Belgian Government Officials Visit Underground Nuclear Waste Research Lab too. A First step toward Long-Term Management of Belgium’s Most Dangerous Radioactive Waste? Decision Due 2015. (As-is, Actual Storage Still Many Decades Away…); + Some Ideas For Additional Research.

DISCLAIMER – First day of Northern Hemisphere SPRING, 2015

  • In a feat of slightly amazing timing coincidence, just 3 days after I walked in those laboratory tunnels, Belgium’s Minister of Energy Marie-Christine Marghem and Vice Prime Minister (and Labor Minister) Kris Peeters visited HADES too, for the start of the PRACLAY experiment, in which clay will be heated electrically to 80 degrees Celcius (176 Fahrenheit) for a decade to find out how the radioactive waste’s heat will affect the clay and tunnel strength:
CLICK IMAGE to read (in Dutch) at SOURCE:

CLICK IMAGE to read (in Dutch) at SOURCE:

“[…] Part of my concerns stem not from what is going on at the lab per se, but more so from the Belgian government’s irresponsible delays to tackle key decisions, such as giving the green light and allocate the needed funds to start the search for an actual waste deposit site. Unbelievable:  Although scheduled, thát actually hasn’t even started yet… 

The radioactive waste is simply accumulating in spent fuel pools and bunkers.  No long-term disposal site is even under construction yet.  They have NO IDEA YET where they’ll put it!   HADES, as it is now, is only an underground laboratory.  Belgium has been researching the waste disposal issue longer than most other countries, but is currently (2015) near the end of the line for implementation (2035?).

Yet, also true, since disposal can’t even start until a couple more decades anyhow (during which the spent fuel and other wastes need to cool down more), ongoing research should help with making better decisions when that time has come.  Anyhow… “We’ll see.” is the very attitude of kicking the can onto the next generation… […]”   [read more at original blog post]

(Excerpt Screenshot)

Also, not even 5 hours after my blog post, Friday night by 22:59, ‘BELGA’ (a Belgian press agency) sends an article over the wire that gets picked up nationally in print and radio the next day:

“The national agency for radioactive waste and enriched fission materials, NIRAS,  will propose to the government to store highly radioactive and/or long-living radioactive waste in clay.  That has been decided by the board of directors on Friday [March 20, 2015]It is the first step in the management of nuclear waste.  “The federal government will hereby receive all elements in their hands to take a first decision about the long term management of this waste”, it sounds.


(Photo: MVB, 2015)

At the request of the European Union, Belgium had to determine its management plan for the storage of nuclear waste for the long term.  For low-level and medium-active short-lived waste (Category A) a project already started, surface-level storage in Dessel.  [Note: Dessel is right next to Mol, the nuclear research and waste facilities are all in the same area.  The storage of A-waste is in a massive super strong bunker.]

For waste of Categories B and C (high-level and/or long-lived waste), the board of directors of Niras has given a mandate to the Director-General to develop a policy, which can be submitted to the government.  “Geological disposal in poorly indurated [still soft] clay has been determined as the long-term solution.  This is all in line with [Belgium’s] Waste Plan 2011, for which alternative management options have been thoroughly examined and in which the public was consulted,” it sounds.   According to Niras, 40 years of research has shown that geological disposal in Boom or Ypres clays are ‘a safe, feasible and appropriate solution‘.

In a second phase, Niras will thoroughly develop the principles of reversibility, retrievability and monitoringA third major decision determines the location. “The time for thát phase has not come yet.he says.

According to Jean-Paul Minon, chief director of the Niras, the choice of a site is dependent on public support. “That takes timeTherefore, we will as soon as possible develop a transparent and participatory decision-making process that involves all stakeholders in every step of the process.””  [Original in Dutch]

  • In the same vein, but including the officials’ visit to Hades, more articles today detailed where the nuclear waste disposal research is at.   So, today, Saturday March 21, 2015,  most newspapers in the region, coincidentally, also ran stories in which both aspects I touched on were found as well:  1) No location site has been selected yet, but 2) experiments to confirm that long-term storage in clay is ‘feasible and can be done safely’ are progressing:

“[…]  On Friday, ESV Euridice, a partnership between the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre (SCK-CEN) and nuclear waste management authority NIRAS, presented the large-scale experiment PRACLAY.  “For ten years, a 30 meters side-tunnel is being heated with electricity to 80 degrees [176 F], so as to mimic the effects of heat from nuclear waste on the clay,” said Euridice chairman Marc Demarchelier. “What turned out as possible on a small scale, we want to now also test on a realistic scale.  For instance, we want to know whether the tunnel remains stable and intact after ten years.  This is important, because the concept of the waste disposal is that it remains retrievable for a certain period.”

