LONDON — New research shows there is growing interest worldwide in the advancement of deep borehole disposal as a solution for nuclear waste.
Deep boreholes offer a scalable, modular, and economical disposal solution for spent nuclear fuel and vitrified high-level waste, particularly for countries with smaller waste inventories or those with waste products which may compromise the safety case for a mined facility.
A 12-month study that Deep Isolation conducted with geologic disposal expert Prof. Neil A. Chapman of the University of Sheffield revealed that those surveyed (80 percent) agree overwhelmingly that the next best step for advancing this option is a (non-radioactive) demonstration of the end-to-end technology.
This research, early results of which were preliminarily shared at the IAEA Waste Management conference in November, will be presented in full at Waste Management Symposia in March. It’s based on interviews and surveys of members of the regulatory, policy and waste management sectors from 18 countries. Seventy-seven percent of those surveyed said they believe boreholes potentially have a significant role to play thanks to benefits including choice and flexibility coupled with cost and time savings.
The study looked at benefits and challenges associated with deep borehole disposal, including community acceptance and potential policy/regulatory and operational/technical challenges that remain to be addressed.
Smaller waste inventories of spent fuel and/or vitrified high-level waste (for example fuel from research reactors or from a single nuclear power plant) were seen as the most likely to benefit from boreholes. However, more than half of respondents also believed that borehole disposal is likely to be suitable, at least to some extent, for both small and large inventories. As one survey respondent said, “There’s a lot of work that demonstrates that potential usefulness is there for the U.S.A, for Germany — and therefore obviously for all nations.”
When it comes to challenges, research participants most commonly cited: the need for a large-scale demonstration to validate the safety case and demonstrate the technology; a lack of understanding and evidence about societal attitudes toward borehole repositories; and the relative immaturity of international guidance on developing and assessing the safety case for such repositories.
More than half said they did not know whether deep boreholes would have an advantage in terms of community acceptability – although many said that on a ‘personal gut feel’ basis they felt this option would and saw this as a priority for more detailed societal research.
“Even if you had a 100 percent confidence that it would work as designed, I don’t think people would be comfortable until it actually been used,” said one study participant. ”So I think you would have to actually demonstrate the technology in order to gain acceptance by the entire community.”
Deep Isolation completed a successful one-time demonstration of its technology in 2019 and is committed to working with the international community this year to launch the planning process to build a long-term demonstration facility.
Liz Muller, CEO of Deep Isolation, said, “We plan to use full publication of the final results of this research at Waste Management 2022 as an opportunity to kick-start a global conversation about how the public and private sectors can come together to demonstrate definitively how this technology works in practice. The demand is clear, and as a company we are committed to responding to the challenge.”
About Deep Isolation
Deep Isolation is a leading global innovator in nuclear waste storage and disposal solutions. Driven by a passion for environmental stewardship and scientific ingenuity, the company’s patented solution of advanced nuclear technologies enables global delivery through its partnerships with industry leaders as well as flexible IP licensing options.