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One small step toward responsible nuclear waste disposal?

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Mark Silverstone's picture
Principal, JMP Services AS

30+ years in Oil & Gas Industry Field of Interest: Environmental issues in general; waste management issues in particular. 

  • Member since 2002
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  • Jun 8, 2023

It’s not terribly surprising. In spite of its hydro and wind power (not to mention fossil fuel) resources, Norway is in the process of considering small nuclear reactors (SMR) for some applications. Far flung population and industrial centers may make SMRs useful to, for example, towns in the far north (above the arctic circle) that rely on fossil fuel for power and/or for hydrogen production to provide a possible alternative to fossil fuels for shipping and heavy industry.  Norway always hedges its bets for future energy resources as fossil fuel demand decreases and before the real costs and capacities for floating offshore wind and grid upgrades are better known. And, not least, Norway wants to continue and to enhance its role as a major supplier of energy to Europe and the U.K.

What may be more interesting is that Norway  will “begin with the end in mind” as Steven Covey suggests in his seminal work “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, one of my favorite "advice" books.

By that I mean that Norway has entered into an agreement with Deep Isolation, the California start-up:

"The Deep Borehole Demonstration Center announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to collaborate on demonstration of deep borehole disposal in Norway in addition to its work in Cameron, Texas. The memorandum is with Norsk Kjernekraft, a recently established Norwegian company with the goal of building and operating Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) in Norway, to provide clean and reliable power as Norway phases out fossil-fueled energy production leading up to net zero in 2050. 

The Center is an independent, nonprofit, science-driven organization – funded on a multinational, public-private-partnership basis – with the aim to advance the maturity of the safety case for deep borehole disposal and the technical readiness levels of the disposal concept."


The Norwegian Atomic Energy Agency (Norske Kjernekraft) is acutely aware that the use of SMR technology will never be accepted in Norway before much more is learned about the technology, not only about its safety and costs, but about acceptable methods to manage nuclear waste, especially the high level nuclear waste generated in fission powered electricity generators. Even with the few reactors (for example, producing medical isotopes) and other sources of radioactivity, including naturally occurring radioactive waste (NORM), there is an acute awareness in Norway of the hazards of presently available methods for long term storage of radioactive waste. 

Deep Isolation is making headway in its efforts to implement its “Deep Borehole” technology in several places in a variety of countries in the US and Europe, and with potential contractors to develop, prove and and implement the technology. 

With regard to nuclear waste, it is especially refreshing that someone is applying the “Begin with the end in mind” principal. This is in contrast to the vague plans espoused by the World Nuclear Association who have been rationalizing the problem for 50 years by suggesting that, among other thing, that “…the amount of waste produced during this process is also relatively small.” while they continue to mouth other platitudes, some patently false, and actually do nothing to tackle the problem.

Wouldn’t it have been nice if our "authorities" had considered the "begin with the end in mind" approach with respect to other waste streams and waste management, including collection, storage, sorting and recycling infrastructure for plastic, coal ash, chemicals such as  PFAS (“forever chemicals”), halons and other refrigerants and aerosols, wind turbine blades, electronic equipment, as well as combustion products emitted to the atmosphere? The world would, indeed, be in better shape today. 


Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jun 8, 2023

The battle on who takes nuclear waste remains an ever-present political football, so finding a direct technological solution would be terrific news

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Jun 9, 2023

Mark, You say QUOTE= towns in the far north (above the arctic circle) that rely on fossil fuel for power .

    But you propose a reliance on rare and expensive Uranium. You will have to safely transport it is you can get it. Later you will have to dispose of the deadly waste. How are you going to do all of this?  

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Jun 10, 2023

Sorry Jim, if I was not clear. I do not propose that at all.

I am simply reporting that it is under consideration for some purposes in Norway. I believe that there are much better solutions for the remote locations in the far north and most, if not all, other cost sensitive purposes. 

I do agree with the Norwegian approach which includes the requirement for a proven means of responsible disposal of high level, very long half-life, highly toxic nuclear waste. There is a very long way to go before the waste disposal issue, as well as the cost, reliability, safety and other issues, including those you mention, are resolved. 

Personally, I doubt it will ever get off the ground because of those very challenging issues, despite the efforts of nuclear lobbyists. The level of risk and the lack of sufficient mitigation for the risk will, in the end, kill it for all or almost all purposes. I believe that further development of renewables and storage by various sustainable methods will prevail. But time will tell sooner or later, preferably sooner.

I do hope that the Deep Isolation concept can be developed and eventually proven to be acceptable so that the stockpiled waste and that which is still being generated by the approximately 460 nuclear power generators around the world, as well as that generated by defense departments, can be properly put away for good. That is a problem that has so far been “kicked down the road” by irresponsible parties. It must be solved. 

I hope that clarifies. 


Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Jun 12, 2023

Uranium is not expensive, costs much less than natural gas on $/mmBTU basis. However, the cost to build the plants is more-or-less off-scale high. Roll up all the costs (including debt repayment and profit) and the machines are not remotely competitive. I doubt that the small reactors will ever be cost effective, which means that if built, they will be perpetually subsidized by the taxpayer. Just like renewable energy.

Julian Silk's picture
Julian Silk on Jun 13, 2023

Just a note on this, in agreement with Mark Silverstone this time.  If the deep underground storage sites are not developed, the nuclear waste will be stored onsite, much closer to the population centers.  In the north part of Norway, wind and tidal power might be useful, but storage would still be a problem, so learning about deep underground storage that area makes sense.

Mark Silverstone's picture
Thank Mark for the Post!
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