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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.


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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