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Page 40 3 Principal Recommendations This chapter presents the committee's five principal recommendations, additional recommendations, and a brief discussion. These recommendations are based on the committee's findings and conclusions, which are summarized in Chapter 2 and supported by information in Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8 through Chapter 9. PRINCIPAL RECOMMENDATION 1 National organizations with responsibility for the management of high-level waste (HLW), together with the scientific and engineering communities (including social scientists), should provide the leadership and support for solving the problem of nuclear waste. Leaders in today's democratic societies have a technical, social, and ethical responsibility to assure progress in developing and implementing options for the disposition of radioactive wastes. The safety and security risks associated with the current stocks of HLW and spent nuclear fuel (SNF) make it imperative that the challenge be neither ignored nor postponed. Because the current situation in many countries does not present an urgent safety hazard and because the issue of radioactive waste management is extremely sensitive politically, there is a temptation to postpone or avoid decisions and actions. Nevertheless, the safety problem is immediate, especially in defense-related facilities in some
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Page 41 countries, and will grow elsewhere as more waste is generated and new management facilities become necessary. Moreover, security concerns will increase as more fissile material arises from dismantling nuclear weapons unless a disposition route for this material is prepared (see Sidebar 1.1 and NAS, 1994). Natural and social scientists directly involved in addressing issues of long-term waste disposition should seek to assure that decision makers are fully aware of the benefits that would result from the emergence of a safe and societally acceptable solution. The committee did not conclude that countries must proceed rapidly with construction programs. However, actions are needed to generate options, understand their implications, and involve the public in the choice of approaches to safe and secure disposition. These actions should be pursued in a manner and at a pace compatible with the status of scientific and societal knowledge and understanding. Leaders should plan and implement increasingly broad-based public discussion of responsibilities and options for waste management, recognizing that visions of what is right and acceptable may well change and develop over time as more parties are involved in the deliberative process. PRINCIPAL RECOMMENDATION 2 National programs should direct their efforts beyond technical project development and implement processes that involve the public in decisions on how to assure safety and security. Recommended actions are the following: 1. Assure that choice is available. A decision is by definition a choice between at least two alternatives. In some cases, the choice may be only whether to proceed to the next milestone, without prejudicing further steps. Additional options should be planned and maintained as backup contingencies in case of surprises. The only foreseeable alternative to implementing geological disposition is prolonged storage. The committee recommends that radioactive waste management programs develop both the option for adequate storage, to assure that this capability is available for as long as it is needed, and the geological disposal option. Both of these management options should be available to the choice process. Each society will make its own decision—considering the relevant costs, risks, ethics, and uncertainties of both options—about whether to proceed with continued surface storage and the active institutional management it requires, or to proceed toward stepwise implementation of geological disposal. 2. Assure adequate staff, leadership, and resources for a process that will continue until final geological disposal if this option is chosen,
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Page 42 and indefinitely otherwise. National program schedules indicate that it will be at least 50 years until a repository is finally closed and sealed, and it may be much longer if extended surface storage is chosen. Means to assure that information is transferred from current to future generations will be necessary. 3. Strengthen programs addressing societal aspects. Historically, the policies, staffing, and structures of waste management programs have been heavily weighted toward technical and economic issues. Steps should be taken to redress the balance in order to assure equally high-quality work on social and ethical issues in waste management. 4. Recognize that dialogue among the scientific and technical communities and the public in support of decision making is an essential, ongoing part of the process. Scientists and technologists should be fully integrated into the efforts to maintain good communications. As in any field of science, the first step is that scientists actually working on the project have the stature and reputation that come from regular publication in the open scientific literature. Scientists with expertise relevant to a project must have opportunities for initiating new studies to verify and develop new concepts and to express their views on the safety of the project. Adequate resources should be provided for assuring effective public involvement. Explicit programs and possibly new organizational entities should be set up to assure continued dialogue among all interested and affected parties. 5. Assure that the criteria and procedures used in decisions concerning HLW are established in advance and are seen as fair. In a democracy the acceptability of controversial decisions at the societal level depends largely on the use of criteria that have been established and understood in advance and on the use of procedures that are seen as fair. 6. Consider adaptations to on-going programs that can help increase public involvement and build increased public confidence in the decision process. Some national programs are already well along in their decision processes. Some have used versions of the open and stepwise process recommended in this report. Others have not. While it is not expected that they would begin their process anew, adaptations to conform more closely to the recommended deliberative societal decision-making processes will benefit these programs. PRINCIPAL RECOMMENDATION 3 For both technical and societal reasons, national programs should proceed in a phased or stepwise manner, supported by dialogue and analysis. Waste management programs should go forward deliberately to successive milestones as information and analyses are developed to support
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Page 43 their decisions, with the recognition that public concerns or new, unexpected scientific information may justify deliberate delays or reconsideration of previous decisions. 1 The justification for a phased process is that knowledge and understanding are developing in both the technical and the sociological areas. Whereas many believe the remaining scientific questions to be relatively minor, experience in numerous countries has proven that society is not ready to accept without question the technical judgments of experts. The key technical and societal recommendations with respect to stepwise procedures are as follows: Technical Actions Each national program should prepare an objective, comprehensive comparison of realistic alternatives, including a description of the current safety and security afforded by the status quo storage configuration over long time periods, perhaps several centuries. This comparison will provide a baseline for discussion of alternatives. Careful and comprehensive examination and comparison of uncertainties associated with each alternative are essential aspects of the stepwise process. Interim storage in surface facilities is necessary even in countries that are proceeding toward construction of repositories. The availability and the safety and security of such storage facilities must be assured for as long as these facilities are needed. Since surface storage cannot assure safety and security without ongoing active management, nations with HLW should continue to develop the option of geological disposal as the only currently foreseeable option for future implementation of a passive, inherently safe system. Those nations contemplating disposal facilities should also move ahead with the identification and characterization of potential sites for geological repositories, at a rate commensurate with the scientific knowledge and understanding available to support each step in the decision process. Specific steps may include the construction and operation of underground research laboratories (URLs). Large-scale, integrated experiments in URLs can build public and scientific confidence in geological disposition in at least four ways: (1) demonstrating the feasibility of the technology, (2) having a specific and focused research program to develop and refine appropriate conceptual models of site behavior, (3) beginning to 1 As a follow-up to the present study, the National Research Council is beginning a new study to develop recommendations for a stepwise repository development process. The present committee strongly advocates this study.
