Bataapati during development (Image: Puram)
The Bataapati facility will hold most of the radioactive wastes from the nuclear power plant that provides over one third of Hungary's electricity.
The inauguration took place on 6 October, marking the start of operations at surface storage and control facilities. Construction has begun on underground disposal vaults which should eventually hold all the low-level and short-lived intermediate-level radioactive wastes (LILW) resulting from the operation and decommissioning of the Paks nuclear power plant.
The small volume of long-lived ILW and high-level wastes will be managed separately.
Bataapati, 180 kilometres from Budapest, was selected from some 300 potential locations after a 15-year selection and development process that involved nine different government agencies. Final approval was given by parliament in 2005, following a local referendum which saw 75% of the local community participate and a 90% favourable response. In the wider region, acceptance is 60%.
Paks is Hungary's only nuclear generating site, with four VVER-440 pressurized water reactors. The first of the four reactors is due to be closed in 2012 with the others following before 2020, resulting in a total stockpile of 40,000 m3 of LILW for disposal after dismantling the plant. However, there is a high probability of 20-year life extensions to the Paks units, and this possibility as well as that of Hungary building new reactors has been factored into the modular design of Bataapati.
Waste drums will be stacked at a depth of 200-250 metres below the surface (0-50 metres above sea level) inside caverns within the granite bedrock. Studies have shown this bedrock is composed of large blocks separated from one another by impermeable clayish deformation zones with very low levels of groundwater movement - just a few centimetres per year. "By virtue of the deep location and the hydro-geological conditions, the proposed concept of subsurface disposal is not affected significantly by changes in the environment," Peter Ormai of Hungary's waste management company, Puram, told World Nuclear News.
The disposal caverns, accessed via a pair of inclined tunnels, will be back-filled with a combination of clay and concrete with 50-60% crushed granite, which is intended to retain any radioactive isotopes that may escape from waste packages over the long term. The facility is designed to make it possible to retrieve all the waste packages until it is finally closed.
The first phase of the project will see three pairs of LILW caverns constructed. The repository will then be extended so that the more active waste is isolated in one particular bedrock block. The repository will be operated automatically, with a closed-line camera network sending signals to the surface control room.