Large scale demonstration experiments in underground research laboratories (both onsite and off-site) are currently undertaken by most high level radioactive waste management organisations. The decision to plan and implement prototype experiments, which might have a life of several decades, has both important strategic and budgetary consequences for the organisation. Careful definition of experimental objectives based on the design and safety requirements is critical. The implementation requires the involvement of many parties and needs flexible but consequent management as, for example, additional goals for the experiments, identified in the course of the implementation, might jeopardise initial primary goals.
The outcomes of an international workshop in which European and Japanese implementers (SKB, Posiva, Andra, ONDRAF, NUMO and Nagra) but also certain research organisations (JAEA, RWMC) participated identified which experiments are likely to be needed depending on the progress in implementing a disposal programme. Already earlier in a programme, large scale demonstrations are generally performed aiming at reducing uncertainties identified during the safety case development such as thermo-hydraulic-mechanical process validation in the engineered barrier system and target host rock. Also feasibility testing of underground construction in a potential host rock at relevant depth might be required. Later in a programme, i.e., closer to the license application, large scale experiments aim largely at demonstrating engineering feasibility and performance confirmation of complete repository components. Ultimately, before licensing repository operation, 1:1 scale commissioning testing will be required.
Factors contributing to the successful completion of large scale demonstration experiments in terms of planning, defining the objectives, optimising results and main lessons learned over the last 30 years are being discussed. The need for international coordination in defining the objectives of new large scale demonstration experiments is addressed.
The paper is expected to provide guidance to implementing organisations (especially those in their early stages of the programme), considering participating in and/or or conducting on their own large scale experiments in the near future.