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The Role of Underground Laboratories in Nuclear Waste Disposal Programmes

Implementing organisations in many countries are involved in the investigation and resolution of issues associated with the design, long-term safety, and practical realisation of underground repositories for radioactive waste. The feasibility and the safety of the disposal solution must be satisfactorily demonstrated by the implementing organisations, with the agreement of regulatory bodies, the wider scientific and technical community, political decision makers and the general public. This requires practical demonstration of key technical elements and confidence in the decision-making process. Especially, convincing arguments are required that instil confidence in all parties in the safety of the disposal solution, taking into account the uncertainties that inevitably exist in forecasting the behaviour of complex natural and engineered systems for long times into the future. The best way to get such arguments is to develop Underground Research Laboratories (URLs).

Generic URLs facilities are developed for research and testing purposes at a site that will not be used for waste disposal ; site-specific URLs  facilities are developed at a potential site for waste disposal and may, indeed, be a precursor to the development of a repository at the site.

Basic information on generic URLs in NEA member countries

Website URL ieidsfuisdufiusdf Host rock, location, depth Organisation, remarks Other NEA countries co-operating in research
Asse Mine >> more Permian rock salt anticline; Germany; several mining levels between 490 and 800 m, mined cavern at 950 m. GSF; galleries in former potash and rock salt mine, demonstration facility for LLW and ILW disposal from 1965 to 1978, R&D facility until 1997, backfilling of unused excavations underway. France, Netherlands,
Spain Tono >> more Sediments; Japan. JNC; galleries in former uranium mine, operating since 1986. Switzerland
Kamaishi Granite; Japan. JNC; galleries in former iron-copper mine, completed in 1998. Switzerland
Stripa Mine Granite; Sweden; 360-410 m. SKB; galleries in former iron mine, operated from 1976 to 1992. Canada, Finland, France, Japan, Spain, Switzerland, UK, USA
Grimsel Test Site (GTS) >> more Granite; Switzerland; 450 m. Nagra; gallery from a service tunnel of a hydroelectric project, operating since 1983. Czech Republic, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, Sweden, USA
Mt. Terri Project >> more Opalinus clay (hard clay); Switzerland; 400 m. SNHGS; gallery from a highway tunnel, initiated 1995. Belgium, France, Germany, Japan, Spain
Olkiluoto Research Tunnel Granite (tonalite); Finland; 60-100 m. Posiva; Tunnel adjacent to the Olkiluoto repository for LLW, operating since 1992.. Sweden
Climax Granite; USA; 420 m. DOE; drift mined from existing excavations; spent fuel disposal experiments conducted 1978 to 1983.  
G-Tunnel Tuff; USA; > 300 m. DOE; tunnel of weapons-testing excavations; operated from 1979 to 1990.  
Amelie Bedded salt; France. ANDRA; galleries in potash mine, operated 1986 to 1992.  
Fanay-Augères Granite; France. IPSN; galleries in uranium mine, operated 1980 to 1990.  

Basic information on purpose-built generic URLs in NEA Member countries.

URL Host rock, location, depth Organisation, remarks Other NEA countries cooperating in research  
High-Activity Disposal Experiment Site Underground Research Facility (HADES-URF) >> more Boom clay (plastic clay); Mol/Dessel, Belgium; 230 m. GIE EURIDICE; shaft sinking began 1980, operating since 1984 and extended 1998-9. France, Germany, Japan, Spain  
Whiteshell Underground Research Laboratory (URL) >> more Granite; Lac du Bonnet, Manitoba, Canada; 240-420 m. AECL; operating since 1984. France, Hungary, Japan, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States  
Mizunami Underground Research Laboratory >> more Granite; Japan. JNC; borehole drilling underway. Switzerland  
Horonobe Underground Research Laboratory >> more Sedimentary rock; Japan. JNC; construction approved 2000.  
Äspö Hard Rock Laboratory >> more Granite; Sweden; several depths between 200 and 450 m. SKB; operating since 1995. Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States  
Busted Butte >> more Bedded tuff, Calico Hills Formation; Yucca Mountain, Nevada, USA; 100 m. USDOE; operating since 1998.    

