The potential technical, scientific, safety, security, environmental and economic advantages of implementation of deep geologic repositories for the disposal of nuclear waste within an international framework were outlined in papers from the IAEA and from the Pangea organization over the past three years. Of increasing importance are the security and non-proliferation benefits which could result from having closely supervised centralized repositories for declared surplus fissile materials resulting from disarmament activities in nuclear weapon states.
The Pangea concept is for repositories sited on technical and safety grounds independent of national boundaries. The sites would be in geologic formations situated in flat, stable, arid regions, where the convincing demonstration of long-term safety should be easier to achieve. Pangea identified several potential host regions of the world which warrant further investigation of their suitability for an international repository. As yet a formal feasibility study has been initiated only in Australia. This was allocated first priority due to the vastness of the region with potentially suitable geology, also because of its stable governmental system, its strong environmental record and non-proliferation credentials. Australia also has a strong anti-nuclear movement, no nuclear power plants, but an important uranium mining industry.
Hence progress to date in Australia has been mixed. Political resistance has culminated in legislation in Western Australia prohibiting the construction and operation of a repository for the disposal of imported nuclear waste, unless approved by both houses of the WA Parliament. Within the scientific, technical and business communities, there has been much greater readiness to objectively weigh up the pros and cons of hosting an international disposal facility. The public reaction has been mixed, with some individuals and communities strongly opposing the concept whilst others are prepared to seek information before judging the case on its merits.
Meanwhile, on the world stage, the generic concept of international disposal facilities continues to be elaborated - including defining better the roles which such facilities could play in management and disposition of surplus weapons material. In addition contacts are being strengthened with potential users of such facilities and actions being taken to intensify Pangea's activities in other countries identified as having potential host regions for a high-isolation repository of the type proposed by Pangea.