Sheffield holds first open international scientific conference on nuclear borehole waste disposal

Some of the world’s leading scientists  and engineers discussed the future of nuclear waste disposal using deep boreholes at the first open scientific conference devoted to Deep Borehole Disposal (DBD) in Sheffield.

DBD is an alternative to a mined repository for the disposal of high-level radioactive waste from nuclear power stations in deep holes underground with a diameter of less 66 centimetres.

Representatives from around the world participated in the three day conference, including leading deep borehole scientists, as well as representatives from the drilling and waste management industries and governmental organisations.

The meeting included both technical and policy presentations as well as a panel discussion on key issues to be addressed to promote the development and availability of DBD as a mechanism for safe, secure disposal of certain high-level radioactive waste.

Andrew Orrell from the International Atomic Energy Agency said: “International interest and the pace of development of the deep borehole disposal concept have greatly accelerated in the past 5-10 years. This reflects advances in the necessary drilling technology, the largely unresolved demands for disposal capacity of spent fuel and/or high-level radioactive waste, and the efforts of the many researchers and scientists involved, most of whom were present at the Sheffield conference.”

Attendees of the conference

Attendees of the first open international conference on DBD

The conference was organised by Drs Karl Travis and Nick Collier from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

Dr Travis and Professor Fergus Gibb’s research into deep borehole disposal has been influential in the US government’s decision to conduct the Deep Borehole Field Test (DBFT) which will involve construction of a demonstration borehole just under half a metre in diameter and 5 kilometres below the surface.

At the end of the conference, panellists and participants recorded their thoughts on key issues to be addressed to promote the development and availability of DBD as a mechanism for safe, secure disposal of certain high-level radioactive waste.

Key points were:

●    Research into DBD continues to show that the method has promise as a flexible, cheap and safe way to store nuclear waste from reactors.

●    Further development and pilot demonstrations are required to provide governments and national waste management programmes with more options.

●    The basic technologies are now available for DBD but some refinement is needed in tools such as drilling and excavation.

The next steps will be to form an international working group to develop, public, government and regulatory confidence in DBD as a disposal solution.

This group will promote deep borehole disposal development and implementation, building on the success of the conference in Sheffield meeting by calling for future series of meetings covering scientific, technical, political and socio-economic aspects of DBD.

Dr Karl Travis said: “The local organising committee: Nick Collier, Fergus Gibb and myself are very pleased that the conference was a huge success. We are gratified that nearly all of the main DBD proponents took part. The conference highlighted how close we are to DBD becoming a reality.”