Decision making for sustainable environmental remediation


Pieter Meurs, (Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)),

SCK•CEN Mentor

Turcanu Catrinel,, +32 (0)14 33 21 02

Expert group

Nuclear Science and Technology Studies

SCK•CEN Co-mentor

Abelshausen Bieke , , +32 (0)14 33 80 38

Short project description

In the past decade, the inclusion of sustainability considerations in the remediation of contamination from anthropogenic and natural resources has gained increasing importance (Hou and Al-Tabbaa, 2014; OECD, 2016; Mobs, 2019). Several initiatives and actions have been established that attempt to conceptualise and apply the principles of sustainability to contaminated land management. With this, an evolution from technical solutions towards ‘green and sustainable remediation’ can be noted in the last decade. This imperative has been also recognized in the nuclear field, particularly in relation to legacy sites and the decommissioning of nuclear installations (Mobs, 2019; OECD) 2016).

Through the conceptualization and operationalization of sustainability criteria for environmental  remediation, this PhD contributes to addressing three main gaps in the literature. First, a limited number of studies have been conducted to assess sustainability aspects in Decision Support Tools (DSTs) or Decision Support Systems (DSSs) for environmental remediation. These studies have however thus far a limited scope and have not addressed the nuclear/radiological field. It is at this point in the development of DST or DSS for sustainable environmental remediation that this PhD aims to contribute. Sustainability assessments of DSTs and DSSs have so far been limited to those tools and systems that already to some degree take into account sustainability indicators (e.g. Huysegoms and Cappuyns, 2017).  Such studies are significantly skewed towards environmental sustainability, putting minimal focus on social and economic sustainability (e.g. US EPA, 2008). However, in the case of sites contaminated from NORM or nuclear accidents, long term sustainability is  a standing issue, which is influenced to a great extent by community practices (e.g. agricultural) and social and economic factors. Moreover,  modern theories from sustainability sciences (Waas et al., 2014)) are limitedly incorporated in existing studies and do not move beyond the Brundlandt definition of Sustainable Development, which defines “sustainable development” as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.  Finally, sustainability assessments of DSTs and DSSs focus mainly on the sustainability of the remediation technologies and less on the goals set within remediation strategies.

This PhD will mobilise state-of-the-art sustainability theories (such as the Community Capital Framework)  to integrate the social and economic dimensions of sustainability with the environmental and technical aspects. Additionally, it will consider sustainability indicators related to both the means (environmental remediation technologies) as well as the final aim of environmental remediation.  While the main focus is on radiological contaminations (post accident or NORM), the findings will be of general interest to the environmental remediation field.

The availability of this topic depends on the outcome of the evaluation of the HARP project proposal.

The minimum diploma level of the candidate needs to be

Master of sciences

The candidate needs to have a background in

Social sciences , sustainable development

Estimated duration

4 years
Before applying, please consult the guidelines for application for PhD.