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Page 44 gather long-term information for scientific validation that can accumulate through the decades of repository operation, and (4) making the technology more accessible to decision makers and to members of the public who visit the facility. In addition, some countries may wish to select some types of waste for early or pilot-scale emplacement based on favorable characteristics such as short half-life and robustness of waste form. Some types of defense waste may be examples. Early emplacement of such wastes should not foreclose other options. Societal Actions National programs should develop waste management strategies through greater openness, transparency, and full public involvement in decision making, including real opportunities for the public to influence policy choice. Decision makers, particularly those in national programs, should emphasize monitoring and retrievability. Demonstrated reversibility of actions in general, and retrievability of wastes in particular, are highly desirable because of public reluctance to accept irreversible actions. Retrievability provides public reassurance that one is able to deal with surprises. In practice, retrievability is feasible in all cases, but the different degrees of effort and cost required should be addressed in repository design studies. Monitoring is also desirable as evidence of vigilance in looking for surprises. Openness with the results of monitoring and an agreed-upon process for drawing decision implications from the data are also important. National programs should strive for high levels of flexibility, adaptiveness, and resilience to surprise in long-term management. Significant technical and social uncertainties will continue through the development and implementation of waste management systems. Management approaches capable of responding rapidly to events and new knowledge are needed. Decision makers, particularly those in national programs, should recognize that decisions depend on cultures and contemporary social values. Therefore, nations may legitimately make different choices in their waste management strategies or in the organizational and legal systems that determine these strategies. Safe and secure surface storage with continued commitment of resources may be chosen by some countries for long periods of time. However, ultimately a sealed geological repository will be needed for long-lived wastes if the burden of active care and maintenance is not to be passed on indefinitely. Each society must weigh the options for itself, and the extent to which any specific approach is appropriate will require different levels of evaluation in different countries.
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Page 45 Common Requirements Program decisions must be made in the face of uncertainty—that is, with clear recognition of limits to available knowledge. National programs should use decision processes equipped to deal with uncertainty. These decision processes should identify and describe important uncertainties associated with each of the alternatives, and they should include methods for acknowledging, clarifying, or reducing these uncertainties through further investigation and research. The limits of current scientific knowledge should be assessed and communicated to interested parties. Decision making in the face of uncertainty is the usual situation in many areas of science, technology, and society. Formal procedures for decision making under uncertainty are well established (NRC, 1996a). There is a need in both technical and societal areas for research that seeks new knowledge and for a flexible program that has the ability to incorporate this new knowledge to make wise decisions, thereby building public confidence. There is still work to be done in the physical sciences. However, the need is even greater for social and institutional studies aimed at improved understanding of public concerns, strategies for achieving greater social trust and conflict resolution, means for ethical assessment, and strengthening of institutions and institutional processes. Improved practices of social science oversight and peer review should also be instituted in all programs. PRINCIPAL RECOMMENDATION 4 National programs should increase international cooperation by sharing information, coordinating policies, supporting international organizations, developing a consensus on international standards, and seeking other ways to assure that all countries achieve safe disposition of their radioactive waste. This should include the following: 1. Sharing underlying science and technology information, including collaboration on specific issues, for example, investigation techniques, generic data, and safety assessment approaches. Mechanisms and organizations are available for accomplishing this. 2. Coordinating policies and strategies to improve the worldwide quality of waste management programs, for example, harmonizing broad safety cultures and assuring that adequate storage and disposal capacity are available. Even countries with no nuclear power have radioactive wastes from medical, industrial, and research practices. 3. Improving and supporting international organizations whose role is to give advice, set regulations, or monitor operations. Examples are
