An important issue for present and future generations is the final disposal of spent nuclear fuel. Over the past over than forty years, the development of technologies to isolate both high-level nuclear waste (HLW) generated at nuclear power plants and low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste (LILW) in underground rock and sediments has been found to be a formidable problem.
A series of worldwide reviews and workshops on the geological disposal of nuclear waste was initiated by Professor Emeritus (UC Berkeley) and Senior Faculty Scientist (Berkeley Lab) Paul Witherspoon in 1989. The results from a wide variety of investigations on the development of technology for radioactive waste isolation from 19 countries were published in the First Worldwide Review in 1991. The results of investigations from 26 countries were published in the Second Worldwide Review in 1996. The results of investigations from 32 countries were summarized in the Third Worldwide Review in 2001. Finally, the results from 24 countries were compiled in the Fourth Worldwide Review on radioactive waste isolation. (Go to this landing page, to see all of the Worldwide Review publications.)
Since the publication of the last report in 2006 (the Fourth Worldwide Review), radioactive waste disposal practices have changed substantially, and there have been major developments in a number of national geological disposal programs. Significant experience has been obtained both in preparing and reviewing cases for the operational and long-term safety of proposed and operating repositories. It became apparent that disposal of radioactive waste is a complex issue, not only because of the nature of the waste, but also because of the complicated regulatory structure for dealing with radioactive waste. Federal government agencies involved in radioactive waste management include: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Department of Transportation. In addition, the states and affected Indian Tribes play a prominent role in protecting the public against the hazards of radioactive waste.
In particular, after publication of the Fourth Worldwide Review, the investigations of the Yucca Mountain Deep Nuclear Waste Disposal Site was ceased. In the USA, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), Carlsbad, New Mexico, was licensed to permanently dispose of transuranic radioactive waste for 10,000 years, which is left from the research and production of nuclear weapons. In Europe, for example, Sweden and Finland have already submitted applications to the public authorities to establish final repositories for spent nuclear fuel.
The countries that are approaching industrial implementation of geological disposal are increasingly focusing on the feasibility of safely constructing and operating their repositories in short- and long terms on the basis existing regulations. Therefore, the scope of the Review is to address current specific technical issues and challenges in safety case development along with the interplay of technical feasibility, siting, engineering design issues, and operational and post-closure safety. All these issues are of primary importance to support the US Fifth National Report for the Joint Convention of the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management.
Langer, M., H. Schneider, and K. Kühn, The salt dome of Gorleben—Target site for the German Radioactive Waste Repository. In: Geological Problems in Radioactive Waste Isolation: A World Wide Review. P.A. Witherspoon, ed., Report LBL-29703, pp. 57-66, 1991.
McCombie, C., and M. Thury, Swiss HLW Programme: Status and key issues. In: Geological Problems in Radioactive Waste Isolation: Second Worldwide Review. P.A. Witherspoon, ed., Report LBL-38915, pp.127–133, 1996.
Neerdael, B., Geological radwaste disposal in Belgium research programme: Review and objectives. In: Geological Problems in Radioactive Waste Isolation: Second Worldwide Review. P.A. Witherspoon, ed., Report LBL-38915, pp. 9–26, 1996.
Witherspoon, P.A., ed., Geological Problems in Radioactive Waste Isolation: A World Wide Review. Report LBL-29703, 1991.
Witherspoon, P.A., ed., Geological Problems in Radioactive Waste Isolation: Second Worldwide Review, Report LBL-38915, 1996.
Witherspoon, P.A. and G.S. Bodvarsson, eds., Geological Challenges in Radioactive Waste Isolation: Third Worldwide Review. Report LBNL-49767, 2001.
Witherspoon, P.A. and G.S. Bodvarsson, eds., Geological Challenges in Radioactive Waste Isolation: Fourth Worldwide Review, LBNL-59808, 2006.
Witherspoon, P.A. and G. deMarsily, Introduction. In:Geological Problems in Radioactive Waste Isolation : A World Wide Review. P.A. Witherspoon, ed., Report LBL-29703, pp. 1–2, 1991.
Witherspoon, P.A. and O. Degerman, Swedish-American Cooperative Program on Radioactive Waste Storage in Mined Caverns Program Summary. Report LBL-7049, 1978.