New £5m project supports UK’s nuclear waste disposal programme

Testing has started on a new system to seal deep boreholes

The Big Zero report

A new engineering system to seal deep boreholes is being tested as part of the preparations for an underground disposal facility for radioactive nuclear waste in the UK.

It is part of Radioactive Waste Management’s (RWM) £5 million research project, under which scientists, engineers and geologists have worked with engineering firm Jacobs to research, design and build a ‘Downhole Placement System’ (DPS) that will be lowered from a 25-metre rig to seal boreholes at depth.

The project supports the research and development programme for the construction of a safe and secure geological disposal facility (GDF).

The full-scale demonstration project is initially taking place in Harwell, Oxfordshire, a site owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and managed by Magnox, where there are existing boreholes up to 400 metres deep, originally drilled in the 1980s.

Dr Mohammed Sammur, Technical Director at RWM, which is responsible for identifying a suitable site for a GDF in England or Wales said: “It’s been hugely exciting to see our research reach this stage, demonstrating that we are prepared for formal site investigation work in the future. We carry out extensive R&D into all aspects of a GDF to understand exactly the requirements for designing, building and operating a facility up to 1,000 metres deep – it will need to be safe for many hundreds of thousands of years.

“We’re grateful to Magnox for accommodating our project and assisting us – it was fortunate to locate suitable boreholes so close to our headquarters.”

Once a potential UK search area for a future GDF has been identified and a Community Partnership has been formed, RWM will start geological investigations.

A series of deep boreholes will be drilled, starting a comprehensive process to establish whether the underlying rocks could be suitable, which is anticipated to be several years away.

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