The researchers claim the investigation has now reached a level where the federal government can take a policy decision to realize an underground repository. “Once that decision is made, NIRAS can accurately define further research, organize the various steps of the future management and optimization, and estimate the cost of such a geological disposal,” says NIRAS director Jean-Paul Minon.”   [Full article (in Dutch)]

That one’s paywall-blocked, though  :-/  but the free part [translated below the screenshot] states:

(PHOTO in article screenshot, by © Bart Van der Moeren, is captioned: “In the underground lab in Mol, which is located at a depth of 225 meters, a thirty meters long tunnel will be electrically heated to 80 degrees Celsius ten years to evaluate the effect of the heat of high-level radioactive waste on the clay.”)

Article [rough translation]: 

“[…] Storage in clay layers deep underground:  NIRAS / ONDRAF finds it the best way to store the Belgian nuclear waste.  It is now up to the government to bite the bullet, says CEO Jean-Paul Minon, whether or not the lifetime of the oldest nuclear reactors gets extended.

According Niras, which in our country is responsible for nuclear waste, research into the storage of highly radioactive waste has advanced far enough to make a choice. Preference is given to an underground storage ‘in poorly indurated clay’.

Niras CEO Jean-Paul Minon adds immediately that there still not been clarified exactly where the waste will be stored in our country.  The next few years, storage site location won’t be discussed yet … ”

The three articles in De Standard, which appeared in less than 24 hours, together (by keyword, “kernenergie”, nuclear energy):

Hope passing this along is somehow helpful.

  • Interesting timely development

Although I have nothing to do with that (unless, of course, you venture into non-linear time with comic-strip-style imagination ;-) ), I’m sure you can imagine that when I attempt to bring attention to a topic that gets not even a fraction of the attention I think it deserves, that it was slightly trippy to see it all over the news all of a sudden.  :-)

Does it now mean Belgium knows where they’ll put the waste for the next million years?  Well, “in clay somewhere” it what it sounds like.  But, otherwise, No, the issue of WHERE will be many more years before that key issue will be tackled, the way they’re going about it.  The news is really only this:  The researchers are confident that still-soft clay is a suitable medium for relatively safe véry long-term disposal of high-level nuclear waste.  And the government needs to make the next decision now.

Given the geological time involved, it’s only to be expected that some experiments need to take place over the course of years or decades.  Why they would move along their schedule in such a snail pace sequence for everything else as well, however, is not clear to me.  I see no reasons why a search can not already begin to tackle site selection challenges. 

  • Many Unknowns Left To Be Researched…

Just off the bat, I can imagine that studies that would help identify the best suitable  locations would benefit from more detailed mapping of various geological features.  That could begin right away (perhaps by the National Geological Institute), such as seeking more insight in long-term hydrological and seismic trends and possibilities.  There is always more to learn.  Kicking the can to the next government or even generations is not a responsible choice to move this extremely important project along.

And why are they not talking about expanding so many possible areas of research?   There are so many fields that, at least as far as I know, that are barely looked into deeply.

I think of those white string-like bacteria “of unknown DNA sequence” that showed up mysteriously inside old nuclear fuel assemblies in the US, or the Peak District microorganisms that could “eat” radioactive waste discovered in the UK, for instance.  Could they show up deep down at some point as well?  Could that be helpful?  Or be made helpful?   More research will lead to more discoveries.

Or, just to brainstorm a bit more…  How do electric currents run through various ground layers?  Like low-frequency complex Telluric currents, or those associated with thunderstorms.  How are they affected by what would be akin to “underground radioactive clouds”?   As we know, radioactive clouds in air (such as after Chernobyl and Fukushima) significantly affect the electric conductivity of air… (See Page 24 @ ‘radiation and air electricity’, mentioned in my Jan 15, 2015 blog post, “Gaging Recent Radiation Spikes: How do the Recent Gamma Upticks Compare to those Observed after Chernobyl?“)  How does the clay’s conductivity change when radioisotopes move by diffusion through the clay?   Are there subtle effects of such waste disposal that could eventually even affect the weather somehow?  Or bird migration?   There are so many things we know almost nothing about.

Could changes deep underground affect sensitive animals above-ground?  Could indigenous people (like the Kogi in Colombia, to just mention just one tribe I saw a documentary about the other day), or “urban shamans” be consulted to help with site location, or could they/we play a role in aspects of the long-term stewarding?

If the public is going to be involved in the decision process, -to make a convincing case for a specific long-term management plan- a bit more knowledge than data on heating clay and how fast waste spreads in clay is called for, in my view.  For now, that’s my input as “a member of the public”…

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Other sites (in Dutch) I looked at with some additional perspectives were:

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[Last edited: March 26, 2015.]

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One Response to Belgian Government Officials Visit Underground Nuclear Waste Research Lab too. A First step toward Long-Term Management of Belgium’s Most Dangerous Radioactive Waste? Decision Due 2015. (As-is, Actual Storage Still Many Decades Away…); + Some Ideas For Additional Research.

  1. Pingback: More PHOTOS from Belgium – (Antwerpen, Leuven, De Haan, Brussels) – March 2015) | Not All Alleged Is Apparent…

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