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Options in Radioactive Waste Management Revisited: A Proposed Framework for Robust Decision Making

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Deregulation, with concurrent pressure on electricity utilities, has fundamentally changed the once-“closed” radioactive waste management system controlled by the so-called “nuclear establishment.” Advocacy coalitions may change—who knows in which direction—but policy learning may also take place. This article presents a framework to evaluate the management options for a specified concept of “sustainability.” When weighing the different objectives in view of the long-lasting potential danger of radiotoxic substances, the overall goal of a sound waste management system is to demonstrate safety. The first-priority objective of a disposal system, therefore, is its stability so that it can comply with the protection goal, that is, the long-term protection of humans and the environment from ionizing radiation. The complementary objective is flexibility, defined here as intervention potential. Because trade-offs within the “sustainability triangle” of ecology, economy, and society are unavoidable, the concept of “integral robustness”—both technical and societal—is introduced into radioactive waste management. A system is robust if it is not sensitive to significant parameter changes. In the present case, it has to have a conservative, passively stable design with built-in control and intervention mechanisms. With regard to technical implementation, a concept called “monitored long-term geological disposal” is presented. Such an “extended” final disposal concept emphasizes technical robustness, recognizes evaluation demands (for a potential break-off of a project), and enhances process-based transparency. This open approach admittedly sets high challenges with regard to technicalities as well as the institutional setting and the management process. It requires “mutual learning” by and from all stakeholders to achieve a truly sustainable radioactive waste management system.
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Keywords: Radioactive waste management; confidence; extended final disposal; mutual learning; sustainability; technical and social robustness

Document Type: Original Article

Affiliations: Umweltrecherchen & -gutachten, CH–5212 Hausen, Switzerland

Publication date: 2001-08-01

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