Policies and publics in radiation protection: opening up participatory practices


Fallon Catherine, (Université de Liège (ULG))

SCK•CEN Mentor

Turcanu Catrinel, cturcanu@sckcen.be, +32 (0)14 33 21 02

Expert group

Nuclear Science and Technology Studies

SCK•CEN Co-mentor

Van Oudheusden Michiel , mvoudheu@sckcen.be , +32 (0)14 33 80 40

Short project description

Radiation protection is a subfield in nuclear science and technology where various scientific disciplines (e.g. biology, epidemiology, dosimetry, radioecology) converge to enhance research for the “protection of people from harmful effects of exposure to ionizing radiation and the means for achieving this” (IAEA 2016). Like various other sociotechnical arenas, it is becoming “ever more aware of and responsive to societal concerns” (OECD 2003). This trend towards involving broader publics in research and development unfolds with increasing public concern about technological risks, the democratisation of expertise, and direct public involvement in decision-making on science and technology (Turnhout et al. 2010; Wynne 1993).

Yet, despite this general endorsement of public engagement as a key component of radiation protection, it is unclear how commitments to public participation and the inclusion of society are translated into practice. A systematic analysis of past and present participatory processes in relation to radiation protection policies from the perspective of their publics is currently lacking. This research project addresses this lacuna by: (a) asking how participation policies in radiation protection are envisioned and enacted in practice, and (b) which lessons can be drawn from past and present participatory endeavours in the field.

Following Chilvers and Kearnes (2016), the project accepts that the analysis of participation policies has to be made through their publics; by carefully examining which rationales (e.g. normative, instrumental, substantive) govern participatory endeavour and how various actors understand, frame, and rehearse “participation” in/through participatory activities. In this way, the project seeks to highlight the ecologies of participation that sustain public engagement, including both traditional institutional approaches initiated by authorities and responsible bodies, as well as informal participation through bottom-up, citizen-driven initiatives.

The project will: i) clarify why, when and how stakeholders engage in radiation protection; ii) develop novel approaches to analysing stakeholder interaction and engagement; iii) based on (i) and (ii), draw lessons for participatory engagement for decision makers and other stakeholders. It will compare and contrast how participation is enacted in three specific cases: emergency situations; exposure to natural radiation in radon-prone areas; and radiation protection issues related to high-level waste repositories.

The project will draw on analyses of public participation in science and technology studies (STS) and interpretive approaches to policy analysis, among others (Fischer 2003).


Chilvers, J. & Kearnes, M. (2016). Remaking Participation. Science, Environment and Emergent Publics. Routledge, London.

Fischer, F. (2003). Reframing public policy. Discursive politics and deliberative practices. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

IAEA (2016). International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Safety Glossary - draft 2016 revision.

Innes, J. E. & Booher, D. E. (2004). Reframing public participation: strategies for the 21st century. Planning theory & practice, 5(4), 419-436.

OECD (2003). Stakeholder Participation in Radiological Decision Making: Processes and Implications. Summary Report of the 3rd Villigen Workshop, October 2003 (Switzerland). NEA 5368. Nuclear Energy Agency.

Turnhout, E., Van Bommel, S. & Aarts, N. (2010). How Participation Creates Citizens: Participatory Governance as Performative Practice. Ecology and Society 15(4): 26.

Webler, T. (1999). The craft and theory of public participation: a dialectical process. Journal of Risk Research 2(1): 55-71.

Wynne, B. 1993. Public uptake of science: A case for institutional reflexivity. Public Understanding of Science 2: 321–37.

The minimum diploma level of the candidate needs to be

Master of sciences
Before applying, please consult the guidelines for application for PhD.