Tag Archives: underground disposal of nuclear waste

Institutions Go Way But Not Nuclear Waste

The Trump administration  is asking Congress for money to resume work on the Yucca Mountain nulcear waste storage in Nevada.  But that may not end local opposition or a longstanding political stalemate. And in the meantime, nuclear plants are running out of room to store spent fuel….As the waste piles up, private companies are stepping in with their own solutions for the nation’s radioactive spent fuel. One is proposing a temporary storage site in New Mexico, and another is seeking a license for a site in Texas.

Most experts agree that what’s needed is a permanent site, like Yucca Mountain, that doesn’t require humans to manage it.  “Institutions go away,” says Edwin Lyman, acting director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “There’s no guarantee the owner will still be around for the duration of time when that waste remains dangerous, which is tens or hundreds of thousands of years.”

A California company says it has a viable plan for permanent storage. Deep Isolation wants to store spent fuel in holes drilled at least 1,000 feet underground in stable rock formations. The company says the waste would be separate from groundwater and in a place where it can’t hurt people.  “I like to imagine having a playground at the top of the Deep Isolation bore hole where my kids and I can go play,” says CEO Elizabeth Muller.  In November 2018, Muller’s company conducted a test north of Austin, Texas. Crews lowered an 80-pound canister into a drilled hole. It was a simulation, so no radioactive substances were involved. The goal was to determine whether they could also retrieve the canister.  The test was successful, and that’s important. Regulators require retrieval, because new technology could develop to better deal with the spent fuel. And the public is less likely to accept disposal programs that can’t be reversed, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Proving the waste can be retrieved may be the easy part. The bigger challenge is federal law, which doesn’t allow private companies to permanently store nuclear waste from power plants.  Current law also says all the waste should end up at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. By contrast, Deep Isolation’s technology would store waste at sites around the country, likely near existing nuclear power plants.

Jeff Brady, As Nuclear Waste Piles Up, Private Companies Pitch New Ways To Store It, NPR, Apr. 30, 2019

Japan’s Nuclear Waste

Japan seeks final resting place for highly radioactive nuclear waste…[W]ith a number of Japan’s nuclear reactors closed down for good in the wake of the Fukushima accident, the need for a permanent storage site is more pressing than ever.

The disaster, in which a 13-meter tsunami triggered by an off-shore earthquake crippled four reactors at the plant and caused massive amounts of radioactivity to escape into the atmosphere, also underlined just how seismically unstable the Japanese archipelago is and the need for the repository to be completely safe for 100,000 years.

“They have been trying to get this plan of the ground for years and one thing they tried was to offer money to any town or village that agreed to even undergo a survey to see if their location was suitable,” she said.  “There were a number of mayors who accepted the proposal because they wanted the money – even though they had no intention of ever agreeing to host the storage site – but the backlash from their constituents was fast and it was furious,” Smith added.  “In every case, those mayors reversed their decisions and the government has got nowhere,” she said. “But I fear that means that sooner or later they are just going to make a decision on a site and order the community to accept it.”

The security requirements of the facility will be exacting, the government has stated, and the site will need to be at least 300 meters beneath the surface in a part of the country that is not subject to seismic activity from active faults or volcanoes. It must also be safe from the effects of erosion and away from oil and coal fields. Another consideration is access and sites within 20 km of the coast are preferred.

The facility will need to be able to hold 25,000 canisters of vitrified high-level waste, while more waste will be produced as the nation’s nuclear reactors are slowly brought back online after being mothballed since 2011 for extensive assessments of their safety and ability to withstand a natural disaster on the same scale as the magnitude-9 earthquake that struck Fukushima.

When it is released, the government’s list is likely to include places in Tohoku and Hokkaido as among the most suitable sites, because both are relatively less populated than central areas of the country and are in need of revitalization efforts. Parts of Tohoku close to the Fukushima plant may eventually be chosen because they are still heavily contaminated with radiation from the accident.

Excerpts from Japan seeks final resting place for highly radioactive nuclear waste, Deutsche Welle, May 4, 2017

Isolating Nuclear Waste for 15 Billion Years

Professor Ashutosh Goel at Rutgers University is the primary inventor of a new method to immobilize radioactive iodine in ceramics at room temperature and six glass-related research projects …Developing ways to immobilize iodine-129 found in nuclear waste,...is crucial for its safe storage and disposal in underground geological formations. The half-life of iodine-129 is 15.7 million years, and it can disperse rapidly in air and water, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. If it’s released into the environment, iodine will linger for millions of years. Iodine targets the thyroid gland and can increase the chances of getting cancer.

Among Goel’s major funders is the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which oversees one of the world’s largest nuclear cleanups following 45 years of producing nuclear weapons. The national weapons complex once had 16 major facilities that covered vast swaths of Idaho, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee and Washington state, according to the DOE.

The agency says the Hanford site in southeastern Washington, which manufactured more than 20 million pieces of uranium metal fuel for nine nuclear reactors near the Columbia River, is its biggest cleanup challenge.  Hanford plants processed 110,000 tons of fuel from the reactors. Some 56 million gallons of radioactive waste – enough to fill more than 1 million bathtubs – went to 177 large underground tanks. As many as 67 tanks – more than one third – are thought to have leaked, the DOE says. The liquids have been pumped out of the 67 tanks, leaving mostly dried solids…

“What we’re talking about here is highly complex, multicomponent radioactive waste which contains almost everything in the periodic table,” Goel said. “What we’re focusing on is underground and has to be immobilized.”

One of his inventions involves mass producing chemically durable apatite minerals, or glasses, to immobilize iodine without using high temperatures. A second innovation deploys synthesizing apatite minerals from silver iodide particles. He’s also studying how to immobilize sodium and alumina in high-level radioactive waste in borosilicate glasses that resist crystallization.

Excerpt from Professor Ashutosh Goel Invents Method to Contain Radioactive Iodine, Rutgers School of Engineering Press Release, Nov. 2016