The context of long-term radioactive waste management is being shaped by changes in modern society. Values such as health, environmental protection and safety are increasingly important in our society, demanding new forms of risk governance in dealing with hazardous activities. These changes necessitate, in turn, new forms of dialogue and decision-making processes that include a large number of stakeholders. The development and implementation of radioactive waste management schemes take place over a long time scale, on the order of decades. In this complex context, a “decision” no longer means opting, in one go and for all time, for a complete package solution. Instead, a decision is one step in an overall, cautious process of examining and making choices that preserve the safety and well-being of the present generation and the coming ones while not needlessly depriving the latter of their right of choice. Consideration is thus increasingly being given to concepts such as “stepwise decision making” and “adaptive staging” in which the public, and especially the most affected local public, are meaningfully involved in the planning process. This paper is based on the work of the Forum on Stakeholder Confidence. It reviews the current developments regarding the stepwise approach with the aim to pinpoint where it stands, to highlight its societal dimensions, to analyse its roots in social sciences, and to identify guiding principles and issues in implementation.

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