The committee in its interim report found that current statutes and regulations for LAW provide adequate authority for protection of workers and the public. In seeking to provide practical advice for implementing risk-informed LAW practices, the committee suggests a four-tiered approach that is within these existing authorities of regulatory agencies, except for targeted congressional action at the highest tier.

Steps in this approach are organized in increasing order of complexity and the time and resources needed to make changes. The committee judges that much can be accomplished by using the simpler approaches first. As knowledge, experience, and comfort that “yes this is the right thing to do” build among all stakeholders, changes may be extended or institutionalized at higher tiers. However, more complex problems may require that solutions originate at the higher tiers. This conclusion can be reached effectively by carefully examining options at the lower tiers.

The committee distinguishes the tiered approach, which is a gradual or stepwise implementation of risk-informed practices, from the current patchwork system of regulation.1 Every regulatory change under the tiered approach would be made with regard to the inherent hazard of the waste in question and how its hazard compares to the hazards of other waste materials.2 The tiered system is a means of implementing changes at an appropriate regulatory level and always with a specific direction—a vector—that would eventually lead to a fully risk-informed system as envisioned in Chapter 3. The current origin-based patchwork does not provide this consistency.

A Tiered Approach Toward Risk-Informed LAW Practices

With this perspective, the committee sets forth a four-tiered approach that uses

  1. Changes to licenses and permits of individual waste generators or disposal facility operators seeking solutions for specific wastes, waste streams of a given type, or unique wastes that are infrequently generated.


Such a stepwise approach is consistent with other National Academies advice on managing high-level waste and spent nuclear fuels (NRC, 2001c, 2003b).


While the committee included only radiological hazard in its deliberations, other hazardous properties of the waste could be included in the approach being recommended here. The connection between inherent hazard of a material and the risks it poses for handling, storage, and disposal is spelled out in Chapter 3.

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