model-based impact assessment. They utilise systematic, mathematical methods in scenario development, but brainstorming or other types of idea generation or workshop approaches may be essential for improving the explorative aspect of the analysis. A nuclear waste repository creates a challenging task for scenario analysis due to its safety-critical character and the long time frame required for the analysis, as well as the multidisciplinary character of phenomena present in the system. Therefore, methodological development is possible only in processes that closely integrate methodological approaches with the application context. This study increased the preparedness for an integrative approach from a theoretical perspective. But for complete integration of theory and practice, a different research design (such as in action research) would be needed.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherVTT Technical Research Centre of Finland
Number of pages49
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021
MoE publication typeD4 Published development or research report or study

Publication series

SeriesVTT Research Report


  • scenarios
  • epistemic analysis
  • literature review
  • safety case
  • nuclear waste management


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