The Reversibility and Retrievability (R&R) Project

Project Overview

The capability of retrieving waste emplaced in geological repositories is a long-standing question of interest. It has been discussed for more than a decade among technical experts, political decision makers at national, regional and local levels, and interested publics.

In 2007 the NEA’s Radioactive Waste Management Committee (RWMC) established a project to study the issues of reversibility and retrievability (R&R) in geological disposal of radioactive wastes. This project was supported by contributions from member states. Participants from 15 countries, from the International Atomic Energy Agency and the European Commission, and from other RWMC groups (the FSC, IGSC and Regulators Forum) contributed to the initiative. The project culminated in an International Conference and Dialogue in Reims (France) in December 2010.

Major milestones in the project have been the conduct of a bibliographic review, a survey of NEA member countries’ positions, and discussions within an ever increasing group of interested parties to refine a leaflet on current international understanding of R&R. The project ended in 2011. The project documents may be downloaded under Project outcomes. They will be of interest to all technical and policy professionals and all civil society stakeholders who reflect about the multi-generational endeavour of radioactive waste disposal.

Work phases and products

The R&R project was carried out in several phases with a view to following up on the 2001 NEA survey-based report on these topics. (All documents mentioned are linked under Project outcomes.)

The first phase (2007-2008) was the compilation of a bibliography of references on the R&R topics. The second phase (2008-2009) gathered data through a questionnaire on the current status of disposal programmes with respect to the role(s) of reversibility and retrievability in member countries’ programmes. A working group was convened and a series of meetings were held at which the responses were analyzed. Topical discussions were held on a variety of subjects arising from the analysis. Summaries and outcomes of this work may be downloaded from this page.

In the third phase (2010-2011) a leaflet was published including a “retrievability scale” proven to be an effective support to communication. The final full R&R report, reflecting the input of all project components, is now available for download, alongside a shorter brochure of key findings. Next to appear (in early 2012) will be the proceedings of the Dec. 2010 International Conference and Dialogue, organised by the NEA in co-operation with other international organisations and with the support of several national bodies representing diverse interests in this area.

Project outcomes

Final leaflet, report and brochure

International Retrievability Scale (final 4-page leaflet for stakeholder communication) 

The leaflet containing the “R-scale” graphical depiction of repository development is intended as a tool to facilitate societal discussion. It was reviewed and tested with stakeholders of various countries. New translations will be added to this website as they become available.

Final Report of the NEA R&R Project

This full project report documents the results of the 4-year international Reversibility and Retrievability initiative. It surveys the statements that have been made over the decades about R&R, thereby documenting a history and an evolution across time. It reviews how R&R have been integrated (or not) in national programmes or in stakeholders’ positions on waste disposal. It gives an empowering grasp of the different conditions in which R&R may be applied. The report proposes definitions and conclusions that reflect the mutual understanding built up in the R&R working group made up of persons from many nations.

Short Brochure of Principal R&R Project Findings 

This 24-page brochure delivers the key findings and observations on reversibility and retrievability developed over the course of the RWMC initiative. It outlines project activities and points to further resources. While focussed on deep geological disposal, the pragmatic and precise information provided may be pertinent also in regard to sub-surface disposal.

Project studies

R&R International bibliography

This list of references was assembled in support of the R&R project. It is provided to those who may want to undertake their own analysis. Although not exhaustive, the list will constitute for them a useful start. Most of the cited references were downloadable from the Internet as of December 2010.

R&R Status in selected NEA countries

A questionnaire on the role of R&R in national disposal programmes was issued to NEA member countries in 2008. The tabulated responses (updated in 2010) were found to be very helpful in illustrating areas of general agreement, of significant difference, or ripe for further discussion and investigation.

International Conference and Dialogue

Overview of the 2010 Reims Conference and Dialogue

Proceedings of the International Conference and Dialogue can be found here.

Project vision

Vision document of the R&R project

The original “vision” (2007) lays out the programme of work for the RWMC  to develop state-of-the-art guidance on reversibility and retrievability concepts in relation to stepwise decision making.

Summary records of project meetings

The four documents below trace the process of analysis, discussion and elaboration by the R&R working group.

R&R project status report following the Toronto meeting of October 2008

Summary Record of the Reversibility and Retrievability Project Meeting held in Washington D.C., United States, 2-4 December 2009

Summary Record of Reversibility and Retrievability Project Meeting held at NEA Offices, 3-5 June 2009

Minutes of the RWMC Reversibility and Retrievability Project Meeting held at NEA Offices, 21-23 June 2010

Related links

Radioactive Waste Management Repositories and Host Regions – Envisaging the Future Together. Synthesis of the FSC National Workshop and Community Visit 

The NEA “Forum on Stakeholder Confidence” workshop held in France in 2009 included a panel of stakeholder presentations and an international discussion of R&R, reported in the synthesis document. Original “session III” texts and presentations may also be viewed here.

2001 NEA document 'Reversibility and Retrievability in Geologic Disposal of Radioactive Waste'.  

This survey-based report provides an overview of R&R according to waste management experts representing eleven NEA Member countries at the opening of the 21st century.


Last reviewed: 19 February 2014