BGS radioactive waste research

The BGS has been involved in radioactive waste disposal research since the mid-1950s. As a public sector not-for-profit organisation, BGS is responsible for advising the UK government on a range of aspects of geoscience as well as providing impartial geological advice to industry, academia and the public. We also undertake work on behalf of a number of international waste management organisations and have provided geological data and interpretations concerning the safe storage and disposal of radioactive waste to them for more than 40 years.

The research we undertake is scientifically independent and is subject to peer-review. Our research is intended to better inform debate and decisions about the siting of a repository for radioactive waste in the UK, and elsewhere. Our research provides information and knowledge of the physical, chemical and biological processes that affect how the properties of the rocks and how the rocks interact with the engineered components of a repository, change over long periods of time, up to a million years in the future.

Research areas include:

Narrow gas pathways in a fracture visualisation test

Transport properties

State-of-the-art studies on the movement of fluids (gas, water, solutes) through low permeability rocks and engineered materials (bentonite, cements etc). The effects of pressure, temperature and material characteristics are key to these experiments.
Lead: Jon Harrington

Image showing fracture topology of a mudrock sample before and after it was sheared in the Direct Shear Rig. The characteristics of the fracture surface have been shown to have a direct effect on the strength of a fracture and the fluid flow along the fracture

Deformation and flow

Coupled deformation and flow behaviour in intact and fractured rock, in particular the engineered damaged zone around repository openings and along interfaces.
Lead: Rob Cuss

Schematic diagram of a flow test in compacted bentonite containing steel wires. The influence of microbiology on the bentonite/steel interface has been studied in detail as part of the Microbiology in Nuclear waste Disposal (MIND) project


Impact of microbes on metals and clays in a repository and limits to microbial activity in repository environments.
Lead: Simon Gregory

Modelling of future temperature trends and the impact that will have on permafrost thickness. Changes in the depth of any permafrost may have the potential to change groundwater flow around a potential repository

Groundwater and permafrost modelling

Development and application of models to improve our understanding of hydrological and groundwater processes around a repository today and in response to drivers such as millennial scale climate change (uplift and erosion).
Leads: Andrew Hughes (Groundwater)
Johanna Scheidegger (Permafrost)

BGS scientists using the 3D immersive visualisation suite. Large amounts of geological data, for example maps, boreholes and seismic studies have been used to create a 3D geological model of Great Britain

Site selection and characterisation

Geological and hydrogeological information to inform site selection for a UK repository, including the National Geological Screening exercise to support the UK siting process.
Lead: Fiona McEvoy

Secondary Electron Microscope image showing trace of gold nano particles used in a gas injection test carried out on a clay-rich mudrock in the Transport Properties Research Laboratory (Harrington et al., 2012)

Petrological characterisation

Petrological and mineralogical investigations of the interactions of materials and fluids in a repository environment (metals, cements, engineered clays, host-rock, glass etc).
Lead: Lorraine Field

Backscatter SEM image showing a steel wire through a bentonite sample. Images below show the distribution of key elements around this steel/bentonite interface.

Experimental geochemistry

Studies and simulations of the chemical reactions occurring between minerals, fluids and materials within a repository and at repository temperatures and pressures.
Lead: Chris Rochelle

Contact Fiona McEvoy for more information.

See also