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Water, Rocks and Nuclear Waste

Water, Rocks and Nuclear Waste

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Published by Walt Robbins
Water and Nuclear Waste do not mix! The presence of groundwater in granite, tuff, limestone and other geological formations mitigates against the permanent underground burial of these lethal substances for the eons of time required.
Water and Nuclear Waste do not mix! The presence of groundwater in granite, tuff, limestone and other geological formations mitigates against the permanent underground burial of these lethal substances for the eons of time required.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Walt Robbins on Sep 01, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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WATER, ROCKS AND NUCLEAR WASTEHOORAY! We hit water, and lots of it! At two hundred forty feet the pinkish graygranite rock gave way to a reddish color and at two hundred and eighty feet ourwell "came in." Water was being pumped from the hole at the rate of forty gallonsper minute, and had leveled off at a depth of sixteen feet from the surface. Oureastern Manitoba household would have plenty of clean, cold water.Could there be a veritable labyrinth of rivers and streams underground, runningcold and deep, through the ancient Pre-Cambrian rock of the Canadian Shield? Thestrangest thought of all was that we had tampered with some of the deep secrets ofthe world below us. Nature was permanently altered and had given to us one of hermost valued treasures. For that we were thankful.While we were well drilling on our property, Atomic Energy of Canada, Ltd.,(AECL), at its nearby nuclear research station, was conducting test drilling as aprelude for an underground nuclear waste research laboratory (URL) in ourmunicipality. It’s officials initially insisted that the granite rock formation inthe area had “remarkably few cracks.” However, during the major excavation of theURL during the early 1980's, an extensive water-bearing fracture zone wasencountered. Several cracks, including a large fracture resulted in the intake ofconsiderable amounts of ground water. requiring pumps to run continuously.Probably the most descriptive statement about the wet condition of the URL camefrom Walter Patterson, when he spoke at a 1986 nuclear waste conference inWinnipeg. Trained in nuclear physics and residing in the UK, he was involved withmany aspects of nuclear technology for decades. He visited the URL undergroundfacility in as an advisor to a Select Environmental Committee of the BritishParliament. After the visit, the Parliamentarians asked his opinion of theoperation. Patterson told the conferees, that for the first time on the entireCanadian trip, "I had to say I had not the faintest idea.. I do not know why theyare doing what they are doing: because if this is supposed to be research for anunderground repository for final disposal of spent fuel, everybody in the businessknows that the one thing you have to avoid is water -- and the place is soaking!Absolutely soaking! Up to here (gesturing) in water!"My comment to reporters after I visited the URL excavation was “if you plan to godown into that hole, be sure to take your rain boots, an umbrella and a life raft.When you think about nuclear waste going into that wet hole, it gives you thechills.”Over the ensuing years, our own personal well drilling experience in 1980 hasalways been in the back of my mind whenever the subject of deep underground“disposal” of irradiated fuel waste comes up. Common sense informs us that groundwater can eventually corrode waste canisters and carry lethal radioactivesubstances into the environment above. Given the toxic nature and longevity of theirradiated fuel wastes created by the operation of nuclear reactors, few woulddisagree that the presence of groundwater presents a serious problem for theintegrity of an underground nuclear waste repository.And, what about these lethal substances?According to Wikipedia, “Certain radioactive elements (such as plutonium-239) in‘spent’ fuel will remain hazardous to humans and other living beings for hundredsof thousands of years. Other radioisotopes remain hazardous for millions of years.Thus, these wastes must be shielded for centuries and isolated from the livingenvironment for millennia. Some elements, such as Iodine-131, have a short half-
life (around 8 days in this case) and thus they will cease to be a problem muchmore quickly than other, longer-lived, decay products but their activity is muchgreater initially.”Hundreds of thousands and millions of years? It may be easier to wrap your mindaround the concept of a billion or trillion dollars!In the U.S., Yucca Mountain, Nevada was chosen as the preferred site for anirradiated nuclear fuel waste repository.One of the reasons the Nevada location was originally selected was because of itsarid, desert location. Yucca Mountain (geologically, a tuff formation) would benice and dry. Or so it was thought.The October 15, 1994 issue of the Las Vegas Sun, reported that “. . Radioactivewater from past nuclear testing has penetrated to layers below the proposedstorage site. Scientists studying Yucca Mountain as a place to store the nation'shigh-level nuclear waste have found evidence that surface water from the days ofatmospheric nuclear testing probably seeped to layers beneath the proposedrepository site,” The Department of Energy spokesman, Greg Cook was reported assaying ". . . the finding is obviously of concern to us because ground waterintrusion within the repository would make it more difficult to contain for 10,000years the 77,000 tons of spent fuel from commercial nuclear reactors that thegovernment wants to entomb there."Carl Johnson, a geologist for the State of Nevada Nuclear Projects Agency, whichmonitors the federal Yucca Mountain studies, said that ". . . the finding means'at least one very fast pathway' exists for ground water to move from the surfaceto below the repository site." Johnson said that ". . . samples collected from abore hole on the southeast side of the repository site, 100 miles northwest of LasVegas, contained tritium and chlorine-36 isotopes, residuals from nuclear weaponstesting. That means the water seeped from the surface to a depth of 1,450 feetwithin the 49 years since the first US nuclear weapons test was conducted in NewMexico and probably since nuclear testing began in Nevada in 1951."Over the years, billions of dollars have been poured into the Yucca MountainProject. In 2009 it experienced major cuts to its budget at the hands of theObama Administration. It’s future as a nuclear waste repository lies in doubt.The latest Canadian proclamation about the suitability of an undergroundrepository (this one for low and intermediate level radioactive waste) comes fromOntario Power Generation (OPG). Its plan is for a deep geological repository(DGR) at the Bruce nuclear facility near the shore of Lake Huron.In media reports, OPG has stated that "There is a consensus in our research thatshows the natural barriers will help protect the repository," and that "Thelimestone bedrock formations that are there have an extremely low rate ofpermeability. Also, there is a cap of shale 200 meters (about 656 feet) above therepository area that would act as a protective layer."That rhetoric is an echo of earlier optimistic “dry rock” expectations. Whatwill they find in the limestone excavation? Based on the URL (granite)experience, and the Yucca Mountain (tuff) one, can we anticipate water loggedcaverns feeding into Lake Huron?But the biggest question of all is what will the industry-dominated CanadianNuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) turn up in its ongoing search for awilling community to “host” a repository for Canada’s irradiated nuclear fuel

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