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US to drill 5-km-deep borehole in test for radioactive waste storage via Global Construction Review

The US will drill a borehole more than 16,000 feet (4.8km) into rock in North Dakota to test a new method proposed by UK researchers for storing radioactive waste.

Proponents of the method insist it could solve a problem that has vexed governments for years.

Radioactive material will not be poured into the narrow hole. Instead, scientists will study how such a deep wellbore behaves in order to consider the feasibility of the approach.

Scientists at the University of Sheffield, UK, who have been developing the concept of “deep borehole disposal”, say it would be the safest and cheapest way of dealing with the “hottest” – most radioactive – waste.

They claim that all of the UK’s high level nuclear waste from spent fuel reprocessing could be put safely in just six such boreholes on a site no bigger than a football pitch.

Last month the US Department of Energy selected a team to drill a test borehole into a crystalline basement rock formation on a 20-acre patch of state-owned land near Rugby, North Dakota.

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The Sheffield Deep Borehole Disposal Research Group, in collaboration with Sandia National Laboratories of the US, is now developing a programme of research for the North Dakota field test. Issues to be investigated include how to prevent groundwater corrosion of the waste packages and how to seal the borehole to prevent radioactive waste escaping.

In North Dakota the drilling team will consist of research organisation Battelle Memorial Institute, the University of North Dakota Energy & Environmental Research Center, drilling technology giant Schlumberger and Swiss ground engineering firm Solexperts.

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