Technical Integration and Scientific Communication

Project Co-Ordination for the EC CArbon-14 Source Term (CAST) Project (2013-2018)

The CAST project began operating on 1st October 2013 and is co-ordinated by Radioactive Waste Management (RWM), to which MCM have provided project co-ordination support throughout.

In our atmosphere, carbon-14 is continuously generated from nitrogen (about 80% of air) and is incorporated into all living things. When a species die, the incorporation of this cosmogenically generated carbon-14 stops and its content decreases by radioactive decay. The degree of carbon-14 decay in material from once living things allows archaeologists to determine how old their findings of biological origin (e.g. a wooden tool) are. Carbon-14 is also generated in nuclear reactors e.g. during irradiation of metals containing nitrogen or carbon additions. These materials are considered radioactive waste for which special safety measures are and will be taken. The CAST aims to develop understanding of the potential release mechanisms of carbon-14 from radioactive waste materials under conditions relevant to waste packaging and disposal to underground geological disposal facilities. The expected increase in understanding should decrease uncertainties in the long-term safety assessment and increase confidence in the safety case.

The CAST consortium brings together 33 partners with many different skills and competences both in geological disposal of difference waste types, but also in developing safety cases and on planning and implementing experimental programmes on gas generation. The consortium includes national waste management organisations (WMOs), research institutes, universities and commercial organisations working in this field. The involvement of the waste management organisations (the end-users of the outcome in the form of process understanding, data and competence) ensures that the project is focused on important and outstanding issues. It also ensures that the project is aligned to European national programmes and thus that results are used as intended. Organisations from three countries outside the European Union also participate in CAST– Ukraine (SI IEG NASU), Japan (RWMC) and Switzerland (NAGRA). This offers a unique extension of scientific basis to the project, as well as an insight into how other national programmes manage the issue of 14C.

The final symposium was held in Lyon, France in January 2018.

GDF technical programme support (2017)

MCM, and their partners in ARUP, were contracted to RWM as technical experts in order to help RWM understand the duration, cost, resource requirements and risks to delivering the engineering design of the geological disposal facility.

By defining numerous, separate pieces of work addressing a specific part of the GDF challenge, RWM was able to utilise a large set of supply chain expertise to effectively achieve an external review of its GDF programme.

MCM was specifically tasked with investigating Backfill and Buffer Systems and LHGW Container Unpacking in each of the three rock types – HRS, LSSR and EVR. For these areas, MCM delivered an assessment of task/research priority and relevant tools to enable a path towards a solution, thus supporting RWM in the progression of their programme.

Supporting RWM to manage work within the EC Project Demonstration of Plugs and Seals (DOPAS) (2013-2016)

Fourteen nuclear waste management organisations and research institutes from eight European countries are participating in a technology development project for testing plugging and sealing systems for geological disposal facilities for radioactive waste – the DOPAS project (“Full-Scale Demonstration of Plugs and Seals”). The project is built around a set of full-scale underground demonstrations, laboratory experiments, and performance assessment studies. MCM has been contracted to support RWM with their role as work package 4 lead with the objective to assess and evaluate:

  • the construction methodologies and technologies for plugs and seals (WP3);
  • the results of the subsequent monitoring phase and the outcome of the dismantling activities to evaluate the predictions against the actual measured performance;
  • summarise the achievements made in design and the industrial scale implementation construction, in the light of the specified required performance of plugs and seals as defined in Work Package 2; and
  • to provide a basis and direct input for performance assessment related activities carried out in (WP5).

Journey to the Safest Place on Earth (2013)

Charles McCombie of MCM was a lead advisor and also a main protagonist in this film, which after being shown at documentary cinemas around the world is now available on-line (English and German). The Director, Edgar Hagen, aimed at a film that was neither avidly pro-nuclear nor anti-nuclear; the objective was to stimulate debate on the issue of geological disposal. An interesting comment from an ex-Greenpeace Director reads as follows:

“This is not only a very important film, since the final storage question has still not been resolved and remains as pressing as ever. It is more particularly a very well narrated film that not only treats the topic with great earnestness, but also treats all participants with great respect; whether they believe in the viability of final storage or not, it allows them to have their say. As a viewer, one is fascinated by the images, many of which have never been seen before, and one learns a great deal about the problems of final storage. Above all however, the participants and their dialogue encourage viewers to reach their own conclusions.”

Gerd Leipold, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, 2001 – 2009

Poços de Caldas, ‘natural analogues’ international project 

MCM coordinated the scientific work and the communication of the results of an international project in Poços de Caldas, Brazil, where naturally occurring radioactive geological system processes were studied as an analogue to long-term processes predicted to occur within a radioactive waste repository environment. MCM focussed this work by facilitating a series of technical workshops. MCM coordinated production of high quality documentation including 15 technical reports, a special journal edition, multi-lingual magazine for general technical audience and a large number of supporting presentations, papers and articles. This led to increased interest in natural analogues and production of a feature-length film, ‘Traces of the future’, which was translated into 8 languages and won a prize at a Czech Film Festival.

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