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40 Percent of Hanford Nuclear Waste Would Fit in One 5-km Deep Borehole via IEEE

All of Britain’s high-level nuclear waste could be buried in just a few extremely deep holes, and the first U.S. field trials of this strategy may begin next year, researchers say.

Solving the problem of radioactive waste disposal is crucial to the future of nuclear power. At the moment, most countries dispose of high-level nuclear waste, such as the spent fuel from nuclear reactors, in relatively shallow repositories just 300 to 800 meters underground. However, researchers at the University of Sheffield, in England, do not think such depths are safe enough, because groundwater can circulate in this zone.

Deep borehole disposal, in contrast, involves using boreholes about five kilometers deep to store hundreds of packages of high-level nuclear waste. It takes advantage of decades of expertise and equipment developed for drilling for oil, gas, and geothermal energy. At such depths, what little groundwater there is has usually stayed there for millions of years and does not move far. Even if an accident happened, the Sheffield team suggest there would be no disastrous consequences for anyone above ground.

To ensure the success of deep borehole disposal, the researchers have designed a method to seal the hole completely to prevent radioactive material from returning to the surface. This involves melting a layer of granite over the waste, which has the same properties as natural rock after it solidifies.

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The Sheffield scientists presented their latest findings last week at the American Nuclear Society International High-Level Radioactive Waste Management conference, in Charleston, S.C.

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