Preservation of Records, Knowledge and Memory (RK&M) across Generations

Project overview

The initiative on the Preservation of Records, Knowledge and Memory (RK&M) Across Generations (RK&M Initiative) was launched by the NEA Radioactive Waste Management Committee (RWMC) to meet the demand from member countries for exchange and reflection in this area, including the formulation of common approaches. The scope of the RK&M Initiative is encapsulated in how, through RK&M preservation, it may be possible to reduce the likelihood of inadvertent human intrusion and to support the capacities of future members of society to make their own informed decisions regarding a radioactive waste repository after closure. These aims were addressed in three defined periods related to the anticipated level of human oversight:

  • short term – until closure of the facility, with full oversight
  • medium term – after closure, for as long as oversight is exercised
  • long term – after closure, when oversight is lost

The project takes into account two parallel strategies: mediated transmission, in which the message/record is passed on from one generation to another and non-mediated transmission, in which the message/record is developed to be delivered directly (and in its original format) from the present time to the future receiver.

The RK&M initiative started in 2011 with its first expansive phase ending in March 2014. This phase of the work was characterised by scoping workshops and project studies and concluded with a major international conference, held at Verdun in France. RWMC decided to continue the initiative until 2017, later extended it to April 2018. This second phase of work focused on developing practical tools for implementing the preservation of RK&M and concluded the work with a suite of project deliverables. Twenty-one organisations from 14 countries, representing implementing agencies, regulators, policy makers, R&D institutions and international and archiving agencies, plus the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), contributed to the work.

Project outcomes

Preventing future generations from unnecessary interference with the repository and supporting future societies to make informed decisions about the repository, imply two different tasks. The first requires maintaining awareness of the repository, whereas the second requires preserving detailed knowledge of the repository. Clearly, different levels of detail and complexity are needed.

The project concluded that there is no single mechanism or technique that, by itself, is likely to achieve the preservation of RK&M over all timescales. Rather, an integrated set of technical, administrative and societal mechanisms is needed, using both mediated and non-mediated transmission, which increases the survivability of a recognisable message. The RK&M initiative refers to this philosophy as a 'systemic strategy of RK&M preservation'.

The project created a toolbox that can be accessed, adapted and combined to suit national needs. This consists of a set of 9 approaches, comprised of a set of 35 mechanisms. Each of these is described in a comprehensive, structured and standardised format. Two of these mechanisms are novel concepts: 1) the key information file (KIF),  designed to be a summary file (about 40 pages) for wide dissemination and use; and 2) the set of essential records (SER) consists of a dedicated set of records, with the selection based on anticipated future needs.

The RK&M initiative concluded with a series of final deliverables as seen below: the overarching results, including the toolbox, being reported in the final report of the RK&M initiative; the KIF and the SER concepts are explained in more detail in their own reports. Through these publications, tools have been provided for the wider community to pick up and implement RK&M preservation strategies in a national context.

Constructing Memory conference

The RK&M initiative organised, with support from Andra, the International Conference and Debate on the Preservation of Records, Knowledge and Memory of Radioactive Waste across Generations. This was held in September 2014 in Verdun and brought together nearly 200 attendees from 17 countries. The conference was the first of its kind and provided insights and stimuli for further work in this area to the many audiences that participated in it. For more information about the conference, please visit the conference web page and download the conference proceedings.

Members' area

Last reviewed: 6 July 2020

Constructing Memory conference

Radioactive Waste Management and Constructing Memory for Future Generations coverProceedings

Conference page