Historical relationship between performance assessment for radioactive waste disposal and other types of risk assessment

Risk Anal. 1999 Oct;19(5):763-807. doi: 10.1023/a:1007058325258.


This article describes the evolution of the process for assessing the hazards of a geologic disposal system for radioactive waste and, similarly, nuclear power reactors, and the relationship of this process with other assessments of risk, particularly assessments of hazards from manufactured carcinogenic chemicals during use and disposal. This perspective reviews the common history of scientific concepts for risk assessment developed until the 1950s. Computational tools and techniques developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s to analyze the reliability of nuclear weapon delivery systems were adopted in the early 1970s for probabilistic risk assessment of nuclear power reactors, a technology for which behavior was unknown. In turn, these analyses became an important foundation for performance assessment of nuclear waste disposal in the late 1970s. The evaluation of risk to human health and the environment from chemical hazards is built on methods for assessing the dose response of radionuclides in the 1950s. Despite a shared background, however, societal events, often in the form of legislation, have affected the development path for risk assessment for human health, producing dissimilarities between these risk assessments and those for nuclear facilities. An important difference is the regulator's interest in accounting for uncertainty.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Decision Theory
  • Hazardous Waste / adverse effects
  • Hazardous Waste / history
  • Hazardous Waste / legislation & jurisprudence
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Power Plants / history
  • Probability Theory
  • Radioactive Hazard Release
  • Radioactive Waste / adverse effects*
  • Radioactive Waste / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Risk Assessment / history*
  • United States
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency / history
  • United States Food and Drug Administration / history
  • Waste Management / history


  • Hazardous Waste
  • Radioactive Waste