Fresh fears on gas build-up in deep geological storage

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PROFESSIONAL ENGINEERING

http://www.profeng.com/archive/2010Articles/February/19021010.003.htm

Fresh fears raised over viability of underground repository for nuclear waste

Build up of gases could damage structure or vent radioactive isotopes

Concerns have been raised again over the viability of a deep geological repository for storing
nuclear waste because of the build-up of gases within such a chamber.

According to an Environment Agency report published last week, “the modelling of gas and its
effects [within a repository] continues to present many challenges”.

The report found that gases generated by metal corrosion and degradation of organic waste
would be likely to accumulate within a geological repository. The main gases produced would be hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane. It is thought these could contain radioactive isotopes such as tritium and carbon 14.

If gas accumulated within a repository, the report said, there would be a build-up of pressure
which could have an effect on the repository´s engineered structure and host rock.

The Environment Agency said it had asked the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), the
body responsible for developing the repository, to identify the “significant technical issues”
surrounding the build-up of gases and explain the relevance of its current research in the area.

Peter Wilkinson of Nuclear Waste Advisory Associates said there were “anomalies” in terms of
the development of a repository that needed to be addressed. “On the one hand you have to
isolate the radioactivity from the biosphere in a repository, and therefore you want to make it as impermeable as possible, but on the other you need to ensure that some of this gas escapes.

“It´s a dilemma. If gas is vented, it could significantly alter the risk of those exposed to
developing fatal cancers,” he said.

The NDA said: “We welcome the Environment Agency report that scrutinises our work related
to geological disposal and continue to work to address the issues raised.”
© PE Publishing, 19 February 2010

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