Decision making in nuclear waste management
: the use of the synoptic approach

  • Rachel E.J. Western

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis is concerned with the use of the synoptic approach within decision making concerning nuclear waste management. The synoptic approach to decision making refers to an approach to rational decision making that assumes as an ideal, comprehensiveness of information and analysis. Two case studies are examined in which a high degree of synoptic analysis has been used within the decision making process. The case studies examined are the Windscale Inquiry into the decision to build the THORP reprocessing plant and the Nirex safety assessment of nuclear waste disposal. The case studies are used to test Lindblom's hypothesis that a synoptic approach to decision making is not achievable. In the first case study Lindblom's hypothesis is tested through the evaluation of the decision to build the THORP plant, taken following the Windscale Inquiry. It is concluded that the incongruity of this decision supports Lindblom's hypothesis. However, it has been argued that the Inquiry should be seen as a legitimisation exercise for a decision that was effectively predetermined, rather than a rigorous synoptic analysis. Therefore, the Windscale Inquiry does not provide a robust test of the synoptic method. It was concluded that a methodology was required, that allowed robust conclusions to be drawn, despite the ambiguity of the role of the synoptic method in decision making. Thus, the methodology adopted for the second case study was modified. In this case study the synoptic method was evaluated directly. This was achieved through the analysis of the cogency of the Nirex safety assessment. It was concluded that the failure of Nirex to provide a cogent synoptic analysis supported Lindblom's criticism of the synoptic method. Moreover, it was found that the synoptic method failed in the way that Lindblom predicted that it would.
Date of Award1993
Original languageEnglish


  • Decision making
  • nuclear waste management
  • synoptic approach

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