List of site-specific URLs in NEA Member countries.

URL Host rock, location, depth Organisation, remarks Other NEA countries co-operating in research  
ONKALO Granite (tonalite); Finland; 500 m. Posiva; authorised in 2001, construction to begin in 2003.  
Meuse/Haute Marne Shale (indurated clays), Callovo-Oxfordian Argillites; France; 450-500 m. ANDRA; potential repository site, shaft construction began 2000. Japan  
Gorleben* Salt dome; Lower Saxony, Germany; several depths below 900 m. BfS, DBE; shafts constructed 1985-1990.    
Konrad Jurassic iron ore deposits (Coral Oolite) covered with shale; Germany; 800 to 1300 m. BfS, DBE; galleries in former iron mine, operating since 1980, in licensing stage for a LLW/ILW repository.    
Morsleben Salt dome; Germany; several depths between 386 and 596 m. BfS, DBE; former salt and potash mine, repository for LLW and ILW since 1981 (disposal operations terminated in 1998).    
Pécs (Mecsek Mountain) Indurated clay, Boda Claystone Formation; Hungary; 1000 m. PURAM; former uranium mine, operated 1995-1999.    
Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) Salt (bedded), Salado Formation, Carlsbad, New Mexico, USA; 655 m USDOE; operating since 1982, licensed transuranic (TRU) waste repository since 1999. Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Sweden, United Kingdom  
Objectives Examples
Development of methods and equipment for underground characterisation and testing of the reliability of the different methods • Ventilation experiment, cross-hole hydraulic and seismic tests, borehole radar, and Validation Drift experiments at Stripa;
• Extensometer development at URL*, Canada;
• Development of equipment and procedures for brine permeability tests in halite at WIPP;
• Brine migration test at Asse.
• Comparison of pre-excavation predictions to properties found in tunnel at Äspö.
Determine reliability of surfacebased methods of site characterisation • Comparison of permeability-test results from deep boreholes with in situ
• permeability tests at WIPP;
Application of site-exploration strategies and strategies to adapt underground systems as more information is acquired. • Fracture mapping and hydraulic measurements to select locations for fullscale deposition holes in Olkiluoto Research Tunnel
Testing and development of conceptual and numerical models of processes potentially relevant to radionuclide transport through rock. • Radionuclide Retardation Project at Grimsel;
• Unsaturated zone transport tests at Yucca Mountain;
• Solute transport and diffusion experiments at URL, Canada;
• Gas-threshold-pressure tests at WIPP; • Tracer retention programme at Äspö.
Quantification of impacts of excavation on local system. • Excavation-damaged zone experiments at Äspö, Grimsel, and WIPP;
• Disturbed zone studies around blasted tunnel and drilled disposal holes in Olkiluoto Research Tunnel.
Further development and testing of excavation techniques. • Demonstration of technical feasibility of drilling galleries in plastic clays at HADES;
Comparison of tunnel boring machine to drill and blast excavation techniques at Äspö and Grimsel;
• Demonstration of deep borehole drilling technique at Asse;
• Studies of the performance of disposal technologies at Olkiluoto.
Simulation of effects caused by emplacement of radioactive waste (heat, nuclide release, mechanical impact). • Study of the effect of heat and radiation on clay at HADES;
• Thermal simulation of drift emplacement at Asse; • Heater tests at Stripa, Yucca Mountain, WIPP, and Grimsel;
• Thermal-structural interactions tests at WIPP;
Experiments related to long-term processes, post-operational phases, corrosion, geomechanical stability, etc. • Concept demonstration for disposal in clay at HADES;
• Coupled thermal-hydraulic-mechanical processes test at Kamaishi;
• Materials interface interactions tests at WIPP;
• Backfill and material behaviour at Asse;
• Thermal-mechanical-hydraulic tests at URL, Canada.
Demonstration of engineered barrier systems (feasibility). • Borehole sealing and buffer mass tests at Stripa; • Full-scale engineered barriers experiments at Grimsel;
• Development of borehole seals for HLW canisters at Asse;
• Buffer and container testing at URL, Canada;
• Small-scale seal performance tests at WIPP;
• Repository sealing experiments at HADES.

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