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WARREN K. SINCLAIR KEYNOTE ADDRESS: CONTEMPORARY ISSUES IN RISK-INFORMED DECISION MAKING ON THE DISPOSITION OF RADIOACTIVE WASTE

Garrick, B John*

doi: 10.1097/01.HP.0000232848.15546.1b
Paper

A consistent and transparent risk-informed approach to managing nuclear waste is plagued with different regulators, different rules and regulations for different waste types, different compliance requirements, and indecisions about probabilistic vs. deterministic models. Low-activity waste management is particularly void of a path forward with respect to being risk-informed. Risk assessment is not referenced in the statutes on low-activity waste even though both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (U.S. NRC) have policies to apply consistent risk management approaches to all of their programs. The U.S. NRC has developed guidance on the preparation of probabilistic performance assessments for low-activity waste facilities, but there have been no serious takers and a lack of initiative on the part of licensees. Thus, little to no experience exists on risk-informing low-activity waste. The missed opportunities include establishing a risk basis that would allow for simpler, safer, and much less costly alternatives for low-activity waste disposal while enabling society to have the full benefit of radiation technologies. There is hope that congressional action or regulatory rule making will address some of these issues with the result being the adoption of a more general and unified approach to risk-informed regulation of all types of waste. Just as much of the initiative for risk-informed nuclear power came from industry, it must also be the case for nuclear waste. A start would be the adoption of a basic framework of risk assessment in waste management applicable to all types of waste—radioactive and nonradioactive. The “set of triplets” risk assessment framework that is applicable to any kind of risk is an established alternative. It is believed that such a framework with the support of a regulatory structure made compatible through appropriate rulemaking or congressional action, and the experience of the probabilistic performance assessments for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and the proposed Yucca Mountain high-level waste repository, could result in the right path forward for the regulation and management of low-activity waste.

* 221 Crescent Bay Drive, Laguna Beach, CA 92651.

For correspondence or reprints contact: the author at the above address, or email at BJGarrick@aol.com.

(Manuscript accepted 25 May 2006)

©2006Health Physics Society