NEA member countries are currently developing deep geological disposal projects for radioactive waste and spent fuel. These facilities will be implemented and operated over at least 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 and memory (RK&M) 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 ensuring 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, is likely to 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 its first phase ending in March 2014, at which time the RWMC decided to extend the initiative until 2017 with a "Phase II", which was later extended until April 2018. Twenty-one organisations from 14 countries, plus the IAEA, are taking part in Phase II, representing implementing agencies, regulators, policy makers, R&D institutions, and international and archiving agencies. Members are: ONDRAF/NIRAS (Belgium), SCK (Belgium), NWMO (Canada), SURAO (Czech Republic), STUK (Finland), ANDRA (France), BfS (Germany), GRS (Germany), KIT (Germany), PURAM (Hungary), JAEA (Japan), RWMC (Japan), ROSATOM(Russia), ENRESA (Spain), SKB (Sweden), Riksarkivet (Sweden), SSM (Sweden), NAGRA (Switzerland), SFOE (Switzerland), NDA-RWM (UK) and USDOE (USA).
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.
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.
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.