Research team

Centre for Research on Environmental and Social Change

Expertise

My main field of study is the interface between society and technology and the governance of risk. I have experience in research on informed and inclusive decision making on environmental and technological risk, such as regarding the siting of contested facilities, (participatory) technology assessment and (responsible) innovation; and this both in terms of public and company policy. I have a particular interest for the interfaces between science, policy and society, and more particular the relationship between informal and formal processes for participation in technology development, the construction of knowledge, and decision-making under uncertainty. This include topics such as: the role of scientific and strategic consultants in decision-making; the potential for affected citizens to contribute to knowledge based decisions; the potential for “up-stream” engagement in research and development activity; the role of risk communication and trust mechanisms; … A good part of this research is focused on the long term governance of radioactive waste management, and public and stakeholder involvement in policy-making as well as in related R&D activity. In this respect, I have been involved in the partnership programme NIRAS/ONDRAF, the Belgian radioactive waste management agency, launched in 1998 to site a LILW-repository in Belgium. I was part of the team that designed and set up the local partnerships and have since been responsible for providing guidance and advice concerning the process to all stakeholders in the programme. This has evolved from siting negotiations, over megaproject governance, to participatory innovation in view of long term project governance. Furthermore I have participated in several (European) research projects (FP7 and H2020) on the topic of radioactive waste management, often in an interdisciplinary setting (together with engineers, geologists, physicists, …), in the capacity of principle investigator, work package leader or project coordinator. Other research topics include sustainable materials management, underground monitoring technology, perceptions on environmental nuisance in the Antwerp harbour area, and (emergency planning in relation to) SEVESO risk, safety culture and societal resilience in the face of safety and security risk. As scientific coordinator of the UAntwerp’s master’s programme in Safety & Security Sciences (since 2013), I have developed a keen interest in establishing baseline competencies and profiles of what constitutes a safety and security scientist, to develop standards across countries on what can be expected from students at various levels (professional and academic; graduates, undergraduates and PhDs), and to reflect on the specificities of interdisciplinarity in education within the CONRIS network (https://www.conris.eu/).

Evaluation research long-term participation in a surface disposal project. 08/11/2017 - 07/01/2022

Abstract

In 2006 the partnerships STORA and MONA reflected about their future role within the cAt-project. Both partnerships wanted to keep their current form and continue to follow up the project after the design phase. Since then, there has been no more formal reason to think about the future, however 2017 seems a good time to do so. Pending the nuclear license by the FANC, ONDRAF / NIRAS and the partnerships are working on a social license: a full agreement between ONDRAF / NIRAS, STORA and MONA and the municipalities of Dessel and Mol on the complete implementation and operation of the integrated surface disposal facility. This social permit must confirm that all conditions are met and that green light can be given for the execution of the surface disposal. Practical questions include: • What role do the partnerships want to have in the next phase? How are the tasks divided? • Is a mere follow-up enough or do they want to actively participate? • Which conditions have been filled in? What conditions deserve an update? Is there an agreement about the trajectories for permanent follow-up that lie ahead? • How much money goes to each subproject? Our contribution will be to identify the various interpretations of participation that the parties involved in the cAt project hold. Furthermore, together with the surveyed stakeholders, we want to link this conceptual framework to the organizational implications. Because of the long term characteristic of the cAt-project, decisions on the new governance-models and on the budgeting necessarily will be reduced to a consideration on flexibility and institutionalization.

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A research into the conditions and characteristics of a supported governance process for the long-term management of the B&C waste in Belgium. 20/06/2018 - 19/09/2019

Abstract

Inter-generational solidarity is one of the main motives for starting the long-term management of high-level radioactive waste. Geological disposal is invariably put forward as the reference solution, as in the NIRAS Waste Plan. However, its implementation is a work that extends over several generations. The responsibility with regard to the next generations therefore makes it necessary to deal consciously with the challenge of developing a robust process design; building in facilities that allow future generations of civil society actors to be involved over the long period ranging from a policy decision on geological disposal to the closure of such an installation. The integration of this long-term perspective in the design of a decision-making process, within which sufficient flexibility with respect to social evolutions (including technology) is foreseen, is therefore a mandatory assignment. The European Directive 2011/70 / Euratom obliges every European member state to adopt a national program for the long-term management of radioactive waste by August 2015. Here, the focus is on highly radioactive waste and spent fuel. The Directive mentions geological disposal as the reference solution (as opposed to surface disposal for low and intermediate level waste), but recognizes the autonomy of the Member States over the management of their radioactive waste. The ONDRAF / NIRAS Waste Plan can in essence be regarded as a preparatory document that serves as the basis for a Belgian program. To date, however, no formal political decision has been linked to the Waste Plan. In the meantime, Directive 2011/70 / Euratom has been transposed into Belgian legislation, which lays down the responsibilities for this process, among other things. After all, the European Directive not only requires Member States to make choices about long-term management, but also explicitly requests that 'milestones and timeframes' (Article 12.c) be included and that the necessary opportunities must be given to stakeholders to participate in the decision-making process (Article 10.2). These principles were adopted in Belgian law, but not yet operationalized. Through this research we aim to provide ONDRAF / NIRAS with tools to, together with the most important stakeholders, shape a governance process for the long-term management of Belgian high-level radioactive waste. We deliberately use the notion of governance here, to indicate that the process encompasses more than only technical and administrative management. How can a process be designed that is sufficiently robust and flexible to guarantee the safe management of this waste, today and in the future? The central research question is therefore as follows: How can inter-generational stakeholder involvement in the long-term management of the category B & C waste be consciously and actively designed? Organizing inter-generational stakeholder involvement poses a clear fundamental scientific question within the literature, but also has practical implications on the strategic orientation that must be followed today.

