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Do Rocks Hold The Key To Nuclear Waste Storage?


Technology to monitor how the rock barrier around radio active waste reacts has been developed by an Anglo French consortium with the help of 466,286 euros from the EU’s Framework Programme towards the projects total cost of 765,619 euros.

As the sources of traditional fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas continue to decrease there is a growing demand for more sustainable forms of energy. The option to turn to nuclear power for the production of electricity has long been debated but disposal of the waste material is a major cause for concern. Experts believe one of the most viable solutions for the safe management of nuclear radioactive waste is deep geological disposal, but this needs extensive testing and validation before it can be considered as the long-term solution.
“The OMNIBUS project developed ultrasonic technology with a primary aim to monitor the rock barrier at potential underground radioactive waste storage sites (including argillaceous rock masses)”, says Professor Paul Young, the project co-ordinator at the University of Liverpool’s Department of Earth Sciences. “The technology (hardware and software) has been successfully tested insitu to provide real time monitoring of rock masses to provide information on changes that are occurring. The software provides methods for interpreting these changes in terms of crack density, crack size and orientation, as well as fluid content. This information on changing rock properties is very important in terms of short and long term safety in these types of facilities.”

Three main technologies have been produced that will have significant application in areas, apart from radioactive waste management, where continuous and non-destructive testing of brittle materials such as concrete and metals are undertaken. For instance, in mining and petroleum sectors as well as in seismological studies and civil engineering for structures including dams, tunnels, and bridges. They are:

Ultrasonic Monitoring Hardware – A state-of-the-art system of custom designed and built components as well as off the shelf components. This includes the technology for installing ultrasonic sensors in boreholes in a rockmass as well as for high speed high resolution data collection.

Ultrasonic Monitoring Software – to allow ultrasonic data acquisition control, real time ultrasonic data processing and visualization, as well as ultrasonic data interpretation of rock properties from the display and analysis of model data.

Ultrasonic Modelling Software – that can be used to help understand the effect that rock properties have on ultrasonic transmission characteristic including phase and amplitude spectra.

“The nuclear energy programme of Framework Funding is aimed at intensifying and deepening the already well established co-operation at European level in the field of nuclear research”, says Paul Leeks, Project Director for FP6UK. “The exploitation of nuclear fission energy for energy production requires progress to be made in the problem of waste, and more particularly the industrial implementation of technical solutions for the management of long-lived waste.

“The current Framework Programme (FP6) runs until 2006 and organisations wanting free, easy to access, information on the 19bn euros of funding available to support internationally collaborative R&D should log on to or call central telephone support on 0870 600 6080.”

Dave Sanders | alfa
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