NEA member countries are currently developing deep geological disposal projects for radioactive waste and spent fuel. These facilities will be implemented and operated over several decades. Once closed, they are to remain safe for millennia. Geological repositories are designed to be intrinsically safe and final; safety is not to depend on human presence and intervention. However, there is no intention to forgo, at any time, records, knowledge, memory (RK&M) and awareness of the repository and the waste it contains. Besides, specific requirements may have to be fulfilled in the area of RK&M based on national legislation and regulation, e.g. in the area of preventing human intrusion, favouring retrievability of the waste, or to simply allow future generations to make their own informed decisions about the waste. Additionally, host communities and regions have indicated a strong interest in that appropriate provisions exist for preserving detailed information about the repository for as long as possible. As a result, national programmes are actively seeking to improve their understanding of the preservation of RK&M about radioactive waste across generations and to implement the necessary provisions.
The NEA Radioactive Waste Management Committee (RWMC) initiative on the Preservation of Records, Knowledge and Memory (RK&M) across Generations was launched to meet the demands from member countries for facilitating exchange and fostering reflection in this area, including formulating common approaches. This initiative has as its focus the period of time after repository closure; another initiative, RepMet, deals with the period before closure.
There is no single mechanism or technique that, by itself, would achieve the preservation of RK&M over centuries and millennia. Rather, an integrated set of mechanisms and techniques – technical, administrative and societal – is needed to address the various timescales and to support one another.
The RK&M initiative started in 2011 with the first phase ending in March 2014, at which time the RWMC decided to extend the initiative until 2017. The Phase-II vision document outlines the scope, objectives and work programme.
Seventeen organisations from 13 countries, representing policy makers, regulators, implementing agencies and R&D institutions, are taking part in phase II.
Organised by the NEA, "Constructing Memory – An International Conference and Debate on the Preservation of Records, Knowledge and Memory of Radioactive Waste across Generations", brought together nearly 200 attendees from 17 countries in September 2014 in Verdun. Attendees came primarily from technical organisations (35%), local stakeholder organisations (24%), academia (7%), research institutions (5%) and archives (5%). The remaining 14% included visual artists and staff of international organisations (IAEA, EC), amongst others.
The scope of the conference was to present and discuss prospects and projects related to the preservation of RK&M both in radioactive waste management and in other domains, such as archiving, cultural heritage, archaeology, communication, semiotics and art. A wide range of perspectives were presented and discussed.
Through this conference, the RK&M initiative gained wider visibility and received feedback on its findings and main lines of its programme of work. At the same time, the conference was the first of its kind, and provided insights and stimulus for further work in this area to the many audiences that participated in it.