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Non-nuclear energy


Fission and radiation protection

Engineering Studies and Demonstration of Repository Designs

Geological disposal of high-level, long-lived radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel has been studied for the last 30 years. From a scientific/technical viewpoint, geological disposal has reached a very mature level and the research has provided valuable input to all subsequent safety analyses. This fundamental feasibility work is now being complemented with engineering and technological development in repository construction techniques in the ESDRED project. The research includes underground activities, such as disposal cell/drift outfitting, waste canister transportation from the surface and emplacement in the disposal cell/drifts, disposal cell/drift closure including sealing and backfilling operations, amongst many others.

Demonstrating geological repository technical basis

Sketch of the four technological development activities within ESDREDCourtesy: ANDRA © Courtesy: ANDRA
Sketch of the four technological development activities within ESDREDCourtesy: ANDRA
© Courtesy: ANDRA
The Integrated Project ESDRED is a joint research effort by major national radioactive waste management agencies and research organisations, representing nine European countries. ESDRED is a major step towards establishing a sound technical basis for demonstrating the practical feasibility at full scale of disposing spent fuel and other high level and long-lived radioactive waste in deep geological formations (several hundreds of metres below the surface) and towards underpinning the development of a common European view on the main issues related to the management and disposal of radioactive waste. To identify the key technological issues, a review of the various activities involved in the construction and closure of a repository has been performed and compared with existing or easily adaptable technologies available within mining, civil and nuclear engineering sectors. The results of this exercise show that the construction, operation and closure of an underground repository requires not only the current know-how developed for conventional mining and civil engineering, but also specific technological solutions linked to radiation protection and to the operational safety requirements of a nuclear facility. ESDRED will provide a thorough investigation and demonstration of techniques to show nuclear activities being carried out safely underground.

Proving construction technology, training engineers

The project’s overall objective is to demonstrate the technical feasibility, at an industrial scale, of activities in compliance with the requirements regarding operational and long-term safety, retrievability and monitoring of radioactive waste. This will involve activities such as buffer-construction technologies for horizontal disposal concepts, waste canister transfer and emplacement technology for horizontal and vertical disposal concepts, heavy load emplacement technology for horizontal disposal concepts, use of specific low pH cement and shotcrete techniques to build disposal cell/drift sealing plugs and/or to reinforce underground structures and linings and development of innovative wireless monitoring techniques. Complementary activities include the training of engineers and professional staff, contribution to the education of students and young scientists, dissemination and communication of the project results to stakeholders including the public, and coordination and integration of work between the different project engineering and development activities. A significant part of this training and education will be dedicated to new EU Member States and will be organised mainly in the form of secondment and seminars.

Working prototypes for disposal facilities

The ultimate result of the ESDRED demonstration activities will be the fabrication and working demonstration of full-scale first-generation prototypes. The demonstration activities will be performed in surface and underground research laboratories (URLs) and will serve as the basis for the future development of operational industrial solutions (i.e. prototypes or pilot trials) at the various sites selected to become final repositories for high-level and long-lived radioactive waste and spent fuel.

Demonstrating feasibility, raising public confidence

It is recognised that nuclear power can produce electricity without emission of carbon dioxide (CO2), a gas that contributes to global warming. However, management of existing and future radioactive waste from the fuel cycle of the nuclear power industry remains a key issue for the continued use of nuclear energy. To ensure a continued, and possibly increased, contribution to the European energy supply from nuclear sources, a safe, permanent and publicly acceptable solution needs to be implemented for the management of all radioactive waste. Disposal of high-level and long-lived radioactive waste and spent fuel in deep underground repositories is considered by international technical experts to be the most suitable and safe as well as possible management option. Actual disposal concepts nevertheless vary from country to country depending, for instance, on the type of waste to be disposed of and/or the nature of the host rock in which the repository is to be built. In implementing a pan European work programme of activities the ESDRED consortium will demonstrate that feasible techniques are available for the implementation of deep geological disposal, thereby contributing to raising the confidence of all stakeholders, and the public at large, in the soundness of this waste management option.

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