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Page 46 the International Commission for Radiation Protection for radiation protection approaches and the International Atomic Energy Agency and the European Commission for the transport of spent fuel and wastes and for safeguards. Wider participation by nongovernmental organizations and independent scientists in the work of international institutions could be advantageous. 4. Harmonizing policies, laws, and regulations to achieve a global balance of factors relevant to managing radioactive waste, including the transfer of wastes between willing and competent partner countries. Laws, regulations, or ethical assertions that would prevent the transfer of HLW between willing and competent partner countries could preclude sound options to enhance safety, security, and economics. PRINCIPAL RECOMMENDATION 5 National programs should take an integrated, comprehensive, and risk-based systems view to assure safety and security for HLW surface storage facilities and repositories, both in the implementation of the waste management program and in its regulatory oversight. This should include the following: 1. It is important to manage wastes to assure safety and security in surface facilities. This includes handling, interim storage, and transportation. Other environmental impacts, such as those associated with any major construction project, also should be evaluated and minimized, and costs must be considered. An informed decision on the relative merits and timing of moving to geological disposal is feasible only when the above considerations are evaluated together with the subsequent steps of waste emplacement in the repository, closure, and postclosure—including monitoring and retrievability. 2. The integrated approach recommended is not only technological. The public is becoming increasingly empowered in the debate on waste disposition, and a constructive relationship with waste management institutions will depend on mutual willingness to listen, evaluate, respect the positions of others, and modify entrenched positions when necessary. Social science research may assist in clarification of public attitudes and values and in institutional innovation to enhance opportunities for public understanding and participation in HLW management programs. 3. The ultimate decisions on whether to proceed with implementation of geological disposal will depend in large measure on regulatory decisions. From the more extensive list in Chapter 6 of recommenda-
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Page 47 tions and comments on how this process can be made to work, the key elements are highlighted here: A “phased approach” to regulation of a geological repository, as expounded 10 years ago in the Board on Radioactive Waste Management's Rethinking High-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal (NRC, 1990), remains sound advice. A key corollary is that the regulator must strive to avoid overly prescriptive rules too early in the multi-decade process of regulatory approval and oversight. Even when a particular country's legal system requires quite prescriptive regulations for a geological repository, there is a lot of room for flexibility at the level of the detailed regulatory guidance, decision making, and inspection programs. Public involvement in the process whereby the regulator arrives at the rules and regulations to be used in the approval process should begin at the earliest phases and continue throughout. This implies a fully open process in which the interested and affected segments of the public can challenge and comment on the approaches to be used by the regulatory body. There is inevitably a lot of uncertainty in any analysis of far future repository performance. This has led to consensus that the key regulatory decisions should in general be based on more than a single numerical figure of merit. Reliance upon quantitative performance assessments should be supplemented by the use of other figures of merit, including comparisons with other hazards faced by mankind and an overall judgmental criterion of the quality of scientific understanding. Stylized approaches in which the regulator defines for the repository implementer conditions to be applied in the execution of licensing calculations can be practical and transparent—in particular, when broad discussion is sought prior to establishing such guidance. This simplified approach does not, however, absolve scientists within or outside the implementing body from their responsibility to explore the range of conditions that might realistically be expected in the future at a repository site. It is broadly agreed that it is the prerogative of the national authorities in each country to decide how far into the future the specific regulatory compliance period should extend. This is a public policy issue, not a technical issue that science can address. 4. The analysis in support of an integrated, comprehensive, and risk-based systems view should include the following considerations: The critical issue with respect to safety and security assessment is the required or achievable level of confidence in the results of the analyses. Neither a 100 percent level of safety nor 100 percent confidence in the reliability of the assessments is possible. This is a fact that is true also
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Page 48 for every other comparable technical undertaking, and it is important to assure that unique, unattainable requirements to the contrary are not placed on waste disposal. Safety assessment experts must communicate their belief that their calculated results, although imperfect, provide sufficiently reliable input for decision makers. Numerical results of analyses extending out to geological times, if presented without sufficient discussion of their significance, lead understandably to accusations of over-optimism, hubris, or even irrationality. To the extent that there is uncertainty in conceptual models, this must be made clear. As long as one can be accurate in assuring that the levels of release are low, precise estimates are not needed; even with some orders of magnitude of residual uncertainty, the calculated release may be clearly within defined safety goals or limits. All parties involved in the decision-making process should have a consistent and accurate perception of what safety and security analysis can and cannot do, so that they do not make sub-optimal or irresponsible decisions based on incorrect or biased perceptions. CLOSING COMMENTS The committee recognizes that the recommendations summarized in this chapter will be difficult to implement and will require political and societal commitment to provide resources if progress is to be made. Evidence that led the committee to these recommendations, along with further discussion and suggestions for their implementation, is presented in Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8 through Chapter 9 of this report.
Representative terms from entire chapter: