Radioactive waste

As well as the current requirement for a long-term strategy for dealing with Britain's high-level radioactive waste legacy, any future nuclear power programme will require a method of safe storage of waste, throughout the radioactive lifetime of the material. Plans for the deep geological burial of high-level radioactive waste are being made in a number of EC countries and a framework has now been laid out for the implementation of such an approach in the UK.

BGS undertakes research relating to the geological disposal of radioactive waste, including studies aimed at understanding the physical and chemical properties of rocks and materials that will be used to isolate radioactive waste, with particular expertise in mudrocks and crystalline formations and engineered barriers including bentonite and cement.

Ongoing studies include experimental determination of fluid flow through natural and engineered materials under a range of boundary conditions from triaxial stress states to the measurement of fracture transmissivity while under active shear. Studies are currently investigating a range of problems, including:

  • evolution of the engineering disturbed zone around repository openings
  • the role of microbial activity in enhancing/retarding migration through geological materials
  • impact of carbonation on cementitious materials
  • fundamental controls governing the movement of gas through compact bentonite
  • long-term multi-phase flow behaviour of intact host rocks

Selected research

Radial stress following gas penetration of the bentonite buffer in the Äspö experimentLASGIT

Long-term experiments in large-scale gas injection at the Äspö laboratory.

Isotropic confinement vesselGas transport tests

Laboratory testing of the gas transport properties of rock materials used for the disposal of radioactive waste.

Pyrite coated with microbial structures in a biofilmBioTran

Experiments designed to investigate microbial impacts on the transport properties of rock materials.