High-density support matrices: Key to the deep borehole disposal of spent nuclear fuel
Deep (4–5 km) boreholes are emerging as a safe, secure, environmentally sound and potentially cost-effective option for disposal of high-level radioactive wastes, including plutonium. One reason this option has not been widely accepted for spent fuel is because stacking the containers in a borehole could create load stresses threatening their integrity with potential for releasing highly mobile radionuclides like 129I before the borehole is filled and sealed. This problem can be overcome by using novel high-density support matrices deployed as fine metal shot along with the containers. Temperature distributions in and around the disposal are modelled to show how decay heat from the fuel can melt the shot within weeks of disposal to give a dense liquid in which the containers are almost weightless. Finally, within a few decades, this liquid will cool and solidify, entombing the waste containers in a base metal sarcophagus sealed into the host rock.