Mission Impossible? Socio-Technical Integration of Nuclear Waste Geological Disposal Systems
2. Materials and Methods
2.1. The Complexity of Geological Disposal Systems
- A wide variety of radioactive waste types exists depending on the different types of military and civilian applications of nuclear energy. Radioactive waste that require geologic disposal are highly radioactive, heat-producing waste. Such radioactive waste materials generally include spent nuclear fuels (SNF) and HLW regardless of origin; although there are some exceptions such as in the U.S. where greater-than-class C (GTCC) and TRU waste also require geologic disposal. Changes in the waste streams will affect the waste types that must be handled which, in turn, may generate constraints on the feasibility of proposed changes at the waste generation points.
- The composition of the waste (e.g., activation products, mixed fission products, transuranic radionuclides) changes as a function of time due to radioactive decay, and the resulting change in composition drives the changes in the thermal output and the type and intensity of the radiation field . In addition, the different compositions of the waste experience different types of treatment and conditioning (e.g., reprocessing, vitrification, incineration) which, in turn, modify the properties of the waste. For instance, “reprocessing lowers the content of long-lived actinides, but leaves high concentrations of shorter-lived fission products, such as Cs-137 and Sr-90, which have half-lives of approximately 30 years and hence a large thermal output. This heat in turn determines how long the waste must be stored at the surface before [geologic] disposal” (, p. 235). In addition, the processing that creates HLW involves a very complicated chemistry that includes elements that are not radioactive, such as Pb and Hg, as well as organic solvents, that will also affect the properties of the waste.
- Waste packages are defined by different types of waste forms (e.g., untreated SNF, glass, ceramics, synroc) associated with different types of metal canisters which, in turn, affect the evolution of the waste forms. For instance, corroded iron containers may adsorb radionuclides on the surfaces of fine-grained iron oxides making the corrosion products a barrier, thus lowering the mobility of radionuclides even when the canister is breached.
- Depending on the repository design strategy, the type of overpack or surrounding backfill varies or is absent, which, in turn, affects the evolution of the waste form, in particular during the thermal period.
- The geological conditions are different (e.g., variations in redox conditions and hydrology), defining the mobility of the radionuclides which, in turn, depends on the evolving properties, composition of the waste and associated level of radioactivity.
- Various other complex relations exist outside the thermal, mechanical, chemical, geologic and hydrologic and nuclear processes, but nevertheless affect the repository behavior. Exogenous processes concern the possibility of seismic activity, volcanism, erosion, and glaciation. These exogenous processes can affect the geological conditions at the repository. Exogenous processes also concern the possibility of human intrusion in the future (e.g., exploration for natural resources), although the intrusion scenarios are generally defined by the regulators, and thus, are imposed as an external boundary condition on the disposal system (see Section 3.3).
2.2. Representations of Geological Disposal Systems
2.2.1. Engineering Representation
2.2.2. Metabolic Representation
3.1. General Integrated Formalism of Geological Disposal Systems
3.1.1. Integration of Functional Scales
- Waste materials describe the types, composition, associated level of radioactivity, properties and treatments in relation to the materials.
- Repository design describes the functions and properties of the multiple barrier system. The engineered barriers—including the waste form, the waste package, and the structural barriers—are designed to delay the access of water to the waste package or the release of radionuclides from a breached canister. The geological barriers—including the surrounding backfill (or overpack) and the host rock—exploit the properties of the rock and hydrologic system to extend the migration time required by the radionuclides to reach the biosphere.
- Site characteristics describe the natural processes that directly affect the geological conditions of the repository through the geological processes—including geophysics, geochemistry, and hydrology—and indirectly through exogenous processes—including changes in the biosphere, seismic activity, volcanism, climate change, erosion, glaciation, and human intrusion.
3.1.2. Integration of Spatial and Temporal Scales
3.2. Application of the Integrated Formalism to the Yucca Mountain Repository
3.2.1. Interfacing Models and Processes
3.2.2. Revealing the Complexity
3.2.3. Cutting through the Complexity
3.3. Extension of the General Integrated Formalism to Societal Constraints
3.3.1. Societal Constraints on Geological Disposal Systems
- At the socio-economic and political levels, choices made about nuclear energy technologies in relation to energy policy directly affect the nuclear fuel cycle, which ultimately drive the technical needs at the back-end of the fuel cycle. In turn, decisions made about disposal strategies affect the energy policy discussions. Nuclear energy systems and nuclear waste disposal systems are therefore connected through socio-economic and political drivers.
