A simple evaluation can be used to characterize the capacity of crystalline bedrock to act as a barrier to release radionuclides from a nuclear waste repository. Physically plausible bounds on groundwater flow and an effective transport-resistance parameter are estimated based on fundamental principles and idealized models of pore geometry. Application to an intensively characterized site in Sweden shows that, due to high spatial variability and uncertainty regarding properties of transport paths, the uncertainty associated with the geological barrier is too high to allow meaningful discrimination between good and poor performance. Application of more complex (stochastic-continuum and discrete-fracture-network) models does not yield a significant improvement in the resolution of geological barrier performance. Comparison with seven other less intensively characterized crystalline study sites in Sweden leads to similar results, raising a question as to what extent the geological barrier function can be characterized by state-of-the art site investigation methods prior to repository construction. A simple evaluation provides a simple and robust practical approach for inclusion in performance assessment.