The world is facing energy difficulties for the future, in terms of security of supply and climate change issues. Nuclear power is virtually carbon free and it contributes to energy security, being a quasi-domestic source. Whilst it cannot provide a complete answer to these challenges, it is certainly capable of providing a significant component of the answer. However, nuclear power remains controversial. In order to gain public acceptance, it is widely recognised that a number of key issues need to be addressed, amongst which is resolution of the high-level radioactive waste (HLW) (including spent fuel) disposal issue. This is an important issue for all countries with an existing nuclear programme, whether or not it is intended that nuclear power should be phased out or expanded — the waste already exists and must be managed in any event. It is equally important for countries planning a new nuclear power programme where none has previously existed. Since nuclear power was first developed over fifty years ago, HLW arisings have been stored as an interim measure. It is widely believed by experts (though not by many opponents of the nuclear industry, nor by the public) that deep geological disposal, after a reasonable cooling time in interim storage, is technically feasible and constitutes a safe option [1] at an acceptable cost. The total volume of HLW from nuclear reactors is relatively small. A key issue, however, is the time-scale for developing such a final disposal solution. Considerations of security and inter-generational equity suggest that geological disposal should be implemented as soon as possible irrespective of whether or not new arisings are created. The question of managing HLW is not necessarily related to the issue of building new nuclear power stations. However, many opponents argue that there has been insufficient demonstration of the long-term safety of deep geological disposal. The same opponents also argue that there should be a moratorium on building new nuclear power plants (NPPs) until the issue of long-term management of HLW is resolved. These arguments have a powerful influence on public opinion towards both the construction of a waste repository and the building of new NPPs. The intent of this paper (developed from the current OECD NEA study on “Timing of High Level Waste Disposal”) is to identify and discuss some of the factors influencing the timing of the implementation of a HLW disposal strategy and to demonstrate to decision makers how these factors are affecting country strategies, based on current experience. Determining an optimum timescale of HLW disposal may be affected by a wide range of factors. The study examines how social acceptability, technical soundness, environmental responsibility and economic feasibility impact on the timing of HLW disposal and can be balanced in a national radioactive waste management strategy taking the social, political and economic environment into account. There is clear evidence that significant fractions of the public still have serious misconceptions with respect to the issues surrounding nuclear waste. The nuclear industry, together with governments in those countries who would like a component of nuclear power in their energy mix, has a responsibility for and a significant challenge in presenting its case to the public.

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