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RETHINKING HIGH [EVES nnnlns~T'''e ISTE DISPOSAL A Position Statement of the Board on Radioactive Waste Management Commission on Geosciences, Environment, and Resources National Research Council NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS Washington, D.C. 1990
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NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance. This report has been reviewed by a group other than the authors according to procedures approved by a Report Review Committee consisting of members of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Frank Press is president of the National Academy of Sciences. The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal govemment. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Robert M. White is president of the National Academy of Engineering. The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of the appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Samuel O. Thier is president of the Institute of Medicine. The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy's purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal govemment. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Frank Press and Dr. Robert M. White are chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the National Research Council. The material summarized in this report was the product of a July 1988 retreat sponsored by the Board on Radioactive Waste Management and was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy under Contract No. DE-AC01-86DP48039. Copies of this report are available in limited supply from: Board on Radioactive Waste Management National Research Council 2101 Constitution Avenue NW HA462 Washington DC 20418 Printed in the United States of America -
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BOARD ON RADIOACTIVE WASTE MANAGEMENT Current Members FRANK L. PARKER, Chairman, Vanderbilt University CLARENCE R. ALLEN, California Institute of Technology LYNDA L. BROTHERS, Davis Wright Tremaine PAUL BUSCH, Malcolm Pirnie, Inc. E. WILLIAM COLGLAZIER, University of Tennessee CHARLES FAIRHURST, Vice-Chairman, University of Minnesota ROBERT D. HATCHER, University of Tennessee* G. ROSS HEATH, University of Washington GEORGE M. HORNBERGER, University of Virginia RICHARD K. LESTER, Massachusetts Institute of Technology DAVID H. MARKS, Massachusetts Institute of Technology PERRY L. McCARTY, Stanford University ROGER O. McCLELLAN, Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology FRED W. McLAFFERTY, Cornell University* D. KIRK NORDSTROM, U.S. Geological Survey* GLENN PAULSON, IIT Center for Hazardous Waste Management CHRIS G. WHIPPLE, Clement International SUSAN D. WILTSHIRE, JK Associates Participating Former Members JOHN W. MEALY, Los Alamos National Laboratory (retired) KAI N. LEE, University of Washington EVA L. J. ROSINGER, Atomic Energy of Canada, Limited Current Staff PETER B. MYERS, Staff Director JOHN S. SIEG, Senior Staff Officer INA B. ALTERMAN, Senior Staff Officer GERALDINE J. GRUBE, Staff Officer ALEXANDRA N. BERNSTEIN, Research Associate JUDITH L. ESTEP, Administrative Secretary BETTY A. KING, Administrative Secretary PAUL B. PHELPS, Consulting Science Writer Participating Former Staff REMI B. LANGUM, Staff Officer JAN C. KRONENBURG, Administrative Assistant *New members - Did not participate in report. . . .
