The purpose of this paper is to analyze how competence in the humanities and social sciences has been introduced into the system culture of the Swedish nuclear waste system (SNWS) traditionally dominated by scientists and engineers. In the spring of 1980, fierce local protests were directed against drilling teams sent out to investigate the geology of potential locations for a repository of spent nuclear fuel. This demonstrated the political and ethical dimensions of the waste issue and the limitations of the technocratic approach that had hitherto dominated the system culture of the SNWS.

In order to counter this tendency, the government established an advisory board, Samrådsnämnden för kärnavfall (abbreviated KASAM), in 1985 with the task to widen the perspectives on the nuclear waste issue. KASAM engaged social scientists and humanists and started organizing annual workshops inviting engineers and scientists working with the waste issue to discuss its ethical and political dimensions. In the early 1990s, SKB, the Swedish implementer organization responsible for the management of nuclear waste, changed its strategy for finding suitable locations for a repository of spent nuclear fuel. Approval from the local population became a key condition. In the early 2000s, only two municipalities remained, both of them already housing nuclear power plants. After careful investigations and many deliberations, one of them was eventually chosen.

The combination of KASAM’s activities to broaden the discussion and the local protests in many communities initiated a gradual change of the system culture within the SNWS. The initial technocratic approach was broadened to encompass ethical, social, and political aspects, and the main organizations now acknowledge that not only technical and scientific skills but also competence from social science and the humanities were of essence.