hood of an effect, the severity of the anticipated effect, who is affected, and the potential benefit, if any, afforded by the source of the risk.

There is a large volume of literature on understanding and evaluating risk, managing risk, and communicating risk (e.g., Kaplan and Garrick, 1981; NRC, 1983, 1994, 1996, 2005b; Garrick and Kaplan, 1995; Risk Commission, 1997). Publications of the National Academies have consistently advocated using risk as a basis for policy decisions and have provided guidance for characterizing risk, for making decisions about the best ways to manage risks, and for including a broad range of involved citizens in such decisions. In concert with this viewpoint, the National Academies’ Board on Radioactive Waste Management1 initiated this study because its members believed that the present, mainly origin-based, regulation and management practices for low-activity radioactive wastes (LAW) do not provide a consistent basis for systematically managing their risks: “The current systems for regulating this waste lack overall consistency and, as a consequence, waste streams having similar physical, chemical, and radiological characteristics may be regulated by different authorities and managed in disparate ways” (BRWM, 2002). In addition, this committee noted in its interim report that the public expresses “considerable lack of trust in the LAW regulatory system due to its complexity, inflexibility, and inconsistency” … raising “doubts about the system’s capability for protecting public health” (NRC, 2003a, p. 5).

During the course of this study the committee came to the conclusion that a “risk-informed” approach would provide the best option for improving LAW regulation and management practices in the United States. A risk-informed approach is based on information provided by science-based risk assessment but includes stakeholders as a central component in decision making. This chapter begins by discussing the concept of risk and concludes with a framework for risk-informed management of LAW.


Risk is a common currency that allows regulators and other decision makers to compare different threats to public health from all sources, set priorities among them, choose effective risk reduction strategies, and target those that are most important. Defining the elements of risk involves the “risk triplet,” a series of three questions posed by Kaplan and Garrick (1981): What can go wrong? How likely is it to happen? What are the consequences or outcomes?


This board merged with the Board on Radiation Effects Research to form the Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board in March 2005.

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