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Invited Guest Participants PER-ERIC AHLSTROEM, Svensk Kaernbraensle-Hantering, Stockholm, Sweden ROBERT M. BERNERO, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, D.C. NEIL CHAPMAN, British Geological Survey, Nicker Hill, United Kingdom GHISLAIN DE MARSILY, Paris School of Mines, Paris, France CRITZ GEORGE, U.S. Department of Energy, Germantown, Maryland RICHARD J. GUIMOND, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C. RACHELLE HOLLANDER, National Science Foundation, Washington, D.C. THOMAS ISAACS, U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, D.C. ROGER E. KASPERSON, Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts CHARLES E ED] KAY, U.S; Department of Energy, Washington, D.C. RONALD W. KIEHN, EG&G (retired), Idaho Falls, Idaho RICHARD MEEHAN, Expert Consultant on Scientific Evidence and Uncertainty, Palo Alto, California ROBERT MORGAN, U.S. Department of Energy (retired), Aiken, South Carolina TOENIS PAPP, Svensk Kaernbraensle-Hantering, Stockholm, Sweden JEROME RAVETZ, The University, Leeds, United Kingdom LEONARD SAYLES, Columbia University, New York, New York ANTHONY M. STARFIELD, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota V
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CONTENTS ABSTRACT SUMMARY . . ...... V11 Current U.S. Policy and Program, 1 Scientific Consensus on Geological Isolation, 2 Treatment of Uncertainty, 3 Modeling of Geological Processes, 4 Moral and Ethical Questions, 6 An Alternative Approach, 7 The Risk of Failing to Act, ~ INTRODUCTION . ~ ~ ~ eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelO The Origins and Purpose of This Document, 10 High-Level Waste in Context, 11 Radioactive Waste Management Policy, 12 FINDINGS eeeeeeeeeeeeeee.~eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeel3 The Limitations of Analysis ~eeeeeeeeeeeeeee Overview, 13 Uncertainty and Significant Risks, 13 Perceptions of Risk, 16 Moral and Value Issues eeeeee.~.eeeeeeeeee Overview, 17 Three Issues of Equity, 18 Five Issues of Policy, 19 Modeling and Its Validity Overview, 21 Models and Modeling Problems, 23 Appropriate Uses for Geophysical Models, 23 Sources of Uncertainty in Geophysical Models, 24 Modeling Limitations An Example, 25 Appropriate Objectives for Modeling, 26 Using Models to Reduce Uncertainty, 26 Supplements to Modeling, 27 Implications for Program Management, 28 y
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Strategic Planning e ~ ~ e e e e ~ e e e e e e e e e e e · · e e e e · e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e Overview, 28 Policy Context, 29 Alternative Management Strategies, 30 The Elements of a More Flexible System, 33 RECOMMENDATIONS NOTES 28 Vl 35 37
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ABSTRACT There is a worldwide scientific consensus that deep geological disposal, the approach being followed in the United States, is the best option for disposing of high-level radioactive waste (HLW). There is no scientific or technical reason to think that a satisfactory geological repository cannot be built. Nevertheless, the U.S. program, as conceived and implemented over the past decade, is unlikely to succeed. For reasons rooted in the public's concern over safety and in the implementing and regulatory agencies' need for political credibility, the U.S. waste disposal program is characterized by a high degree of inflexibility with respect to both schedule and technical specifications. The current approach, in which every step is mandated in detail in advance, does have several advantages: · it facilitates rigorous oversight and technical auditing, · its goals and standards are clear; · it is designed to create a sense of confidence in the planning and operation of the repository; and · if carried out according to specifications, it is robust in the face of administrative or legal challenge. This approach is poorly matched to the technical task at hand. It assumes that the properties and future behavior of a geological repository can be determined and specified with a very high degree of certainty. In reality, however, the inherent variability of the geological environment will neces- sitate frequent changes in the specifications, with resultant delays, frustration, and loss of public confidence. The current program is not sufficiently flexible or exploratory to accommodate such changes. The Board on Radioactive Waste Management is particularly concerned that geological models, and indeed scientific knowledge generally, have been inappropriately applied. Computer modeling techniques and geophysical analysis can and should have a key role in the assessment of long-term repository isolation. In the face of public concerns about safety, however, geophysical models are being asked to predict the detailed structure and behavior of sites over thousands of years. The Board believes that this is scientifically unsound and will lead to bad engineering practice. The United States appears to be the only county to have taken the approach of writing detailed regulations before all of the data are in. As a result, the U.S. program is bound by requirements that may be impossible to meet. The Board believes, however, that enough has been learned to formulate an approach that can succeed. This alternative approach emphasizes flexibility: vii
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time to assess performance and a willingness to respond to problems as they are found, remediation if things do not turn out as planned, and revision of the design and regulations if they are found to impede progress toward the health goal already defined as safe disposal. To succeed, however, this alternative approach will require significant changes in laws and regula- tions, as well as in program management. · · ~ vzzz