Deep borehole demo work to be conducted in Norway

09 June 2023

The Deep Borehole Demonstration Center has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Norsk Kjernekraft to collaborate on demonstration of deep borehole disposal in Norway. The centre - launched earlier this year - has already begun demonstration work at a site in Cameron, Texas.

Deep Isolation's concept for the disposal of nuclear fuel and high-level waste (Image: Deep Isolation)

The Deep Borehole Demonstration Center was founded in February as a non-profit organisation and is open to participation from governments, utilities, nuclear operators and research organisations interested in studying nuclear waste disposal technologies for worldwide deployment. Initial members include organisations representing waste disposal interests in nine countries, from both the public and private sectors. This includes the European Repository Development Organisation (ERDO).

Formed by the waste management organisations from seven European countries, ERDO published in 2022 the results of a project that found that deep borehole disposal is a technologically feasible and potentially cost-efficient solution for high-level or long-lived intermediate-level waste from Croatia, Slovenia, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway, and recommended that the key next steps are a full-scale demonstration of site characterisation, drilling, waste emplacement and borehole sealing, combined with development of a comprehensive safety case. The Deep Borehole Demonstration Center responds to that recommendation.

The mission of the Deep Borehole Demonstration Center is to advance the maturity of the safety case for deep borehole disposal and the technical readiness levels of the disposal concept, including characterization, construction, canister handling, emplacement and retrieval.

The Center has already started its multi-year programme of work to cumulatively deliver an end-to-end, non-radioactive demonstration of deep borehole disposal. The initial tests at Cameron, Texas, in February successfully demonstrated the compatibility of a prototype pressurised water reactor-size waste disposal canister with standard lifting equipment for the oil and gas industry for use in deep borehole disposal operations.

An MoU has now been signed with Norsk Kjernekraft, a recently established Norwegian company with the goal of constructing and operating small modular reactors (SMRs) in Norway.

"It is an exciting development to collaborate with Norsk Kjernekraft to explore opportunities for demonstration of borehole disposal technology in Norway," said the Center's Executive Director Ted Garrish. "At the technical level, Norway's crystalline rock, including granite, is a very different geology to the Center's initial shale environment in Texas - so it helps demonstrate the wide variety of rock types that offer safe and effective options for deep borehole disposal. Further, it demonstrates that Europe's SMR industry is rightly focused on the need to engage with communities in planning for waste disposal right from the outset."

Norsk Kjernekraft CEO Jonny Hesthammer added: "Norsk Kjernekraft is passionate about the benefits that nuclear power will bring to Norway's net-zero energy market - and to achieve these we must show the communities we work in that there are practical solutions available to put the resulting waste safely and permanently out of contact with the biosphere.

"Deep borehole disposal is a technology that offers huge potential benefits to Norway - for our communities, and for our world-leading drilling industry - so I am delighted to be working with the Deep Borehole Demonstration Center to demonstrate this technology here in Norway."

Berkeley, California-based private company Deep Isolation's solution for the management of used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste involves emplacing it in corrosion-resistant canisters placed in deep horizontal drillholes. The technology uses existing directional drilling technology. The waste can be retrieved during a determined time frame or permanently secured.

In 2019, Deep Isolation publicly demonstrated its concept when it successfully placed and then retrieved a prototype nuclear waste canister hundreds of metres underground via a borehole.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News