Sustainability assessment of nuclear power: discourse analysis of IAEA and IPCC frameworks

Aviel Verbruggen, Erik Laes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Sustainability assessments (SAs) are methodologically precarious. Value-based judgments inevitably play a role in setting the scope of the SA, selecting assessment criteria and indicators, collecting adequate data, and developing and using models of considered systems. Discourse analysis can reveal how the meaning and operationalization of sustainability is constructed in and through SAs. Our discourse-analytical approach investigates how sustainability is channeled from 'manifest image' (broad but shallow), to 'vision', to 'policy targets' (specific and practical). This approach is applied on the SA frameworks used by IAEA and IPCC to assess the sustainability of the nuclear power option. The essentially problematic conclusion is that both SA frameworks are constructed in order to obtain answers that do not conflict with prior commitments adopted by the two institutes. For IAEA 'sustainable' equals 'complying with best international practices and standards'. IPCC wrestles with its mission as a provider of "policy-relevant and yet policy-neutral, never policy-prescriptive" knowledge to decision-makers. IPCC avoids the assessment of different visions on the role of nuclear power in a low-carbon energy future, and skips most literature critical of nuclear power. The IAEA framework largely inspires IPCC AR5.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)170-180
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Discourse analysis
  • IAEA
  • IPCC
  • Nuclear power
  • Sustainability assessment
  • Sustainable development


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