Deep Borehole Demonstration Centre launches

The new Deep Borehole Demonstration Centre was officially launched at Waste Management Symposia 2023. The Centre, which is an independent, non-profit, science-driven organisation – funded on a multinational, public-private-partnership basis, that aims to advance the maturity of the safety case for deep borehole disposal and the technical readiness levels of the disposal concept.

 A new Deep Borehole Demonstration Centre has been officially launched

A new Deep Borehole Demonstration Centre has been officially launched

The launch executive director of the Centre is Ted Garrish, former Assistant Secretary for International Affairs at the US Department of Energy. He said: "I am proud to have been asked by the international nuclear community to take a lead in responding to the clear global demand for a deep borehole demonstration facility. The International Energy Agency forecasts a need to double the world's nuclear capacity between 2020 and 2050 if we are to achieve global net zero, yet the ‘unsolved problem' of waste disposal continues to be a major barrier to public support for nuclear power. The steps we are announcing today represent a major advance for one of the safest and most cost-effective solutions to that problem: deep borehole disposal."

Work at the Centre began off in February 2023, when it worked with industry partners Deep Isolation, Amentum and NAC International to conduct a first series of tests in Cameron, Texas. The tests demonstrated the compatibility of a newly designed waste canister for pressurised water reactor (PWR) spent nuclear fuel with standard lifting equipment for the oil and gas industry for use in deep borehole disposal operations.

Garrish explained: "The tests were an important step in showing how we can combine standard, mature technologies from both the nuclear and the oil and gas sectors - but this is just the start of a multi-year, multi-stakeholder programme plan of projects that will cumulatively deliver an end-to-end (and entirely non-radioactive) demonstration of the on-site deep borehole disposal process. I am delighted to be publishing that plan today and look forward to working with our members and stakeholders to refine and implement it."

Liz Muller, CEO of Deep Isolation and chair of the Deep Borehole Demonstration Centre's Board, said at the launch: "At last year's Waste Management Symposium, Deep Isolation presented new research showing that eight-out-of-ten leaders across the international radwaste sector want to see more international collaboration on borehole disposal, with an end-to-end demonstration being their number one priority. Since then, we have been working with the international community to develop a practical response to that demand, and I am delighted that today we are able to announce the results: the Deep Borehole Demonstration Centre."

Initial members of the Centre include organisations representing waste disposal interests in nine countries, from both the public and private sectors. This includes the ERDO Association. Formed by the waste management organizations from seven European countries, ERDO published in 2022 the results of a project that found that deep borehole disposal is a technologically feasible and potentially cost-efficient solution for high-level or long-lived intermediate-level waste from Croatia, Slovenia, Denmark, The Netherlands, and Norway, and recommended that the key next steps are a full-scale demonstration of site characterisation, drilling, waste emplacement and borehole sealing, combined with the development of a comprehensive safety case. The Deep Borehole Demonstration Centre responds to that recommendation.

The work of the Centre will be informed by an independent advisory committee, currently being established to ensure its work is transparent to the local community and subject to scientific peer review. The chairman of the advisory committee, Professor Neil Chapman (Emeritus Professor of environmental geology, risk assessment and radioactive waste management at the University of Sheffield) said: "I look forward to working with the local community, my fellow scientists and international policymakers in the advisory committee to act as a ‘critical friend' in support of the Deep Borehole Disposal Centre. It is doing important work to explore and broaden our radioactive waste disposal options, and I welcome its commitment to transparency and scientific scrutiny."

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