Radioactive waste: Where to put it?

Oct 27, 2013

As the U.S. makes new plans for disposing of spent nuclear fuel and other high-level radioactive waste deep underground, geologists are key to identifying safe burial sites and techniques. Scientists at The Geological Society of America (GSA) meeting in Denver will describe the potential of shale formations; challenges of deep borehole disposal; and their progress in building a computer model to help improve understanding of the geologic processes that are important for safe disposal of high-level waste.

In the United States, about 70,000 metric tons of spent commercial nuclear fuel are located at more than 70 sites in 35 states. Shales and other clay-rich (argillaceous) rocks have never been seriously considered for holding America's spent , but it is different overseas. France, Switzerland, and Belgium are planning to put waste in tunnels mined out of shale formations, and Canada, Japan, and the United Kingdom are evaluating the idea.

At the GSA meeting, U.S. Geological Survey hydrogeology expert C.E. Neuzil of Reston, Virginia, will report that some shales are so impermeable that there is little risk of radioactivity from buried nuclear waste reaching ground or surface water.

"This is usually difficult to demonstrate," Neuzil says, "but some shales have natural groundwater pressure anomalies that can be analyzed—as if they were permeability tests—on a very large scale." This capability was shown recently at the Bruce Nuclear Site, explains Neuzil, a proposed low/intermediate waste repository 1,200 feet underground in Ontario, Canada. Argillaceous rocks have additional attractive qualities, Neuzil says: They are common, voluminous, and tend to be tectonically quiet—meaning no earthquakes to crack the walls of a fuel-rod burial chamber.

Another disposal option for nuclear waste is deep boreholes. The 2012 presidential Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future recommended more research, and the U.S. Department of Energy is now developing an R&D plan. However, the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (NWTRB) has statutory responsibility for evaluating the technical validity of DOE's nuclear waste activities, and is on the record with the position that deep boreholes present many technical challenges and studying them "should not delay higher priority research on a mined geologic repository."

At next week's GSA meeting, Review Board senior staff professional Bret W. Leslie and Stanford University geophysicist Mary Lou Zoback, an NWTRB member, will present the board's assessment of:

  • the technical feasibility of drilling a borehole of the proposed depth (3 miles) and width (about 20 inches), which has never been done;
  • the exposure risk for workers, who would have to repackage waste currently stored in canisters that are wider than the width of the proposed boreholes;
  • the reliability of existing sealing technology; and
  • the large number of deep boreholes that would be required—nearly 700.

Whether nuclear waste winds up in tunnels, boreholes or both, the planning will be helped by new analytical tools. One is a new computer model that will evaluate the behavior of various forms of , and containers and barriers, if stored in various rocks. The model is being developed under the auspices of the Center for Nuclear Waste Regulatory Analyses (CNWRA), the NRC's federally funded research and development center, and will be described at the GSA meeting by NRC performance analyst Jin-Ping Gwo.

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More information: gsa.confex.com/gsa/2013AM/webp… am/Session32767.html

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User comments : 15

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ReallyWannaKnow
5 / 5 (3) Oct 27, 2013
Whenever there's a discussion about the "costs" and "benefits" of nuclear energy, why is this elephant-in-the-room of storage not mentioned? Regardless of how inexpensive the produced energy might be, if the costs of cleaning up their mess are not included, then it's just another case of smoke and mirrors.
Scottingham
3.3 / 5 (6) Oct 27, 2013
why not use it? The waste we make now is 98% fertile material. There are numerous reactor designs that can utilize this 'waste'. The waste after then only lasts a few decades, versus millions of years...http://en.wikiped...mplifier (combo reactor/particle accelerator)
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (12) Oct 27, 2013
Japan figures the Pacific is where they should put their waste.
http://enenews.co...-a-while
qquax
4 / 5 (4) Oct 27, 2013
Scottingham makes a good point, and some of the reactors specifically designed for treating nuclear waste have the added benefit of being sub-critical, after successful scaled down experiments there's now going to be an inustrial prototype reactor build in Belgium: http://wavewatchi...es-away/
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.4 / 5 (5) Oct 27, 2013
"Subduction zones have also been considered as possible disposal sites for nuclear waste, in which the action of subduction itself would carry the material into the planetary mantle, safely away from any possible influence on humanity or the surface environment."

