Preservation of Records, Knowledge and Memory (RK&M) across generations is essential for responsible long-term radioactive waste management.
The Final Report of the OECD RK&M Initiative says: "Radioactive waste repositories are designed to isolate waste from the living environment without human intervention over extended periods of time. Nevertheless, the intention is not to abandon the repositories, but to provide the oversight that is necessary to ensure that they are not forgotten by society. In response to this challenge, the Nuclear Energy Agency launched the international initiative “Preservation of Records, Knowledge and Memory (RK&M) Across Generations”."
Earlier, a workshop organized by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) examined this topic. The 1997 UNESCO Declaration on the Responsibilities of the Present Generations towards Future Generations says “the present generations have the responsibility of ensuring that the needs and interests of present and future generations are fully safeguarded”.
Some principles that emerged from that workshop follow:
Radioactive waste is an iconic example [of the UNESCO Declaration]. By striving to maintain and provide access to records as well as to allow knowledge to persist or be reconstituted if lost, and by propagating the memory of these legacies we will fulfil our responsibility to enable future members of society to make knowledgeable decisions. Our responsibility extends over centuries and millennia, as long as these legacies will last.
Enabling future members of society to make knowledgeable decisions is part of responsible, ethically sound management of environmental and other impacts of the legacies we leave behind.
The relevant institutions should plan for continuing oversight. This is also in line with a prudent approach for protecting health and safety.
Preparing for future RK&M preservation is best addressed while a project leading to a legacy is being planned, designed, implemented and funded.
The long operational phase of some of these projects creates opportunities for the development of inclusive and workable RK&M strategies.
Throughout the operational phase institutional stakeholders must prepare for any stage when their own roles will be reduced and responsibilities will be transferred to others.
Collaborations with other bodies in various sectors in society, both nationally and internationally, provide important benefits.
In conclusion, preserving Knowledge, Records and Memory of Radioactive Waste is among the most important obligations of government, the regulator, and waste owners with regards to radioactive waste disposal facilities. Radioactive waste "disposal" does not remove this obligation. "Disposal" facilities cannot be abandoned. Continuing oversight is needed to ensure they are not forgotten by society.