Radioactive Waste Disposal in Thick Unsaturated Zones

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Science  26 Jun 1981:
Vol. 212, Issue 4502, pp. 1457-1464
DOI: 10.1126/science.212.4502.1457


Portions of the Great Basin are undergoing crustal extension and have unsaturated zones as much as 600 meters thick. These areas contain multiple natural barriers capable of isolating solidified toxic wastes from the biosphere for tens of thousands to perhaps hundreds of thousands of years. An example of the potential utilization of such arid zone environments for toxic waste isolatic is the burial of transuranic radioactive wastes at relatively shallow depths (15 to 100 meters) in Sedan Crater, Yucca Flat, Nevada. The volume of this man-made crater is several times that of the projected volume of such wastes to the year 2000. Disposal in Sedan Crater could be accomplished at a savings on the order of $0.5 billion, in comparison with current schemes for burial of such wastes in mined repositories at depths of 600 to 900 meters, and with an apparently equal likelihood of waste isolation from the biosphere.