In many countries, regulations for the management of nuclear waste require a performance (safety/risk) assessment to demonstrate the safety asserted to be provided by the sites/facilities proposed for handling, storing, and disposing of the wastes. However performance assessment can play a bigger role than solely demonstration of compliance with applicable safety standards in support of a regulatory decision (i.e., licensing of a waste management facility). Performance assessment can be an effective management tool during all phases of a waste management program: from development of national nuclear waste management policies; to programmatic environmental impact assessments associated with design and siting evaluations, site selection, and site characterization; to licensing and operation of facilities.
International experience has demonstrated that nuclear waste management programs are long-term efforts, lasting at least two to three decades from initial policy development to licensing and commencement of waste management and disposal operations. This experience has also demonstrated that consistent attention to, and integration of, initial component studies are necessary to provide a comprehensive total system analysis for programmatic environmental impact assessments and for licensing.
For nearly 40 years, Sandia National Laboratories has developed and applied a performance assessment methodology in numerous national and international nuclear waste management programs. These applications range from development and feasibility testing of environmental health standards to preliminary evaluation of waste disposal sites; to establishing the basis for demonstration of compliance; to informing licensing (compliance demonstration) decisions. In many of these applications the performance assessment methodology has also served as a management tool for confirming the added value of research and development investments.
This paper presents examples to illustrate how performance assessment has been used as an effective management tool through multiple phases of a nuclear waste management program.