You are on page 1of 2

Solution: deep geological

repository
The favoured option for nuclear waste management around the world at the
moment, 2015, is to bury the waste in purpose-built underground
repositories.

The siting of such a repository requires much thought as many of the fission
products will remain active for thousands of years. Thus, a repository needs to be
secure, both now and into the far flung future!

There are two main issues that need to be considered.

The possibility of seismic activity. Earthquakes could bring the material to the
surface.

The problem of water. It is vital that water is not able to come in contact with the
radioactive material now or in the future.

In order to reduce the possibility of either of these problems arising, the design of
repositories includes containers with multiple layers enclosing the waste and other
engineered barriers or seals around the containers. Great attention is also paid to
the suitability of the surrounding environment, particularly the geology in terms of
stability and rock composition, and the way water can move through it. Several
processes combine to cycle water globally, and these are summarised below.

showing the distribution of represent
the world’sthe
water. ‘Lakes’ includes The global
freshwater and waterlakes.
cycle:
values
as shown
opposed to as
thattransfers
stored in reservoirs (inamounts
units of of
10water
15 kg) cycled annually (insaline
units of 1015The
kg y-1),

At any stage in the water cycle where evaporation occurs, anything dissolved in
the water is left behind. In particular, radioisotopes transported into the oceans
would accumulate there; they would not evaporate and re-enter the water cycle.

How water flows through the ground is largely determined by the geology. Many of
the rocks that make up the Earth’s crust contain voids, which can hold water.
These voids can take various forms. In sandstones, for example, they consist of
small interconnected pores between the grains of sand. In granites, which are
made up of interlocking crystals, there may be fissures or fractures, which can be
interconnected so allowing water to travel through the rock. Below a certain level,
the rock voids are all filled with water. This level is called the water table, and the
rocks below it are said to be saturated. By using the voids as a pathway, water can
flow through the saturated rocks.

rock types. Void structures in different

The ease with which water flows through rocks varies with the rock types. For
example, if the rock contains large well-connected pores or voids, like the
sandstone in (a), or extensive linked fractures, like the granite in (b), the water will
flow easily through the rock. In (c) there are large pores in the rock, but the pores
are not interconnected, so the water cannot flow easily through the rock. Any
repository would ideally need to sit above the water table and within a rock that
resisted the flow of water.

In the next step you’ll see a video of the planning for a depositary in Yucca
Mountain a mountain in Nevada US. This site was deemed to be near perfect as
regards its geology.

© The Open University