Blog by Joe Payer, Corrosion and Reliability Engineer

The “Right Stuff” for Nuclear Waste Disposal Canisters

The metal canisters that will hold the spent fuel or other high-level nuclear waste are part of Deep Isolation’s engineered barrier system; the canisters directly protect the waste from mechani­cal impact, exposure to the chemical environment, and contact with fluids. One of the key decisions then, to ensure the canister’s usefulness as a barrier, is the choice of material used. Our material selection process began with an extensive analysis of the peer-reviewed literature, over the course of months, which of course included examining test results and recorded observations and measurements. I was the lead as a senior corrosion engineer, but the entire technical team helped vet the choice of best material. Our decision is to use highly corrosion-resistant nickel-chromium-molybdenum (Ni-Cr-Mo) alloys which are very stable in the deep underground environment. These alloys also have high strength and are readily fabricable by conventional methods. My paper, “Corrosion-Resistant Alloy Canisters for Nuclear Waste Disposal in Horizontal Drillholes,” summarizes the technical basis for our selection of these alloys and gives both the experimental analysis and real-world experience on performance in a wide range of highly corrosive applications.

Deep Isolation Canister Cross-Section
Cross-section of the canister containing a fuel assembly.

How can we be sure that Ni-Cr-Mo alloys are the best choice for the long time periods needed? The answer lies in the fact that these alloys are passive, that is, they are protected by a self-forming and self-healing film if damaged either chemically or mechanically. This passive film is an extremely thin layer of a chromium-rich oxide, essentially a ceramic material. The general corrosion rates of the passive Ni-Cr-Mo alloy are extremely low; it would take 17,500 years for this type of corrosion to penetrate to the thickness of a quarter, and the canister’s thickness is equivalent to 5-6 quarters.

Corrosion of canister equal to 1 quarter after 17,500 years.
Canister thickness equivalent to 5-6 quarters.

The Ni-Cr-Mo alloys also have high resistance to the localized corrosion processes of pitting, crevice corrosion and stress-corrosion cracking. Alloy 22, one of the Ni-Cr-Mo alloys, is among the most resistant to microbially-induced corrosion; its MIC resistance has been examined under a range of conditions with no evidence of surface damage. Galvanic corrosion also needs to be taken into account and will be addressed when considering the effects of the Ni-Cr-Mo alloy upon the other metals incorporated in the repository, the relative surface areas and the conductivity of filler materials, and the pore waters present in the rock.

A number of beneficial attributes of disposal in deep horizontal drillholes reduce the complexity of corrosion analysis and contribute to our conclusions regarding the high performance of Ni-Cr-Mo alloy canisters.

Read more in my technical paper that has been recently accepted by Energies, a peer-reviewed journal.

Blog by Mary Woollen, Director of Community Engagement

Nuclear Waste. Would you like it here or there?

Green Eggs and Ham

I would not like it
Here or there.
I would not like it
Anywhere.

Nuclear waste.  It has been with us for over six decades with nowhere to go.  The first nuclear power plants came online in the United States in the 1950s. The push at the time was to get the plants operational and address the production of nuclear waste as a problem to be solved thereafter. It is now 60 years later and the questions of when, where, how, and for some even why, continues.

Many believe that it is morally wrong to continue production of nuclear power as long as there is no certain path for its disposal.  Others are advocates of nuclear power who believe it can be safely stored while we work to solve the problem. And then there are those (like me) who believe the problem needs to be addressed and solved regardless of whether the nuclear plant switch is on or off.

Unless you have been “in the dark or on a train” you are aware of the fact that there is no present workable solution to dispose of our nation’s growing inventories of nuclear waste.  Around 90,000 metric tons and growing.  There have been policies and plans set in motion to do so, but they have all been stalled primarily for social and political reasons.

In the U.S. as well as in other countries faced with this problem, the scientific consensus is that the best disposal solution for the waste is in a deep underground repository.  Although this is the goal most are pursuing, there is not one high-level waste repository to date that is operational. Finland is the closest to doing so at the Onkalo facility, but even that is not assured.

I have been in some conversations this past year in which people are floating some alternative means of disposal. And why wouldn’t they be – it has been a half-century since the first method was chosen.  These ideas range from shooting it to the moon, burying it in the deep seabed, disposing it in the Antarctic Ice Sheet, isolating it on a desert island, pitching it into a volcano.  I kid you not. 

I would not, could not, in a volcano.
Not in an Ice Sheet. Not on a moon.
Not on an island, not in the deep sea.
I do not like it, Sam, you see.