- At the regulatory level, the safety provided by the multiple-barrier containment system of the geological repository is assessed based on quantitative information and, in the approach of a “safety case”, also on qualitative arguments . Although the quantitative assessment of safety is not the only basis for a licensing decision, in practice, regulatory records show a widespread reliance on quantification . This quantitative approach to safety assessment is used to address the problem of the role and use of expertise in the decision-making process [52,53]. Multi-criteria decision analysis can also be used in nuclear waste management . But there remains the problem of how to weight non-equivalent criteria so as to reach a decision [54,55]. In the U.S., for instance, the quantitative safety assessment of the Yucca Mountain repository is required to provide a probabilistic estimate of the dose received by a person at a specific time and location . But, by using models that provide a quantitative estimate of anticipated dose to the public, the regulatory framework seems to assume that there can be a quantitative description of known exposure pathways. Yet, these pathways are impossible to predict far into the future given the high uncertainties—and unavoidable lack of knowledge of conditions in the far future. Regulators may be fully aware of the impossibility of projecting future human actions and natural processes. But the attempt to quantify the long-term performance of disposal systems, in the face of high uncertainties, has been at the center of public skepticism and controversy over the determination of whether a site is “safe” or not .
3.3.2. Outside View of Geological Disposal Systems
3.3.3. Examples of Socio-Technical Interactions
Example #1: Impacts of Change of Waste Types on Repository Design
“Much high-level waste—produced during the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel into plutonium—is highly radioactive and dangerous. But the evidence suggests that some of the waste that is labelled ‘high level’ technically qualifies as transuranic. This material is still barred from direct disposal at WIPP, purely because of how it was produced. But labels can be changed. If wastes that meet the transuranic criteria could be shipped to WIPP, it would save considerable time and effort as the DOE continues to struggle with the country’s radioactive legacy.”
Example #2: Impacts of Change of the Compliance Period
4.1. Limitations of the Integrated Formalism
4.1.1. Limitations of the Technical Integration
4.1.2. Limitations of the Socio-Technical Integration
4.2. Value of the Integrated Formalism
4.3. Science-Policy Implications
Conflicts of Interest
A.1. Background Information on Defense High-Level Waste and Transuranic Waste
|Waste Type||Present Quantity of Waste Type||Projected Quantity of Waste Packages in 2048||Physical Description of Projected Waste Type and Waste Form||Thermal Output of Projected Waste Type in 2048 (W/container)|
|Existing defense HLW|
|SRS HLW tank waste||3600 m3 of vitrified waste in canisters|
|glass in canisters||4 to 120 W/canister (at time of production, 1996–2012)|
|FRG glass at Hanford||34 canisters||34 canisters||glass in canisters (containing strontium and cesium) (b)||375 W/canister|
|Projected defense HLW|
|Hanford tank waste||~207,000 m3 of reprocessing waste in tanks||10,586 canisters of glass, 3735 kg per canister (filled)||glass in canisters|
|SRS HLW tank waste||98,000 m3 of reprocessing HLW in tanks|
|glass in canisters|
|Up to 500 W/canister (at time of production)|
|Calcine waste at INL||4400 m3 of solid granular material (calcine) in six Calcine Solids Storage Facility (CSSF) bin sets||11,400 canisters (estimated)||glass in canisters|
|1.2 to 15.4 W/canister (unknown time)|
|Cs/Sr capsules at Hanford||1335 Cs capsules, 601 Sr capsules stored underwater||340 canisters||glass in canisters|
|Sodium-bearing waste (SBW) at INL||3200 m3 of liquid waste in tanks||688 canisters||solids and powders in canisters|
A.2. Background Information on DOE’s “Reclassify Waste” Proposal
A.3. Background Information on WIPPs Waste Acceptance Criteria and Current Mission
A.4. Background Information on Effects of Heat on the WIPP Repository
|CH-TRU||contact-handled transuranic waste|
|DOE||U.S. Department of Energy|
|EPA||U.S. Environmental Protection Agency|
|INL||Idaho National Laboratory|
|INEL||Idaho National Engineering Laboratory|
|LANL||Los Alamos National Laboratories, New Mexico|
|LWA||Land Withdrawal Act|
|NAS||U.S. National Academy of Sciences|
|NMED||New Mexico Environment Department|
|NWPA||Nuclear Waste Policy Act|
|NRC||U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission|
|RF||Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site, Colorado|
|RH-TRU||remote-handled transuranic waste|
|SAR||safety analysis report|
|SNF||spent nuclear fuel|
|SRS||Savannah River Site, South Carolina|
|THMC||thermal, hydrologic, mechanical, and chemical processes|
|TSPA||total system performance assessment|
|WAC||waste acceptance criteria|
|WIPP||Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, New Mexico|
|BDCF||biosphere dose conversion factor|
|D&M||degradation and mobilization|
|EBS||engineered barrier system|
|F&T||flow and transport|
|WAPDEG||WP and DS degradation|
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|Level n-1 Attributes||Level n-2 Attributes||Abbreviations Used|
|Waste materials (25) (a)||Waste types (3)||WTYPE|
|Waste composition (7) (b)||WCOMP|
