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Research rethinks disposal of nuclear waste

Our pioneering computer simulations are helping engineer safer ways to store nuclear waste.

French nuclear power plant.
French nuclear power plant.

The safe disposal of high level nuclear waste is a global issue. Though temporary storage facilities exist around the world, we sought to develop a longer term solution that was recognised by multinational governments and nuclear authorities

Our research prompted a major rethink in the design and construction of nuclear waste repositories. It also brought economic benefits, and increased international governments’ confidence in the safe disposal of high level nuclear waste.

Professor Hywel Thomas Director of the Geoenvironmental Research Centre

Pioneering model predicts behaviour

Researchers from our Geoenvironmental Research Centre, backed by the European Commission's EURATOM programme, developed a model to understand how barriers used in nuclear waste disposal perform.

The team developed a computerised model called COMPASS to simulate the behaviour of a nuclear waste repository over time and show how nuclear repository barriers perform. The computerised model provided innovative predictions of the behaviour and long term durability of engineered barriers.

Temporary storage

Approximately 250 to 300 kilotons of high level nuclear waste is in temporary storage facilities worldwide.

Global impact

The project has had significant impact on engineering design, environmental conditions, economic investment and public policy. The software has been utilised by International Nuclear Waste Disposal Authorities, and GRC's work has led to the design and construction of a new repositories in Sweden and Finland.

As a direct consequence of the research, £200M investment has been made from 2008-2013 by SKB, the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company. This sum is markedly less than the expense of continuing storage of high level nuclear waste (at Sellafield in the UK, for example, this amounts to £1.6B per year, in addition to the cost of cleanup and maintenance work, which is priced at £67.5B.

The activities that the research has enabled, highlighted by the scale of investment, are a major step towards a permanent long-term solution to high level nuclear waste

Meet our experts

Professor Hywel Thomas

Professor Hywel Thomas

Professor of Civil Engineering and Director of the Geoenvironmental Research Centre

+44 (0)29 2087 4965

This research was made possible through our close partnership with and support from: