Final Deposition of High-level Nuclear Waste in Very Deep Boreholes - An evaluation based on recent research of bedrock conditions at great depths

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Summary

This report evaluates the feasibility of very deep borehole disposal of high-level nuclear waste, e.g., spent nuclear fuel, in the light of recent technological developments and research on the characteristics of bedrock at extreme depths. The evaluation finds that new knowledge in the field of hydrogeology and technical advances in drilling technology have advanced the possibility of using very deep boreholes (3-5 km) for disposal of the Swedish nuclear waste. Decisive factors are (1) that the repository can be located in stable bedrock at a level where the groundwater is isolated from the biosphere, and (2) that the waste can be deposited and the boreholes permanently sealed without causing long-term disturbances in the density-stratification of the groundwater that surrounds the repository.

Very deep borehole disposal might offer important advantage compared to the relatively more shallow KBS approach that is presently planned to be used by the Swedish nnuclear industry in Sweden, in that it has the potential of being more robust. The reason for this is that very deep borehole disposal appears to permit emplacement of the waste at depths where the entire repository zone would be surrounded by stable, density-stratified groundwater having no contact with the surface, whereas a KBS-3 repository would be surrounded by upwardly mobile groundwater.

This hydro-geological difference is a major safety factor, which is particularly apparent in all scenarios that envisage leakage of radioactive substances. Another advantage of a repository at a depth of 3 to 5 km is that it is less vulnerable to impacts from expected events (e.g., changes in groundwater conditions during future ice ages) as well as undesired events (e.g. such as terrorist actions, technical malfunction and major local earthquakes). Decisive for the feasibility of a repository based on the very deep borehole concept is, however, the ability to emplace the waste without failures. In order to achieve this further research and technological development is required.

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