Several national programs for geological disposal of higher activity radioactive waste will initiate siting via a call for volunteers. This is probably furthest advanced in Japan (NUMO) and the UK (NDA RWMD). In both these cases, rather than focusing on a reference repository concept, a catalogue of options has been developed. This requires a process to tailor design options to sites and compare particular design/site combinations as part of the site selection process. As has been noted in the longer-running Japanese program, the assessment of options must be as realistic as possible, rather than conservative, as in past nominating approaches to siting. Past demonstration work has focused on feasibility, showing that it is possible to implement a design. Determining practicality, which incorporates many more complex factors, is more difficult. Extensive desk studies can form a basis for such analysis but these must be rigorously tested, which makes full-scale tests in Underground Rock Laboratories (URLs) an essential component of any program. This paper highlights the importance of such demonstration projects and illustrates how they are vital in both improving understanding of the engineered barrier system and stakeholder engagement.