This month marks the two-year anniversary of a Deep Isolation milestone that’s worth pausing to reflect upon as we’re setting our 2021 goals.
As recently as 2018, nuclear industry professionals had dismissed the idea that a newcomer could help solve the nuclear waste problem, a serious environmental challenge that has yet to be addressed globally.
But on Jan. 16, 2019, we took our first significant leap forward in overcoming such skepticism when we became the first private company to successfully demonstrate publicly to an invited cross-section of government officials, NGOs and investors the emplacement and retrieval of a prototype nuclear waste canister in a test drillhole about half a mile underground.
The first step of the technology demonstration was the early dawn emplacement of the canister. In this phase, we showed it is possible to successfully lower a narrow long canister deep underground and push it horizontally into place.
The biggest test was the final stage — retrieval. I still remember the look of pride on the face of our CEO Liz Muller later that night when the mechanical tractor emerged from the drillhole with the canister securely attached — something that at least some in the nuclear industry thought couldn’t be done.
“This proves definitively that canisters deep underground in horizontal drillholes are indeed retrievable,” Muller said as the canister was rose from the ground. “We just did it.” To date, our video of this demonstration has more than 43,000 views.
Deep boreholes have long been used by oil and gas, and vertical boreholes had been considered for possible nuclear waste disposal, but we demonstrated a concept to use directional drilling to extend the vertical borehole horizontally to safely isolate the radioactive waste under multiple rock barriers far below the earth’s surface.
From Demonstrating Technology to Demonstrating Safety
While we were happy that day in Cameron, Texas, we knew that such a demonstration was only the beginning. We knew that to build a successful nuclear waste disposal company we would have to overcome many hurdles, including regulatory barriers, building community support and studying safety.
The fact that such a demonstration was even able to take place showed we were learning how to build public support networks. We made new friends in this town 75 miles northeast of Austin, and we are using that experience to continue engaging with people from around the world who are concerned about nuclear waste.
Because only a few dozen people could attend in person, we later hosted a webinar to answer questions and share with a wider audience exactly what took place and why.
On the safety front, a little more than a year later we released our first computer-modeled safety analysis: a set of post-closure radiological safety calculations for a generic horizontal drillhole repository sited in shale.
We continued on a positive 2020 trajectory, winning our first several customer contracts and closing out a $20 million Series A raise that shows there’s a strong appetite among individual cleantech investors for technologies that advance solutions that address nuclear waste.
Looking Ahead to 2021
We plan in 2021 to secure additional contracts with governments and the advanced nuclear industry to study whether our deep borehole disposal solution meets their unique needs. Just last week we blogged about a new in-depth Electric Power Research Institute study of the feasibility of a deep borehole solution, and we expect to soon announce the results of a geology study conducted for an Estonian advanced reactor company.
We also recently published a paper in the independent journal Energies detailing the safety calculations for an unsealed deep horizontal borehole containing nuclear waste.
To further help governments and advanced reactor organizations worldwide better understand how our solution can work for them, we can now test and demonstrate our solution using the testing facility of our technical advisor, Schlumberger, a world-leading oilfield service provider.
If you want to know more, just let us know!