-So why not do this?

"However, this method of disposal is currently banned by international agreement."

-Oh, thats why.

Processing, packaging, and boring will be easy with the advent of robotics and AI. Why not bore into subduction zones? Perhaps you wouldnt have to drill so deep-
Jeddy_Mctedder
1 / 5 (14) Oct 27, 2013
stop 'researching' just put the spent fuel in dry casks using a mobile casking unit that simply takes fuel rods and casks them on site. future generations will figure out where to store the casks. more than 10 billion was spent on yuka mountain , maybe all 10 billion was a fraud and they knew it would never be used. the point is-----we are too corrupt to bury the waste long term, lets agree to dry cask it NOW. no more 'studies' are needed. only action.

http://www.washin...ima.html
Wolf358
5 / 5 (2) Oct 27, 2013
ReallyWannaKnow:
Whenever there's a discussion about the "costs" and "benefits" of nuclear energy, why is this elephant-in-the-room of storage not mentioned? Regardless of how inexpensive the produced energy might be, if the costs of cleaning up their mess are not included, then it's just another case of smoke and mirrors.


I suspect that nuclear power is _only_ economical if the plant owners never have to pay for cleanup, de-commissioning, and storage of waste, which means passing those costs on to the taxpayer.
cantdrive85
1.4 / 5 (14) Oct 27, 2013
This is just one more thing Alfven was correct about, he wrote about it in 'The Great Computer: A Vision'. For many years Sweden avoided nuclear power solely due to Alfven's position.

BTW, Fukushima has ended sushi consumption for me, Fukun assholes!

alfie_null
4 / 5 (2) Oct 28, 2013
BTW, Fukushima has ended sushi consumption for me, Fukun assholes!

Is your understanding cooking seafood cleans it of radioactive contamination?
omatwankr
1 / 5 (11) Oct 28, 2013
"Is your understanding cooking seafood cleans it of radioactive contamination?"

If you cook it with plasma, yes :)
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Oct 28, 2013
nuclear power is _only_ economical if the plant owners never have to pay for cleanup, de-commissioning, and storage of waste, which means passing those costs on to the taxpayer.

It's one of the hidden subsidies. Much like the cost of environmental (and health) impacts of fossil fuels are left to the taxpayer.

As for using different reactor types. Those don't solve the problem. You still have radioactive waste left over. They are not magic 'radiation removal boxes'.
Eikka
1.4 / 5 (9) Oct 28, 2013
It's one of the hidden subsidies. Much like the cost of environmental (and health) impacts of fossil fuels are left to the taxpayer.


Don't forget that the original plan was to reprocess and re-use all used fuel in breeder reactors, thereby dealing away with the waste while making a profit on it. The cost of dealing away with the waste -was- factored in the plans, until it was prohibited for political reasons, and now hippies are chaining themselves to railway tracks to stop transporting the waste to processing in countries that still allow it.

Those don't solve the problem. You still have radioactive waste left over.


The problem of nuclear waste is its quantity, not the fact that it's nuclear waste. For the remaining waste, we can bury it safely away at little cost -IF- we allow ourselves to.

They are not magic 'radiation removal boxes'.


Actually, some of them are. Forced fission will eventually reduce the waste to inert lead.
Eikka
1.6 / 5 (7) Oct 29, 2013
The whole subsidy argument is a huge red herring anyways. All forms of energy have recieved subsidies at one time or another, in one form or another.

The real question is, how many watt-hours of energy did we get for that money, and that's where the huge fudge factor for renewable energy subsidies is, because there's such a large disrepancy between installed capacity and actual energy produced.

Sanescience
2 / 5 (4) Nov 02, 2013
Fission energy is a sad story of a 50s era water cooled "thermal" reactor designed to breed weapons grade actinides and a canceled reactor designed to consumed actinides and make power. Scientists and the Carter administration knew that America needed a reactor designed for power production. They made it but protesters and politics killed it.
America should have been an industrial leader in clean nuclear power.

Now the world is where America was in the 60s building dozens of themal reactors. What a big cluster f**k!

http://www.pbs.or...ill.html
Sanescience
3 / 5 (2) Nov 03, 2013
Could someone who disagrees with the information above give me some feed back as to what they think is wrong with it?

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