In the context of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) programme to create a corpus of internationally accepted Radioactive Waste Safety Standards (RADWASS), focus is currently being placed on establishing standards for the “geological disposal of radioactive waste”. This is a challenging task and to help the standards development process there is a need to stimulate discussion of some of the associated scientific and technical issues. A number of position papers developed in recent years by a subgroup of the Waste Safety Standards Committee (WASSC), the subgroup on Principles and Criteria for Radioactive Waste Disposal, address many of the relevant issues. These include a common safety based framework for radioactive waste disposal, appropriate timeframes for safety assessment, different possible indicators of long-term safety, the safety implications of reversibility and retrievability, the assessment of possible human intrusion into the repository, the role and limitations of institutional control, establishing reference critical groups and biospheres for long-term assessment, and what is meant by “compliance” with the standards. These papers will be discussed at a Specialists Meeting to be held at the IAEA in June 2001 as a means of establishing the extent to which they enjoy the general support of experts. In order to broaden that consensus, the conclusions reached at the Specialists Meeting on the issues listed above will be presented and discussed with participants at the ICEM’01.

Later this year, a draft safety standard on the geological disposal of radioactive waste which takes account of the consensus positions reached through the various consultations will be submitted for the consideration of Waste Safety Standards Committee (WASSC), the officially approved body within the IAEA for the review and approval of waste safety standards. The Committee is made up of government appointed radioactive waste regulators. Subsequent steps include the provision of formal comments by governments, final approval by WASSC, and by the IAEA’s Commission on Safety Standards (CSS) and finally by the IAEA’s Board of Governors.

The ICEM’01 Conference can fulfil a valuable role in this process by helping to establish areas where there is general agreement on safety concepts, principles and procedures relevant to the geological disposal of radioactive waste.

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