Nuclear waste management is a complex and contentious issue in all parts of the world, involving social, political, technical, and economic interests, and generating a reaction of public suspicion and mistrust in most cases. Not surprisingly, the end goal for all parties involved in the nuclear waste management debate is identical: the safe disposition of the waste in compliance with governing regulations. The governing regulations, in turn, are intended primarily to protect public health and the environment, not just in the present, but well into the future, given the long-lived nature of many radionuclides in the waste. However, each party in the nuclear waste management debate approaches and defines the end goal differently. The balancing of interests and ideas pursued by the government, regulators, scientific community, local watchdog groups, and the general public regarding the end goal affect the way that policies are determined and by whom. The strength of the various arguments and the environment in which they are asserted also plays a role in policy development. The resolution of a nuclear waste management issue in any given case can never be described unequivocally as the “best,” “safest,” or “optimal” solution simply because the various parties and entities involved will very rarely look at the end point from the same perspective (technical, emotional, or political). However, nuclear waste management programs can be designed and developed so that the disparity of expectations and emotions is minimized by means of open communications and a sound technical basis for all decisions. This paper discusses examples of these concepts in the context of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) and Yucca Mountain Programs. These programs, which address the permanent disposition of transuranic (TRU) waste and high-level radioactive waste (HLW), respectively, provide the opportunity to view policy decisions and associated impacts both within the framework of resulting operational realities in the case of the WIPP Program and within the process of defining a strategy for the progress of the Yucca Mountain Program.

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