The Swedish Nuclear Power Inspectorate (SKI) has recently concluded its evaluation of the Swedish programme for the development of a system for the management of nuclear waste. The programme was compiled and issued by the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company (SKB). In this process of programme formulation and review, considerable attention has been paid to the question of how scientific studies should be directed and performed in order to provide the support needed in the programme.
When the objectives and limitations of such scientific studies are to be analysed, it is vitally important that the implications of the long timescales and the lack of feedback of post-closure experience are fully understood and adequately dealt with. It must be realised, that simulations will have to be utilized for the systems development work as well as for the assessments of safety. Such performance simulations have to be based on a thorough understanding of the pertinent phenomena as well as on a comprehensive base of experimental data. They must also be based on a good overall perspective that can only be obtained through full performance assessments.
Thus, a sound scientific base is needed. The components of this base must be traceable. Moreover, the links must be clearly identified between the knowledge base and the development of the disposal system as well as the performance assessment of such a system. Performance simulations and performance assessments should be utilized, not only as tools to develop a system and to evalute its safety but also to identify areas where further research is required - or unnecessary.
The knowledge base will, however, always be limited, and a lack of understanding must also be recognised and adequately dealt with, e.g. by accounting for uncertainties in the performance simulations, by relying on bounding (conservative) assumptions or by robust repository design.
Thus, the success of a programme for the handling and disposal of nuclear waste is highly dependent on the strategy applied for the utilization of the scientific knowledge base. The requirements on such a strategy increase considerably when substantial commitments are to be made.