|Waste radioactivity (3) (c)||WRAD|
|Waste properties (5) (d)||WPROP|
|Waste treatments (5)||WTREAT|
|Repository design (30)||Engineered barriers (19)||ENG-B|
|Geological barriers (9)||GEO-B|
|Site (10)||Geological processes (3)||GEO-P|
|Exogenous processes (5)||EXO-P|
|Period||Timescale (Order of Magnitude)||Processes Involved|
|Operational period||~102 years before closure||Period of repository construction, waste emplacement, and repository closure. Radiation field dominated by beta decay (β-) and gamma radiation (γ).|
|Thermal period||~103 years after closure||Period of waste form degradation dominated by decay heat from the waste, radio-chemical processes inside the waste package and the related coupled thermal, hydrological, and mechanical processes in the near-field of the geological medium. Radiation field dominated by alpha decay (α).|
|Engineered barriers period||~104 years after closure||Period of waste package degradation dominated by geochemical and hydrological processes at the interface with the geological medium. Radiation field dominated by alpha decay (α).|
|Geological period||~105 years after closure||Period of radionuclides transport to the biosphere dominated by geological and exogenous processes. Radiation field dominated by alpha decay (α).|
|Model Components||Abbreviations Used||Model Sub-Components|
|Unsaturated zone (UZ) flow||UZ-F||Site-scale UZ flow|
|Drift wall condensation|
|Engineered barrier system (EBS) environment||EBS-E||EBS thermal-hydrologic environment|
|EBS chemical environment|
|Waste package (WP) and drip shield (DS) degradation||WP&DS-D||WP and DS degradation (WAPDEG)|
|Localized corrosion on the WP outer surface|
|Waste form (WF) degradation and mobilization||WF-D&M||Radionuclide inventory|
|Commercial SNF, defense SNF, HLW degradation|
|Dissolved radionuclide concentration limits|
|WF & EBS colloids|
|EBS flow and transport||EBS-F&T||EBS flow|
|Unsaturated zone transport||UZ-T||UZ transport|
|SZ flow and transport||SZ-F&T||3-D SZ flow and transport|
|1-D SZ flow and transport|
|Biosphere||Biosphere||Nominal biosphere dose conversion factors (BDCFs)|
|Groundwater protection conversion factors|
|Disruptive events BDCFs|
|Types of Institutions||Types of Decisions||Examples|
|“Governance and control” (level n + 5)|
|Executive institutions (governments)||General decisions about the nuclear fuel cycle||Decision to implement a nuclear energy program; absence or postponement of decision on spent fuel; decision to reprocess and to directly dispose spent fuel; decision to reprocess and recycle spent fuel; decision to implement fast neutron reactors; decision to implement partitioning and transmutation|
|Implementation of the nuclear waste disposal strategies and policies||Decrees applicable to licensing a deep geologic repository; formal executive approvals required for developing a deep geologic repository|
|Legislative institutions (parliaments, senates, house of representatives)||Legislation||General legislation; regulations applicable to licensing a deep geologic repository; formal legislative approvals required for developing a deep geologic repository; interactions with local jurisdictions; type of decision-making process; liabilities; funding mechanism|
|Regulatory authorities (international, national, state/local regulatory authorities)||Regulation||Compliance period; compliance boundary; regulatory criteria|
|Civil society (general public, local governments, local communities, political parties, NGOs)||Indirect control||Affects the decision-making process through elections, public debate and local decisions|
|“Nuclear power” (level n + 2)|
|Utilities||Business||Decisions related to generating power, including reactor types, fuel types, fuel burnup rates, types of spent fuel storage, and monitoring of spent fuel|
|Other private companies||Business||Decisions related to the front-end of the nuclear fuel cycle, including mining and milling process, enrichment technology, and fuel fabrication process|
|PA||Time Period||Uncertain Parameter||Model Component (Sub-Component) (a)||Level n-3 Attributes (b)|
|PA-EA||105||Percolation at repository horizon||UZ-F (Site-scale UZ flow)||HYDRO, ROCK|
|PA-91||104||Percolation flux 10 m above repository||UZ-F (Site-scale UZ flow)||HYDRO, ROCK|
|PA-93||104||Percolation for arid climate||UZ-F (Site-scale UZ flow)||HYDRO, ROCK|
|PA-95||104||Matrix velocity in CHnv below repository at 1.25 mm/year infiltration||UZ-F (Site-scale UZ flow)||HYDRO, ROCK|
|PA-VA||104||Fraction of waste packages with seepage||UZ-F (Drift seepage)||HYDRO, ROCK, STRUCT|
|PA-SR||105||SCC stress profile for outer lid of container||WP&DS-D (WAPDEG)||WPACKAGE, STRUCT|
|PA-LA||104||SCCTHRP—Fraction of yield threshold for SCC initiation||WP&DS-D (WAPDEG)||WPACKAGE, STRUCT|
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Diaz-Maurin, F.; Ewing, R.C. Mission Impossible? Socio-Technical Integration of Nuclear Waste Geological Disposal Systems. Sustainability 2018, 10, 4390. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10124390
Diaz-Maurin F, Ewing RC. Mission Impossible? Socio-Technical Integration of Nuclear Waste Geological Disposal Systems. Sustainability. 2018; 10(12):4390. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10124390Chicago/Turabian Style
Diaz-Maurin, François, and Rodney C. Ewing. 2018. "Mission Impossible? Socio-Technical Integration of Nuclear Waste Geological Disposal Systems" Sustainability 10, no. 12: 4390. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10124390