Near-surface Disposal

Inventory development, safety-integrated design, and site assessment for IRAQ near-surface facility for short-lived low level waste and short-lived intermediate level waste (2014-2018)

MCM led inventory development, design basis and site assessment work performed in carrying out a “Feasibility Study, Basic Design and Engineering Design of an Engineered Radioactive Waste Disposal Facility” for the Government of Iraq (Ministry of Science and Technology, ‘the Beneficiary’) with the support of the European Commission (EC). Together with NUKEM Technologies, BGE TEC (formally DBE TECH) and JAVYS, who have led the detailed design, safety assessment and developed additional licensing documentation, we have delivered a credible design for a near-surface disposal facility proposed for a site at Al Tuwaitha that can accept in excess of 5000 m3 of packaged short-lived low level waste and short-lived intermediate level waste (SL-LLW/ILW). The waste originates from nuclear site decommissioning and radioactive waste treatment operations across Iraq, comprising Depleted Uranium (DU), contaminated soil, scrap metal, building rubble, other steel items such as framework, pipework and reinforcement from the dismantling and demolition of nuclear reactors, plus paper, plastics and other items. Preliminary design and assessment scope considered options for an above- or below-ground disposal facility, including a preliminary site assessment that addressed regional features of Iraq and the local area, in order to place the potential site into overall context of the area and to be in line with the relevant international standards for construction of radioactive waste disposal facilities. The preliminary scope included development of a full design basis with a clear requirements hierarchy to specify boundary conditions set by the waste and site characteristics, to inform safety-integrated design.

Following on from the preliminary assessment, two possible locations for the disposal facility were identified by the Beneficiary at the Al-Tuwaitha site, and the concept for the disposal facility was further developed, identifying an above-ground structure to be the most appropriate for the site – simple illustration below based on consideration of 7 initial feasible design variants. Further work, led by MCM, developed a focused site investigation survey specification that is specific for the preferred facility concept and for these two Locations on the Al-Tuwaitha site. This includes an on-site characterisation programme covering non-invasive data gathering in a first step to inform the safety case, a thorough site contamination and unexploded ordinance survey, and intrusive investigations in a second step to obtain further hydrogeological data from boreholes, together with a more comprehensive site monitoring programme. The key hydrogeological features of the Al Tuwaitha site is the generally flat topography, and it’s close proximity to the Tigris River (surface 33 m above sea level) and the Al Tuwaitha site about 6 m higher.

Work continues to finalise the detailed facility design and final safety assessment in readiness for acceptance by the Beneficiary, with all work due to complete in 2018.

Want to know more about radioactive waste waste management in IRAQ?

In the past decades Iraq had a significant nuclear program conducted at ten nuclear sites all over the country, namely Al-Tuwaitha, Adaya, Al Jesira, Al Q’aim, Al Tarmiya, Ash Sharqat, Rashidaya, Al Atheer, Al Furat and GeoPilot with a particular concentration at the at Al-Tuwaitha site, where 18 nuclear facilities were located.  As a result of the 1991 bombing during the Gulf war and subsequent looting significant damage occurred at the nuclear sites, and most notably at Al-Tuwaitha. The ensuing actions taken by the International Atomic Energy Agency – IAEA to implement United Nations (UN) Security Council decisions further reduced the use of nuclear installations in the country.  In 2004 the IAEA launched the Iraq Decommissioning Project (IDP) to assist Iraq in planning for, and decommissioning of, the existing nuclear facilities, radioactive waste management, remediation of contaminated sites, as well as drafting the relevant legal and regulatory framework. The IDP has been supported by the US State Department and coordinated by the IAEA. Ten sites and two mines (Akashat and Abu Skhair) were evaluated. Special attention received the Al-Tuwaitha site, where the destroyed research reactors Osiraq I & Osiraq II (Tammuz I & II), the IRT-5000 radioisotope production facilities, as well as waste storage facilities were located. Also the Adaya sites were a focus of attention, where in 1991 radioactive waste, yellow cake, and contaminated equipment were disposed of near the surface. Now some of the equipment is visible on the surface, and part of it has been looted and used by the local population.

International support has allowed making significant progress in the decommissioning of a number of nuclear facilities at the Al-Tuwaitha site, e.g. decommissioning of the LAMA facility and the Italian Radioisotope Production Laboratories. The Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST) is the operator of the nuclear facilities in Iraq, while the Ministry of Environment (MoE) is in charge of radiological surveys in the country. With that, both MoST and MoE are the relevant national authorities involved in the decommissioning and radioactive waste management activities.

A national policy for radioactive waste management has been drafted by MoST and a draft strategy for implementation of radioactive waste management is also in preparation. In this framework, Iraq is considering locating a radioactive waste disposal facility at the Al-Tuwaitha site (about 30 km from Bagdad) that is the subject of this INSC (Instrument for Nuclear Safety Cooperation) project. The near surface disposal facility is intended for disposal of low and intermediate level waste from past activities in Iraq, as well as future radioactive waste to be produced in the country, e.g., from decommissioning and remediation. The illustration below identifies 3 possible sites at Al-Tuwaitha considered for the near-surface disposal facility.

Concepts for near-surface and intermediate-depth disposal of radioactive wastes (2017)

MCM, and their partners AMEC Foster Wheeler, were contracted by RWM to investigate near-surface (NSD)  and  intermediate-depth  disposal  (IDD) concepts as potential alternatives to geological disposal where certain categories of HAW are concerned.

Numerous generic NSD & IDD disposal concepts were investigated along with analysis of the existing disposal facilities in France, the UK, Finland, Sweden and Japan. The strengths and weaknesses of NSD & IDD where HAW disposal is concerned were used to assess the feasibility of such a programme along with the identification of information gaps which must be closed in order to move along with a NSD/IDD HAW disposal implementation plan.

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