As far-fetched as they may seem, these and other options were all considered for the management and disposal of spent fuel.  This review of alternatives began in 1957, when the first National Academies study on the subject was published, to 1982 when the Nuclear Waste Policy Act put the choice of disposal in a mined deep geologic repository into law.   

There is no basis to challenge the finding that a suitable geologic environment at depth provides the most sound and secure means of isolating the waste, but options old and new deserve to be re-examined.  Technology and innovation have solved lots of age-old problems and it would seem only reasonable that there is additional knowledge to consider.

The logic would be that if we can refresh and defend the most viable option(s) we could bring renewed legitimacy to the task of disposing of waste and a societal issue that has not received its due. We then would need to apply all we have learned about how to best engage and collaborate with each other to find a suitable host location(s) to meet a commitment that we have grossly mishandled.

You do not like it.
So you say.
Try it! Try it!
And you may!

If the hunger is there, it is possible to serve up Green Eggs and Ham in a way that is socially responsible, technically feasible, and economically reasonable. And it may go down better than one may think. 

The End.

Blog by Zann Aeck, Marketing & Communications

Nuclear waste disposal demo – keeping the dialogue open

Recently, Liz Muller and I hosted a webinar about a public equipment demonstration that Deep Isolation conducted in January.   Our intent was to both re-engage people and groups with whom we’ve already connected and at the same time reach out to those not familiar with us. In doing so our goal was to share an important milestone not just as a company, but one for nuclear waste disposal in general. The outcome of this demonstration showed how today’s drilling technology can successfully be applied to deep geologic disposal of nuclear waste.

Liz began the session with a brief overview of the Deep Isolation technology and concept for implementing it to dispose of nuclear waste, and in doing so encouraged tough questions and input from all. She also highlighted the fact that in the months preceding the demonstration we met with the local community leaders on a few different occasions to get their full support. Liz then outlined the events of the public demonstration, spending time to show pictures of the prototype canister sized to fit the test facility’s drill hole and how it latches to the drilling rig.  Along with photos of the test facility, the canister lowering, and empty wireline surfacing, the play-by-play also featured a short clip that shows what we can’t see underground – how the canister rounds the wide curve and is pushed in place into the horizontal section. One of the highlights of the session featured comments from Jeremy Renshaw of EPRI who attended the demonstration.

To keep the session interactive, I asked Liz about 40 questions from the participants.  Questions covered topics such as geology, site analysis, monitoring, canister and fuel assembly specifications, comparisons with other solutions – both waste disposal and interim storage, regulatory standards, licensing, cost models, local community impact as well as our views on liability and responsibility for packaging the waste for disposal.

It is critical to our organization that we keep the lines of dialogue open with all groups that have a stake in nuclear waste disposal especially as we continue to move forward and gain significant ground in bringing a viable solution to a challenging market.

Blog by Rod Baltzer, COO of Deep Isolation

Nuclear waste disposal demonstration – both unique and mundane

On January 16, 2019, Deep Isolation demonstrated a portion of their nuclear waste disposal technology by using standard oil and gas equipment to emplace and then retrieve a mock disposal canister.  In some ways, the demonstration was a very important milestone that shows you can dispose of nuclear waste in a deep horizontal drill hole.  In another way, the technology already exists and is used daily in the oilfields.  I thought it was both – unique and mundane.

The U.S. has struggled to make progress on the disposal of high-level nuclear waste, particularly spent nuclear fuel, for over 30 years.  In 2016, the U.S. Department of Energy started a project to test the use of vertical boreholes to dispose of nuclear waste, but the project was abandoned as community concerns were not addressed.

Prior to the demonstration, we engaged with the local community, who knew we would not be disposing of radioactive materials. Without their support, we wouldn’t have been able to do the test.  This community engagement aspect is one of the most important aspects in nuclear and it was important that we got it right.  And we did!

The mundane was the technology.  We used a mock disposal canister that was sized to hold cesium capsules.  It was about 36 inches long and 4 inches wide, much smaller than a disposal canister for spent nuclear fuel.  The main aspect we wanted to test was the ability to use off-the-shelf oil and gas equipment to emplace and then retrieve a canister – regardless of size.  The oil and gas company was certain it would work as they had done similar operations many times.  And it did!

Maybe that’s what we need – mundane technology that was proven in another industry to work and apply it to nuclear waste disposal.  Maybe then we can make progress, but only if we do the important work of community engagement in the right way.

