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New plan for fracking method of isolating nuclear wastes

This Father-Daughter Team Says It Has a Cheaper, Safer Way to Bury Nuclear Waste,  Startup Deep Isolation wants to use fracking tech to drill horizontal disposal tunnels a mile below the Earth’s surface.  Bloomberg  By Ashlee Vance, 20 March 18  Richard and Elizabeth Muller have come up with one of the more unusual father-daughter businesses in recent memory. On March 20 they announced a startup called Deep Isolation that aims to store nuclear waste much more safely and cheaply than existing methods. The key to the technology, according to the Mullers, is to take advantage of fracking techniques to place nuclear waste in 2-mile-long tunnels, much deeper than they’ve been before—a mile below the Earth’s surface, where they’ll be surrounded by shale. “We’re using a technique that’s been made cheap over the last 20 years,” says Richard, a famed physicist and climate change expert. “We could begin putting this waste underground right away.”

…….. The U.S. has about 80,000 tons of nuclear waste, mostly sitting at about 70 sites, in aboveground water pools.
……….With each passing year, the U.S. produces an additional 2,000 tons of nuclear waste, and the total is already more than Yucca Mountain was meant to hold. While President Trump has sought a modest $120 million to restart the program, Congress has made clear it’s not going to broach the subject in an election year. “It’s quite a serious problem,” says Rodney Ewing, a Stanford professor of geological sciences who specializes in nuclear security. “As a country, we seem to not be paying attention to the obvious difficulties we have with the waste.”
Nuclear waste experts have contemplated deep-drilling for half a century, mostly by proposing to bore straight down into granite and crystalline rock. But tests of these techniques haven’t gotten very far, being blocked, on occasion, by the public. These approaches have been deemed costly and possibly unsafe, because stacking containers on top of one another puts so much weight on the bottom drums. The Mullers say it’s much cheaper and safer to drill horizontal tunnels, and to do so in shale. They can fit the typical waste canisters (each 1 foot in diameter and 14 feet long) quickly and safely into shale tunnels, they say, given advances in fracking equipment. “Drilling the holes takes a couple weeks at most,” says Elizabeth.
…….. It’d be best to keep the tunnels close to existing nuclear waste sites, the Mullers say. The U.S. is so shale-rich that the waste disposal tunnels could be placed near nuclear production sites, so no hauling of waste would be required. The boreholes would also be much deeper than something like Yucca, vastly reducing the chance of radioactive waste leaking into the water supply. “The goal is to get this stuff out of the biosphere, and the farther down you go, the less things change,” Elizabeth says. “The waste will have 1 billion tons of rock on top of it and be in shale that has held methane gas and other volatiles for tens to hundreds of millions of years. Things don’t leak out.” Also, unlike at Yucca, machines could handle all the tunnel work, says Richard: “We’re cheaper because we remove a lot less dirt and don’t put people underground.”
The elder Muller first made his name dealing with radiation much farther away. As a professor at the University of California at Berkeley and senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Richard did that pioneering research on dark energy and cosmic radiation, including work on projects that eventually earned Nobel Prizes. After he and Elizabeth co-founded Berkeley Earth, a nonprofit that measures global temperature and climate change, he went from being one of the most prominent global warming doubters to one of the loudest voices confirming that climate change is real and caused by humans.
…….. Before the Mullers can drill any holes in shale, they have massive challenges to overcome. Stanford’s Ewing says Deep Isolation will likely struggle to persuade dozens of communities to accept having a long-term nuclear waste site nearby and to persuade the government to let commercial companies tackle the problem.  The two have drafted federal legislation that could lead to private nuclear waste disposal. “The government might allow this,” says Allison Macfarlane, former chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “The real question is whether such a small startup company would have the resources to go through the licensing over such a long time period.”……..

March 21, 2018 - Posted by | USA, wastes

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