Adaptive Staging may place obstacles in the regulatory process for both the implementer and regulator (e.g., NRC, 2001). From the implementer’s point of view, Adaptive Staging may be seen as causing more intensive regulatory oversight, which may delay the repository program. From the regulator’s point of view, Adaptive Staging requires flexibility and acceptance of the uncertainty involved in permitting or licensing individual stages in a somewhat open-ended program, albeit one supported by a safety case for a full repository. The following are examples of regulatory drawbacks:
the alternative designs proposed in the license application may generate controversy about when construction would be considered substantially complete; and
if the licensing process freezes the repository design and its safety case, the implementer cannot further develop this design during the regulatory review process. If new information warrants a change to the reference design, the implementer must then request a license revision, which could extend significantly the review schedule.
Adaptive Staging also has several regulatory advantages (e.g., NRC, 2001):
It may bring additional information to the regulator about the strengths and weaknesses in the safety case, thereby allowing the regulator to make decisions on the basis of better evidence.
As stated in regulatory documents from many countries (USNRC, 1998; ERA, 1999; HSK/KSA, 1993), proof that the proposed geologic repository meets any specific set of regulatory standards cannot be demonstrated in the ordinary sense of that word. In Adaptive Staging, this fact is accepted and communicated to regulators, implementers, stakeholders, and the general public. In turn, these parties can help identify additional uncertainties and suggest ways to address them. In this context, Adaptive Staging may provide additional confidence to stakeholders.
The openness inherent in Adaptive Staging may increase public trust in the regulator and by extension in the repository program. The regulatory body’s ability to adopt and utilize a less prescriptive system that involves more judgment is tied to the degree of trust that body enjoys with the broad public. The more trust, the more deference is afforded the regulatory body to exercise judgment instead of relying on prescriptive “yes or no” findings, and the more likely is public acceptance of the regulator’s decisions.
Adaptive Staging has the following impacts on the institutional and societal context: