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EPRI-led team awarded $2.8M from ARPA-E to research uranium recovery for next-gen reactors; deep borehole disposal

EPRI, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Southern Company Research and Development, and Deep Isolation recently were recently awarded $2.8 million from by the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) for a joint nuclear research and development project focused on nuclear fuel management options to help power advanced nuclear energy systems. (Earlier post.)

EPRI will lead the two-year project that aims to expand the available options of nuclear fuel management by creating a tool for optimizing the integration of processes for recovery of uranium from used nuclear fuel and performing an at-scale scoping study for market readiness of some of these techniques.

Each of the participating organizations brings their unique specific technical perspective to the project. EPRI is providing project management and expertise in advanced reactor development, ORNL is providing technical expertise in nuclear fuel cycles and system modeling for developing the tool, Southern Company is providing real-world data and their experience in shepherding new technology from the laboratory to full-scale commercial deployment, and Deep Isolation is providing technical expertise in the disposal of used fuel in deep borehole repositories approximately a mile underground.

Deep Isolation’s nuclear waste repository leverages directional drilling to isolate spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste in deep boreholes located underground in suitable rock formations.

We are launching our fourth contract in the EU, with an advanced reactor developer in Estonia, so it’s affirming to see that the US government is devoting resources to advanced reactor R&D that integrates borehole repositories as a spent fuel solution.

—Chris Parker, Global Head of Business Development and Managing Director, Deep Isolation EMEA

The EPRI project brings Deep Isolation’s DOE grant projects this year to four. The previously awarded projects include: a $3.6-million grant to develop a universal disposal canister for advanced reactor applications; a $4-million grant with advanced reactor developer Oklo, Inc. and other partners to develop the first nuclear fuel recycling and disposal facility in the United States; and a $4.9-million award to work with Argonne National Laboratory to develop an integrated used fuel disposal plan using cost-effective deep borehole repository technology for oxide reduction applications.

After just four years as a public-facing company, Deep Isolation’s milestones include: contracts with a dozen countries across three continents, 18 patents and 90 notices of invention.

Deep Borehole Disposal. Rather than excavating large tunnels in a mine, Deep Isolation uses directional drilling technology to place waste hundreds of meters underground in long, narrow 18-inch wide horizontal boreholes within stable geological formations.

A deep borehole repository takes advantage of the exceptional isolation properties of geologic formations whose past stability can be verified to have endured for millions of years.

Borehole repositories can provide substantial isolation for many types of high-level waste in a wide range of locations. Because it can be implemented modularly, it is well suited for smaller inventories of waste or as a complement to an existing repository.

Placement and retrieval methods for borehole equipment are highly developed and are commonly performed using wirelines with a tractor, coiled tubing, or drill-pipe methods. Regulations may require that high-level waste disposed of in a deep geologic facility be retrievable. In the drilling industry, retrieval of objects from deep boreholes is routine.

Engineered barriers, such as specially designed canisters and borehole sealing, enhance repository safety and geologic isolation of nuclear waste. After hundreds of thousands of years, engineered barrier systems may fail, and the isolation of waste depends on the host geology as a protective, natural barrier.


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