Pangea Resources International AG, Switzerland, has put forward the concept of an international geological repository in an Australian desert area, for final disposal of certain of the world's high-level radioactive wastes and surplus fissile materials. Already publicly contentious in Australia, the concept raises unusual issues in safety and environmental assessment. It is timely, therefore, to consider why and how an initial case for such a repository might be made, in comparison with national options for high-level waste disposal that it might displace.
There are several stages ahead of development of a formal safety case for an international repository. The first, and almost certainly the most challenging, is winning of public and political acceptance in the host country that such a repository is the ‘best’ solution to a global problem.
We consider the basic need to identify and encompass the concerns of widely disparate stakeholders — industry, governments, national and international regulators, environmental interest groups and the public at large — so that public and political debates can be informed effectively. Many key issues will require comparison both of risks arising from very different operations, and of dissimilar prospective safety performances of complete disposal systems over periods spanning thousands of generations. Nevertheless, we conclude that the validity of such a comparative assessment could be assured by consistent application of a judicious blend of assessment techniques across the alternatives. We also conclude that its usefulness as a vehicle for public discussion would be enhanced by careful attention to public concerns, and by transparently independent review by scientific, technical, sociological and ethical specialists.