Research rethinks disposal of nuclear waste
Our pioneering computer simulations are helping engineer safer ways to store nuclear waste.
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
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.
Approximately 250 to 300 kilotons of high level nuclear waste is in temporary storage facilities worldwide.
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
- Thomas, H. R. , Sedighi, M. and Vardon, P. J. 2012. Diffusive reactive transport of multicomponent chemicals under coupled thermal, hydraulic, chemical and mechanical conditions. Journal of Geotechnical and Geological Engineering 30 (4), pp.841-857. (10.1007/s10706-012-9502-9)
- Thomas, H. R. et al. 2009. The coupled thermal-hydraulic-mechanical behaviour of a large scale in-situ heating experiment. Géotechnique 59 (4), pp.401-413. (10.1680/geot.2009.59.4.401)
- Cleall, P. J. , Seetheram, S. C. and Thomas, H. R. 2007. Inclusion of some aspects of chemical behaviour of unsaturated soil in thermo/hydro/chemical/mechanical models. II: Application and transport of soluble salts in compacted bentonite. Journal of Engineering Mechanics 133 (3), pp.348-356. (10.1061/(ASCE)0733-9399(2007)133:3(348))
- Thomas, H. R. et al. 2003. Water infiltration into a large-scale in-situ experiment in an underground research laboratory. Geotechnique 53 (2), pp.207-224. (10.1680/geot.2003.53.2.207)
- Thomas, H. R. and He, Y. 1998. Modelling the behaviour of unsaturated soil using an elastoplastic constitutive model. Géotechnique 48 (5), pp.589-603. (10.1680/geot.19188.8.131.529)
- Thomas, H. R. and Li, C. L. W. 1997. An assessment of a model of heat and moisture transfer in unsaturated soil. Géotechnique 47 (1), pp.113-131. (10.1680/geot.19184.108.40.206)