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Benchmark and gap analysis concerning external emergency planning for Seveso risks. 01/07/2016 - 31/12/2016

Abstract

This exploratory research project contains two parts, both carried out using qualitative research methods. The first part consists of a bilingual study (using both semi-structured interviewing and an online Delphi-survey) of Belgian actors involved in external emergency planning for upper tier Seveso companies. This gap analysis is primarily aimed at the national level, all the while being sensitive to regional differences and the various needs of actors with operational/administrative functions. In part 2 we use a written questionnaire and telephone interviews to map ways of tackling these issues in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, France and Switzerland. The themes we depart from in both the national and interantional research are the development and use of the external plans themselves, training and exercises, the availability of resources and the way communication with the public is set up. We will formulate points of improvement, best practices and policy recommendations.

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History of Nuclear Energy and Society (HONEST). 01/09/2015 - 28/02/2019

Abstract

HoNESt's goal is to conduct a three-year interdisciplinary analysis of the experience of nuclear developments and its relationship to contemporary society with the aim of improving the understanding of the dynamics over the last 60 years. HoNESt's results will assist the current debate on future energy sources and the transition to affordable, secure, and clean energy production.Civil society's interaction with nuclear developments changes over time, and it is locally, nationally and transnationally specific.

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Development and Demonstration of monitoring strategies and technologies for geological disposal (Modern2020). 01/06/2015 - 31/05/2019

Abstract

The Modern2020 project aims at providing the means for developing and implementing an effective and efficient repository operational monitoring programme, taking into account the requirements of specific national programmes. The work allows advanced national radioactive waste disposal programmes to design monitoring systems suitable for deployment when repositories start operating in the next decade and supports less developed programmes and other stakeholders by illustrating how the national context can be taken into account in designing dedicated monitoring programmes tailored to their national needs.

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Monitoring (opportunities for) citizen participation in the context of the Port of Antwerp. 15/10/2014 - 15/10/2015

Abstract

This project represents a formal research agreement between UA and on the other hand the Port of Antwerp. UA provides the Port of Antwerp policy options to monitor and open up citizen involvement in its spatial and environmental management, including a sustainability indicator.

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Evaluation long-term participation in the CAT project NOCA 2014-0471 (2014-0681). 01/04/2014 - 31/03/2017

Abstract

Conducting research into the continuation of involvement and participation in the implementation and operational phase of the cAT-project. This research will be based in the literature on available frames and moddels, and take into account concerned actors' expectations.

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Scientific advice on the operation of local partnerships in the municipalities of Dessel and Mol and support in carrying out their mission in the participation process (cAT project). 01/01/2013 - 31/12/2013

Abstract

In this project, we conduct research into possible ways to fulfill the local conditions regarding the continuation of stakeholder involvement and participation, linked to the implementation of the cAT-project.

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Elaboration on and Deepening of Research Focused on the Experience of Nuisance, Involvement and Participation, principally in the Context of the Antwerp Harbour Area. 16/07/2012 - 15/07/2013

Abstract

This project represents a research agreement between UA and on the other hand Gemeentelijk Havenbedrijf Antwerpen (Port of Antwerp). UA provides Gemeentelijk Havenbedrijf Antwerpen results of a qualitative survey that maps main types of hindrances and perceptions of inhabitants (of the quality of the environment and competenties) that live in the surroundings of the port's right and left bank industrial zones. The research will also define strategies to cope with concerns of residents and to strenghten citizen participation.

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Scientific services within the Engaged Project. 14/06/2012 - 14/06/2014

Abstract

UA's contribution to thisproject is one of scientific services, providing advies to the Dutch ECN with respect to its research project "End repository Network Geared towards Actor Groups involvement and Effective Decision making". The aim of this project is to contribute to the development of a framework for the development of a first 'safety case' for the final disposal of the Dutch radioactive waste. For this purpose, a stakeholder analysis is conducted and scenario's are developed for engaging stakeholders in the decision-making about repository implementation.

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Policy Study Centre Environment - Sustainable Materials Management (SuMMa) (2012-2015). 01/01/2012 - 31/12/2015

Abstract

The Policy Research Centre studies Sustainable Materials Management (SuMMa) from a transition management perspective. Since SMM is a cornerstone of the future green economy, behavior in society should be shifted in a way that current material needs can be fulfilled without destabilizing the natural system nor mortgaging its future. The Policy Centre will investigate and foster the role that policy can and should play in this transition towards sustainable materials management. Within SuMMa, UA is responsible for the researchcluster "Systems analysis", which aims at identifying the underlying societal and political mechanisms that guide the transition process. In a first research line, attention is payed to the deliniation of the sustainable materials management system at the level of the Flemish region (What actors are at play? What is the role of the government in such a transition? ...). A second research line puts this analysis in a European and international context.

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Sociological analysis of environmental issues and environmental policy. 01/12/2011 - 30/09/2012

Abstract

This research project investigates the conditions and essential steps to be taken in order for a policy plan or programme to be 'translated' into a concrete project in a realistic and efficient manner, and with the necessary support from society. Both process and content related aspects will be considered. First a theoretical framework will be developed to enable to answer among other the following questions: (a) To what extent and on which basis can be acknowledged if a specific policy plan has incorporated the most pertinent interests during its development and deliberation (during e.g. a public consultation)? (b) Did the plan take the most pertinent problems raised by de different concerned actors in account adequately? (c) According to which criteria should "pertinence" and "adequacy" be assessed? Second a cases study will be made of the "Radioactive Waste Plan" prepared by ONDRAF – NIRAS. The extent to which this plan (and the way it was developed) has succeeded in offering an answer to diverging expectations as regards the management of high-level wastes in Belgium will be assessed. For that purpose, an analysis will be made of how the plan was received by different societal actors. This will be done through an analysis of the submitted comments during the public consultation in 2010, and through a media analysis of the press coverage of this issue in the period 2009-2011. The research into the coming about of ONDRAF's 2010 "Waste Plan" and its public reception will be supplemented with a comparative analysis of recent similar decision-making trajectories around high-level wastes in France, Canada, Switzerland and the UK. On the basis of these analyses, lessons will be drawn and recommendations formulated on possibilities for further conceptualisation of a Belgian decision-making process in this matter.

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INSOTEC - (International) Socio-Technical Challenges for implementing geological disposal. 01/03/2011 - 31/07/2014

Abstract

INSOTEC aims at identifying the main socio-political challenges for implementing geological disposal and their interplay with technical challenges. It will furthermore provide the IGD-TP with concrete suggestions on how to address these entangled socio-technical challenges. The biggest challenge today lies in adapting the generic concept of geological disposal to the real world environment (both natural and social) in which it needs to be implemented and with which the whole of the waste management system will need to build and maintain a long-term sustainable relationship. Addressing this challenge will imply searching for for a strong and lasting connection between the technical and social aspects of managing radioactive waste.

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MODERN - Monitoring Developments for safe Repository operation and staged closure. 01/05/2009 - 31/10/2013

Abstract

The MoDeRn project aims at providing a reference framework for the development and possible implementation of monitoring activities and associated stakeholder engagement during relevant phases of the radioactive waste disposal process, i.e. during site characterisation, construction, operation and staged closure, as well as a post-closure institutional control phase. The project applies an interdisciplinary approach, involving both technical expertise and researchers from the social sciences. Through complementary and combined research efforts the project seeks to provide an understanding of monitoring activities and available technologies that can be implemented in a repository context; and to provide recommendations for related, future stakeholder engagement activities.

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Open view on innovative materials technologies for a sustainable Flemish production landscape. 01/12/2008 - 30/06/2013

Abstract

The project intends to stimulate companies to make their products and production processes more sustainable by applying well-considered materials and materials technology. in order to realise this objective, the project consortium takes four steps. First, it investigates which incentives and impediments influence the use of innovative materials technologies. We look for and describe various concrete examples. Companies willing to testify of their experiences are interviewed and asked to fill in a small questionnaire. Lessons drawn from interviews and questionnaires are communicated to a wide audience. In case the companies concerned agree, they will present their cases to other companies in order to inspire them: to look for their own opportunities to organise their production processes and design their products in more sustainable ways via the implementation of suitable materials and materials technologies. In a third phase, interested companies are guided to discern opportunities for sustainable materials innovation with the help of an opportunity scan. Development and application of this scan is one objective of the project. In the following and final stage the project consortium will discuss, together with interested companies, opportunities for sustainable innovation and work out an implementation trajectory. The consortium will pay equal attention to the three dimensions of sustainable development: planet, people, and profit. In short, 1) by focussing a) on the meaning that companies themselves assign to the concept of sustainable development and b) on reasons and considerations of companies to use specific materals and technologies, and 2) by concentrating on knowledge diffusion towards and between companies, we will engage with the production industry in Flanders in order to contribute to sustainable development.

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Counselling of the operation of the local partnerships in the communes of Dessel and Mol. 01/12/2000 - 31/12/2013

Abstract

- Safeguard the operation of the local partnerships in the municipalities of Dessel and Mol. Support these organisations in their tasks. - Offering ONDRAF-NIRAS social scientific guidance for putting its work programme into practice, more specifically concerning: (a) how to implement the participatory process in the project phase (b) how to fulfil the local conditions concerning the continuation of involvement and participation (c) planning future phases in the process. - A permanent evaluation of the participatory process in the light of available theory, frames and models, as well as international experience.

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