A1 Journal article (refereed)
Trust, mistrust and distrust as blind spots of Social Licence to Operate : illustration via three forerunner countries in nuclear waste management (2022)

Lehtonen, M., Kajo, M., Kari, M., Jartti, T., & Litmanen, T. (2022). Trust, mistrust and distrust as blind spots of Social Licence to Operate : illustration via three forerunner countries in nuclear waste management. Journal of Risk Research, 25(5), 577-593. https://doi.org/10.1080/13669877.2021.1957987

The research was funded by Strategic Research Council at the Research Council of Finland.

JYU authors or editors

Publication details

All authors or editors: Lehtonen, Markku; Kajo, Matti; Kari, Mika; Jartti, Tuija; Litmanen, Tapio

Journal or series: Journal of Risk Research

ISSN: 1366-9877

eISSN: 1466-4461

Publication year: 2022

Publication date: 04/08/2021

Volume: 25

Issue number: 5

Pages range: 577-593

Publisher: Routledge

Publication country: United Kingdom

Publication language: English

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13669877.2021.1957987

Publication open access: Openly available

Publication channel open access: Partially open access channel

Publication is parallel published (JYX): https://jyx.jyu.fi/handle/123456789/77320


The notion of social licence to operate (SLO) has become a widely applied concept for companies in mining and resource extraction industries to manage their social and community relations, in the face of local criticism and opposition. SLO literature and practice have highlighted earning the trust of the local community as a key requirement for an SLO. This article addresses three weaknesses in how the current SLO literature addresses trust. The arguments are illustrated via examples from nuclear waste management in Finland, France and Sweden – three forerunners in implementing high-level nuclear waste repository projects. Nuclear waste management constitutes a relevant case for analysis, as an industry that faces significant risk-related challenges of local acceptance, ethics, economics, and democratic debate. Focussing on the oft-used SLO framework of Boutilier and Thomson, with its emphasis on interactional and institutionalised trust between the company and the local community, we address three gaps in the SLO literature: 1) insufficient conceptualisation of trust, in particular the dynamics between different dimensions of trust, mistrust and distrust; 2) lack of attention to the potential virtues of mistrust and distrust; and 3) the downsides of taking the institutionalisation of trust as the ultimate criterion of a strong SLO, especially in contexts entailing significant asymmetries of power. The article concludes by suggesting ways of alleviating the identified weaknesses, via greater recognition of the multidimensionality of trust, mistrust and distrust, the virtues of mistrustful civic vigilance, and greater attention to trust dimensions that lie beyond the community-company relations.

Keywords: nuclear waste; final deposition; acceptability; public opinion; trust

Free keywords: social licence (to operate); trust; mistrust; distrust; nuclear waste management

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Ministry reporting: Yes

Reporting Year: 2022

JUFO rating: 1

Last updated on 2023-03-10 at 12:46