I’m part of Deep Isolation and we are here to do it right.  We look forward to continuing the discussion and progress toward the permanent disposal of nuclear waste.

Blog by Sam Brinton, Legislation Affairs

Update on Government Affairs this Year

This has been an exciting year for those of us working in the nuclear waste world! First and foremost, we continue to see bipartisan support and leadership to solve problems in this important and complicated policy matter. Many of us cheered the efforts by senators who earlier this spring passed the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act. The Act supports the efforts to have the NRC accept license applications from private companies for advanced nuclear reactors. It also allows the DOE to partner with such companies that so true public private partnerships can be formed in an effort to spur innovation and drive a solution that meets both the bottom line on cost and timetable. As someone who has been working on these issues for over a decade, I’m truly energized about the possibility of real solutions. It isn’t going to be easy – but the good work never is.

Deep Isolation is full steam ahead. We have brought on policy experts in all sorts of fields – siting, utility engagement, communications, and government affairs. Not to mention that we were started by true technical experts and masterminds. It’s fun to be part of the whole package.

Soon we will begin our work in communities, our goal is still “enthusiastic consent!” I know people will say it can’t be done, but just like we can prove the safety of human health and the environment in a Part 60 NRC license (which we will do!), we believe that a well educated and informed citizenry will be open to all options for proper management of this material that is currently in de facto permanent storage at sites all around the country. Did you know that 1/3 of us already live within an hour of this material right now?

Look for more blogs from me in the future! And as always, reach out at sam@deepisolation.com so we can be in touch.

The Deep Isolation Story

Founding father-daughter team and energy experts explain the origin, merits, and value that the Deep Isolation solution brings to the nuclear waste disposal issue.

Blog by Liz Muller, CEO

Liz’s story

Prior to forming Deep Isolation, I had never imagined myself working in the nuclear industry, let alone nuclear waste. I am a newcomer in a remarkably small field where everyone else seems to know one another. Well, now many of them already know about us.

The best problems are those that most people consider unsolvable, but which aren’t. It is unbelievable how many people warned us away from tackling the nuclear waste problem. Don’t we understand that our government isn’t functioning when it comes to nuclear waste? Don’t we understand that there hasn’t been any progress in over 30 years?

We took those warnings as an indication of opportunity. Despite the roadblocks set up by preconceived prejudices, I believe that the nuclear waste problem can be solved. Not only that, I believe it can be solved within the next few years. I will not pass on the problem to my two young children – the buck stops here.

Challenges are opportunities. We are doing something that has never been done before. And that’s much of what makes it so exciting.

At Berkeley Earth, I spent almost a decade tackling problems relating to global warming and air pollution. Those too are big problems, with vast amounts of misinformation and public confusion, disagreement among experts, and enormous political pressures. The key to a
solution on global warming is strict objectivity, innovation, and careful analysis of contentious data. Now Deep Isolation is bringing that objectivity, together with some fresh ideas, to the nuclear waste industry. We can draw on the vast advances made by the drilling industry over the past 30 years, together with a few new concepts of our own, to dramatically improve the
safety and reduce the cost of disposing of nuclear waste.

We don’t need to build vast centralized repositories with humans hauling highly radioactive waste underground. We can improve waste isolation by going deeper, while simultaneously decreasing the risks of transportation and exposure to workers.

One in three Americans currently lives within 50 miles of a nuclear waste repository. That’s because the current waste is stored temporary in cooling pools or in dry casks at nuclear reactors. Some communities are distressed by this situation, and the continued inability to
move forward with any central disposal site. In many cases, Deep Isolation can offer communities a safer solution: put the current waste a mile down, and do it soon (within a few years). Communities that prefer to wait for a central government repository can do so. But for sites that are unhappy with the existing options, we provide an additional choice.

If they choose to do so, we can work together to secure the waste already in their community under a billion tons of rock. We plan to seek not only “informed consent” (which I consider a bare minimum), but “enthusiastic partnership”. We can start with the waste at just one site. We expect that as other communities see what Deep Isolation can do, they will want to join in this approach.

We are making significant progress in clearing the legal/regulatory path to using the Deep Isolation approach. We believe that the US government will move to level the field. Deep Isolation can meet the current strict NRC standards for nuclear waste. In our own internal
reviews, we can be even more stringent.

Our government has failed to solve the nuclear waste problem. They keep struggling, but we know nobody in the field who expects them to provide a solution in the next twenty years. Deep Isolation is in this business to finally get the problem solved, and quickly.