Managing Liability: Comparing Radioactive Waste Disposal and Carbon Dioxide Storage

Elizabeth J Wilson, Sara Bergan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


Liability issues are a major concern for final disposal of radioactive waste (RW) and for geological storage of carbon dioxide (CO2). We develop a list of overarching questions that drive liability and present a discussion of where managing liability for geological CO2 storage and RW disposal is fundamentally different and where it is similar. Governments have been trying to manage high-level RW from civilian reactors for over 40 years and there are ample lessons in the interplay between technology, policy, politics and society that are relevant for both future nuclear energy and geological CO2 storage projects. We examine the history of managing liability for RW using case studies on Germany, France, Finland and the USA to better understand how liability for RW is currently structured. We compare this to potential liabilities for geological CO2 storage and outline current proposals for managing liability in the US and European Union. From this, we develop ‘lessons learned’ from past management of RW that could help to both structure liability and ultimately deploy future RW and geological CO2 storage projects. We conclude that while establishment of a legal framework is important for future development of nuclear energy and geological CO2 storage, it is insufficient to guarantee deployment. Rather, legal liability is embedded within a larger socio-political context and addressing these broader concerns is vital for future RW disposal and geological CO2 storage deployment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAdvances in Global Change Research
PublisherSpringer International Publishing
Number of pages32
StatePublished - 2011

Publication series

NameAdvances in Global Change Research
ISSN (Print)1574-0919
ISSN (Electronic)2215-1621

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Further regulation of nuclear installations, transport and long-term disposal of RW continues to be negotiated in EU directive proposals (see, for example, the packaged ‘Amended proposal for a Council Directive (Euratom) laying down basic obligations and general principles on the safety of nuclear installations’ and ‘Amended proposal for a Council Directive (Euratom) on the safe management of the spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste’ (EC 2004), but progress toward agreement has been slow (Cameron 2007)). In April 2009, the European Parliament adopted a newly negotiated resolution on a proposal for a Council Directive (Euratom) setting up a ‘Community framework for nuclear safety’ (EP 2009b). Meanwhile the EC established a research project aimed at feasibility studies for regional long-term geological disposal of RW in Europe (SAPIERR I) which concluded that regional international waste management facilities would be particularly economically beneficial for countries with small nuclear programmes or no suitable geological formations (Dietze 2004; SAPIERR Project 2008). A second phase of the project, SAPIERR II, currently under way, is aimed at creating the framework for a European Development Corporation which would work with national waste agencies on regional waste facilities (SAPIERR Project 2008). While any country would retain the right to dispose of RW domestically (and some currently require it by law), Article 4, Number 6 of the Draft Directive on the Management of Spent Nuclear Fuel and Radioactive Waste acknowledges the need for shared repositories in the EU (Dietze 2004). How liability for RW could be partitioned within a shared repository is still unclear.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2011, Springer Science+Business Media B.V.


  • Carbon capture and storage
  • Comparative analysis
  • Geological storage
  • Liability
  • Radioactive waste


Dive into the research topics of 'Managing Liability: Comparing Radioactive Waste Disposal and Carbon Dioxide Storage'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this