Feature

Deep sleep

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Science  10 Jul 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6244, pp. 132-135
DOI: 10.1126/science.349.6244.132

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Summary

Scientists are reviving an old and largely discarded idea for disposing of the United States' most radioactive nuclear waste: sticking it down holes drilled 5 kilometers into Earth's crust. The renewed interest in deep boreholes comes as the federal government struggles to find a way to rid itself of more than 83,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel and remnants of nuclear weapons production. The Obama administration has abandoned the previous plan to bury it in a mine in Nevada's Yucca Mountain, amid opposition from Nevada politicians. Now, scientists at Sandia National Laboratories are moving ahead with an $80 million dollar, 5-year test of deep boreholes, to see if they are practical and safe. Some advocates suggest boreholes could be a solution for disposing of most high-level waste. But others warn that the technology is untested, or would only work for a small portion of the waste that's small enough to easily fit down a borehole. One prime candidate is highly radioactive cesium and strontium now stored in slender steel canisters at an aging building at the U.S. Department of Energy's Hanford Site in Washington state.

  • * Warren Cornwall is a freelance journalist in Bellingham, Washington