Deep Isolation is a young company developing solutions for “the nuclear waste issue.” They have built their solution option based on highly developed technologies used in the oil and gas drilling sector.
Several decades ago, after discussing and evaluating several options, the world’s scientific and political communities came to a general consensus around the notion that certain categories of byproducts from nuclear technologies in power, industry, medicine and defense should be permanently isolated from the human environment in deep geological formations.
Nearly all of the specific solution concepts evolving from that consensus involved large mined repositories. As envisioned in most countries, deep geologic repositories would be large enough to store a large portion of their waste. They planned to develop just one or a very small number of repositories.
For many reasons, most countries have had difficulty implementing their envisioned solution. Only a handful have progressed to the point of choosing a location and only one, Finland, is nearing the point of commissioning their facility and starting to dispose of their nuclear waste.
Addressing nuclear waste using oil and gas drilling technology
About a half a dozen years ago, Richard and Elizabeth Muller looked at the world’s nuclear waste problem through a new lens. Richard knew about the rapid developments in drilling technologies that had enabled the US natural gas industry to become most productive supplier in the world.
He thought about the ability to steer drill bits into selected layers of rock and about the long horizontal laterals being created, some with lengths measured in miles. It seem to Richard and Liz that modern drilling techniques could be applied to reduce the complexity of developing mined repositories for nuclear waste.
Additional research led the pair to form Deep Isolation, a world leader in the concept of using directional drilling to create small modular repositories (SMRs, if you will) that could be a right-sized solution for countries with small waste inventories and for distributed solutions in countries with large inventories.
One of the major advantages of using distributed deep boreholes is that they can be developed in locations that minimize the number of ton-miles needed to move the material from its current safe resting place to a permanent (but retrievable) disposal location.
Transportation is not only costly, but it’s an activity that provides opponents with multiple opportunities to interfere, insert delays, add costs and tie up processes in legal battles.
Developing a complete solution set
Deep Isolation knows that many of the challenges that have slowed the development of nuclear waste repositories will not disappear as a result of their technological development. It’s not a magic wand that will eliminate opposition or convince communities that they should meekly accept the role of storing used nuclear fuel – aka nuclear waste.
They recognize that one or more deep boreholes are only components of a complete solution.
Though steadily developing the physical and technical capacity to license and build modular repositories, Deep Isolation is focusing on engagement activities that will build trust, understanding and perhaps acceptance. In the best case, full understanding and trust could result in open invitations from a welcoming community that sees benefits in hosting their facilities.
Deep Isolation is engaged with communities, NGOs, national and local governments. They’ve completed several studies and have more underway. They are in discussions about the potential of a multinational demonstration that is more comprehensive than the demonstration they completed in 2019.
This is the second Atomic Show featuring Liz Muller. While reviewing some of the basics of her company and their technological solutions, this show focused more on providing an update of activities and progress made since April of 2020.
As always, your comments are welcome.