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Fracking as a solution for nuclear waste – not really feasible

Scientist sees fracking as the way to dispose of nuclear waste Tia Ghose LiveScience 13 Dec, SAN FRANCISCO — Nuclear waste could one day be disposed of by injecting it into fracking boreholes in the Earth, at least if one scientist’s idea takes hold.

The method, presented here Monday at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, would mix nuclear waste with other heavy materials, and inject it a few miles below the Earth’s surface into drilled holes. …….But the idea is still theoretical, and at least one expert thinks there are too many practical and safety concerns for the scheme to work.

“I can’t see it being a feasible concept, for many reasons,” said Jens Birkholzer, head of the Nuclear Energy and Waste Program at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif.

Contentious issues
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves drilling a deep well more than a mile (1.6 kilometers) below the surface, and injecting fluids into the hole at high pressure. This creates cracks or fissures through which the fluid can propagate. Environmentalists fear that fracking can contaminate the water supply. Other studies have found that the process of injecting the wastewater from fracking into the Earth can trigger small-scale earthquakes. Advocates of the process in the oil and gas industry, meanwhile, contend that fracking is safe and that fears about the process have been overblown………Researchers would need to make sure the boreholes were placed correctly, so that there was no chance the nuclear waste could somehow contaminate an underground water supply.

And because these materials will be radioactive for more than 100,000 years, it’s important to find a solution that won’t fail a mere 10,000 or 20,000 years down the line. And with such deep boreholes, there aren’t good chances to inspect the subsurface or the geology of the rock, Birkholzer said.

In addition, the work of injecting the radioactive slurry into the borehole could be tricky.

“You really don’t want to be close to this material,” Birkholzer said. “The whole worker-safety issue is to me a big concern.” Even current fracking projects occasionally have accidents, he said.

For some nuclear waste, the government is considering drilling deep, wide boreholes and burying the material miles below the Earth’s surface. But those proposals would encase the radioactive material in thick, shielding canisters that could be safely accessed if needed, Birkholzer said.

December 13, 2013 - Posted by | USA, wastes

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