Nuclear Professional Group Says U.S. Should Study Horizontal Borehole Solution

Earlier this year, pre-coronavirus — which seems like a lifetime ago — the American Nuclear Society (ANS) released a brief called “A Proposal for Progress on Nuclear Waste Management,” a set of recommendations to organizations responsible for handling nuclear waste, including the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Usually “progress” and “waste management” aren’t found in the same sentence without some type of satire, but this proposal makes exceptionally relevant recommendations when some are idling and/or simply looking back.

Two items are particularly notable for being forward-thinking. The ANS is recommending that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Develop up-to-date, risk-based, generic standards for siting and licensing a geologic repository; and enhance high-level waste transportation planning, outreach and infrastructure development.

Of course, as the Director of Legislative Affairs for Deep Isolation and an ANS member since 2006, I’m excited the organization is suggesting that the U.S. explore more regulatory options for horizontal drillholes, but there’s more to it than that.

This policy brief recognizes that what our country has been doing — vacillating on the Yucca Mountain repository — hasn’t been serving our citizens or this issue well. Whether you believe in nuclear power or not, I know most would agree we need to properly dispose of the waste material in a responsible, legal, ethical and environmentally conscious way. 

ANS Policy Brief Recommendations

1. Reestablish the Department of Energy Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM);

American Nuclear Society Image Logo
The American Nuclear Society has published a brief that suggests the U.S. include deep horizontal boreholes as a potential solution for disposing of nuclear waste.

2. Develop up-to-date, risk-based, generic standards for siting and licensing a geologic repository in the United States;

3. Enhance U.S. high-level waste (HLW) transportation planning, outreach and infrastructure development;

4. Mandate that the DOE identify the steps required to restart a repository program and estimate the associated timelines and costs. The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board should then review the report for Congress;

5. Assess the ability of advanced reactors and alternate fuel cycles to address waste disposal challenges;

6. Continue research and development supporting long-term storage and subsequent transportation of used nuclear fuel;

7. Commission a National Academy of Sciences study of HLW management case histories in the United States and around the world. Identify best practices for communicating to the public about the real level of risk associated with HLW; and

8. Commission a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study on sustainable funding for HLW management.

We should continue to work with states and local communities to address transportation and routing, planning and training of emergency personnel and make sure all spent nuclear fuel can actually get to its nearest railhead. This is important work that has a significant stakeholder component and should be a focus of any DOE efforts.

Additionally, it makes sense that the NRC and Environmental Protection Agency will be working together to be forward-thinking as they update regulations to meet current scientific standards and merits. This way, when the market produces options for the deployment of back-end options, we have a regulatory scheme that is structured and known.  

Simply put, regulatory uncertainty will certainly continue to delay success in an area so in need of a win. 

So hats off to ANS, an organization that is leading with sureness at a time when it is desperately needed. 

I have always been proud to be part of a professional association that is thoughtful and pragmatic, technical and science-based and committed to progress over politics. As a student of the back-end of the fuel cycle, which I might add must be considered and completed to have a cycle at all, I was thrilled and encouraged to read this most recent brief on waste management.

I’m pretty proud of the people and groups I work and associate with, and today ANS is right at the top.

Blog by Liz Muller, April 27, 2020

Hope for a Small Business in the Time of Coronavirus

Running a startup during a pandemic isn’t something even my most experienced mentors have ever faced, and it certainly is not a pursuit for the faint of heart. 

The COVID-19 crisis and “shelter-at-home” orders that abruptly shut down our Berkeley, Calif., headquarters were something I never could have anticipated in my five-year journey to build a company to dispose of nuclear waste. 

The crisis struck just as our growth trajectory was ascending. We had achieved several significant milestones in 2019 and early 2020: A live physical demonstration where we emplaced (and retrieved) a prototype nuclear waste canister in a horizontal drillhole; the kick-off of our Series A raise to secure $10-15 million from venture investors; and the publication of a technical report detailing our initial findings of generic post-closure radiological safety calculations of a horizontal drillhole repository for spent nuclear fuel.

Then suddenly we found ourselves in a whole new world: Worrying about the health and safety of friends, colleagues and family members; adjusting to a 100 percent virtual workforce; trying to keep morale up when mine was being tested; and tightening our financial belts as we watched investors move into crisis-management mode.

Thankfully we did not have all of our eggs in a Series A basket, and we are in a good position. Our sales efforts had already been deployed worldwide, and as a result, amidst the grim realities of coronavirus, we have multiple victories for which to be grateful.

New EPRI Contract Proves Demand for our Expertise

A traditional nuclear power plant with a drilling rig on site for waste disposal.
This illustration depicts a traditional nuclear power plant with a drilling rig on site that would be used to permanently dispose of nuclear waste in deep horizontal boreholes.

Although we are not yet talking publicly about the work we are doing with governments, today we announced our first non-governmental project: We are working with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) to assess the feasibility of onsite horizontal deep borehole disposal for the siting of advanced nuclear energy systems.  We will collaborate with EPRI, the Nuclear Energy Institute, Auburn University, J Kessler and Associates and Southern Company. We are pleased to share this positive news, and we are confident that we’ll be making more announcements like this as our visibility continues to increase.

The feasibility study will discuss physical site characteristics, disposal operations, safety performance analysis, regulatory and licensing considerations and will outline an approach to understanding and building public support, which is a critical element of success.

The world needs options such as Deep Isolation, and this study will equip us with valuable knowledge that we can use for future site-specific work.

My sense, given the conversations I’ve had over the past few weeks, is that government officials, nuclear experts and investors are not losing sight of the long game. While we are all in crisis-management mode due to COVID-19 and related shutdowns, there is a strong appetite to do the right thing. The right thing to do is to move forward with nuclear waste disposal, and I am proud to be part of this process.  

While our hearts are saddened by the unimaginable losses that the world is experiencing, our spirits are strong.  We will lean into the future so we can be a post COVID-19 business success story and a leader in nuclear waste disposition. Our environment and our communities need us to do so.

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