New study on borehole disposal for nuclear waste

A new report commissioned by the UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) has found that borehole disposal cannot completely negate the need for a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF).

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Carried out by US firm Deep Isolation, specialists in deep borehole disposal, the study found that boreholes can still play a key role in dealing with the UK’s nuclear waste inventory, subject to further technical and business case development. Assuming it can be appropriately packaged, all of the UK’s heat-generating waste could potentially be secured in boreholes. According to Deep Isolation, this will account for 96 per cent of forecast activity levels in 2200.

Cost estimates for the use of deep borehole technology vary depending on local geologies and also between single-site and multi-site approaches. Deep Isolation examined six scenarios for disposing of all of the UK’s current and future forecast high-heat generating wastes, with estimates varying between £2.98bn and £4.45bn.

However, the report also found that boreholes cannot replace the UK’s need for a GDF, a deep-mined subterranean repository that the UK has been seeking to site and build for many years. Deep Isolation found that boreholes cannot safely store the full diversity of the UK’s waste inventory, and some form of GDF is still therefore necessary.        

“We are excited to have delivered this project for the UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority,” said Elizabeth Muller, CEO of Deep Isolation. “NDA is a global leader, and I welcome their commitment to exploring the benefit of new and innovative options for nuclear waste disposal.” 

According to Deep Isolation, Nuclear Waste Services (NWS) - the NDA business tasked with developing and operating a GDF for the UK’s inventory of higher-activity radioactive waste - has welcomed the study.

Prior to the report’s publication, Deep Isolation EMEA Ltd was awarded funding from the UK’s Department for Energy Security and Net Zero to develop a corrosion-resistant canister capable of safely encapsulating spent fuel for disposal 1km to 3km underground. Funding for this project comes from the Energy Entrepreneurs Fund, part of the Net Zero Innovation Portfolio. The canister will be tested at the Deep Borehole Demonstration Centre, a new non-profit initiative established by Deep Isolation and other partners, and set to be located in the southern US.