The complex framework of technical, societal, and institutional issues surrounding geologic repositories along with historical connections of radioactive waste to nuclear programs, often associated with secrecy and controversy, requires a management approach that demonstrates transparency, flexibility, integrity, responsiveness, and willingness to engage in a dialogue with all parties.10 The recent report on geologic disposition of high-level waste recommended:

“For both scientific and societal reasons, national programs should proceed in a phased or stepwise manner supported by dialogue and analysis” (NRC, 2001, p. 5).

1.2.2 Definition of a successful geologic repository program

What defines success for a geologic repository program? The repository implementer’s focus is often on disposing of a set amount of waste in a set time for a set cost or having all the waste underground in a sealed repository. These answers do not fully account for the technical and societal challenges mentioned above, the long times over which the program will be developed, or the much longer time required for waste isolation.

First and foremost, the ultimate measure of success of a repository is the extent to which it isolates the waste from the accessible environment for all future time during which the waste remains hazardous. In the committee’s view a more pragmatic and useful definition of success for the implementer focuses on a safe geologic repository that is also cost-effective,11 follows an adaptable reference framework12 rather than a rigid schedule, and is societally acceptable. More concretely and more measurably, the committee defines a successful geologic repository program as one in which:

  • a geologic site and engineered system, judged to be technically suitable using the particular country’s accepted regulatory, public, and political processes, have been identified;


The meanings of transparency, flexibility, integrity, and responsiveness, as well as willingness to engage in a dialogue with involved parties, are discussed in Section 2.3.


In this context, “cost-effectiveness” refers to the operational phase of a geologic repository, i.e., when the repository is open. Like in most construction projects, cost-effectiveness means comparing options and choosing those that deliver the best product for a given cost, or improving the value of product performance enough to justify additional cost. The performance of the repository after its closure will not be determined for long periods, so only models and forecasts can be used to determine uncertainties and projected costs (see Sidebar 1.3).


The reference framework of a repository program is the plan for developing a successful geologic repository. The reference framework is based on the best scientific and societal knowledge available at a given time. The reference framework includes, for instance, a reference repository design and a proposal for stages and decision-making process. The framework is not a rigid roadmap attempting to define all future activities to successful project implementation. At the end of each stage, the details of the reference framework may be adapted (i.e., the repository design and number of Decision Points may change) according to knowledge gathered along the way.

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