A discussion was presented of the role and relative importance of the disturbed rock zone (DRZ) around the underground openings of a repository for nuclear waste in crystalline rock. The term disturbed rock zone was defined and possible criteria to be sued to distinguish if from undisturbed rock was suggested. The processes decisive for the hydraulic characteristics of the DRZ were discussed. With regard to the integral hydraulic characteristics of the DRZ, the effects of the excavation methodology, stress redistribution, thermal changes, chemical changes and backfill were discussed. A review of in-situ observations of the DRZ was provided. Model analysis where the DRZ has been explicitly or implicitly represented, either from a phenomenological and performance assessment aspect were reviewed. The implications of the disturbed rock zone for the safe performance of a nuclear waste repository were discussed. Conceptual models for the geometry of the DRZ and hydraulic conductivity distribution in the DRZ were suggested. (au) (82 refs.).