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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Geosciences : Earth Science

Undergraduate Course: Nuclear Waste Management: Principles, Policies and Practice (EASC10119)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Geosciences CollegeCollege of Science and Engineering
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits10 ECTS Credits5
SummaryManaging nuclear waste, both that already in existence and in prospect from past nuclear power generation (legacy waste) and waste likely to be produced from future nuclear power programmes, is a major environmental and socio-economic issue both within the UK and globally. With a number of countries now at various stages of committing to the geological disposal of nuclear waste it is timely to consider the management of nuclear waste in a holistic manner and evaluate the issues that surround geological disposal and other options for waste management, both in the UK and internationally.

The course will introduce students to nuclear waste, from its production in the context of nuclear fuel cycle to its treatment, storage and disposal. Whilst firmly based within the UK waste management context, the course will also introduce and review the international legal, regulatory, research and disposal concept environments and frameworks for nuclear waste management.
Students will gain a thorough grounding in the national and international context of nuclear waste, from its production to management. They will gain a critical awareness and understanding of the scientific, economic, environmental, social and policy issues surrounding this important subject. They will gain insight into the concept of Safety Cases, and the role of geoscientific knowledge and understanding in developing these. Finally, they will become familiar with the arguments surrounding screening and siting as well as community engagement and volunteerism in developing one or more GDFs in the UK.
Course description This course will have three component parts.
The first will be the taught component. This will be provided through a series of 10 lectures presented over a period of five weeks using conventional powerpoint methods complemented by video clips.

The second component will consist of:
-A Question Time style panel debate on one or more of the key issues surrounding the Implementing Geological Disposal programme in the UK;
-Provisionally, a site visit, within the UK or Europe, to either a power plant undergoing decommissioning, an underground research laboratory or a storage or reprocessing facility.

The third component will be the Student Seminars. Students will select one from a suite of relevant nuclear waste topics on which they will present a seminar. This will form the basis of an evidence-based essay that they will submit at the end of the Course (end of Semester). The topics will include, but not be limited to, analysis of geological disposal concepts and programmes outwith the UK (e.g. Sweden, Japan, Finland, Switzerland, France, Canada, USA, Belgium), near-surface disposal, deep borehole disposal, and issues in volunteerism outside the UK.
The taught part of the Course will begin with an overview of nuclear power generation, the production of wastes, and the national and international regulatory and legal frameworks for nuclear waste management. The variety of waste types, their treatment and storage options, and the research and development issues associated with these will be outlined, leading to an understanding of radioactive waste inventories, especially for final disposal. The options for the disposal of nuclear waste, including near-surface disposal and deep borehole disposal, will be introduced, leading to a detailed analysis of deep geological disposal in conceptual Geological Disposal Facilities (GDFs).
The Safety Cases for GDFs in the main prospective rock types will be introduced, leading to an analysis of the roles of engineered barriers and the geological barrier in the three main disposal concepts. The requirements for subsurface characterisation to support safe geological disposal and importance of Underground Research Laboratories in this will be explained. The significance of natural analogues for Safety Case arguments will also be explored.
Having developed an understanding of the scientific, regulatory and safety issues surrounding nuclear waste management, the course will progress students through the key issues associated with finding, selecting and selling a Geological Disposal Facility to communities and the public. Approaches to this in the UK and other nations will be examined. Public understanding and acceptance issues associated with volunteerism, engagement, community benefit, decision-making and rights of withdrawal will be introduced. The role of geology and geological information will be further discussed with respect to screening, site identification, site selection and site assessment. The current approach to implementing geological disposal (IGD) in the UK will be highlighted and compared with both previous attempts (UK) and approaches being adopted elsewhere.

Week 1: a) Introduction to nuclear power, the nuclear fuel cycle and waste generation; spent fuel and reprocessing.
b) The international context of nuclear waste management: laws and regulations; IAEA, NEA, Euratom. Fukushima. UK context and framework.
c) Types of radioactive waste: operational, reprocessing, decommissioning. Types of waste: ILW, HLW, HAW; TRU waste. Material not yet declared as waste: Spent fuel, Plutonium, Uranium. The concept of the radioactive waste Inventory. Example inventories, UK-based.

Week 2: a) Waste treatment: ILW current concepts and future prospects (cement grouting, thermal treatment, alternative matrices). The waste heirachy.
b) Waste treatment: HLW vitirification and canister storage. Alternative treatments (ceramics, synroc, transmutation). TRU wastes.
c) Storage of the various types of waste. Example stores, on-site storage, decay storage. R&D in treatment and storage.
Week 3: a) Disposal of Nuclear Waste the options, including including near-surface disposal and deep borehole.
b) Deep geological disposal: the concept, the international consensus, variations in overarching approaches to developing Geological Disposal Facilities (GDFs) internationally.
c) The Safety Case concept for geological disposal. Processes requiring consideration. Multiple Barriers approaches. The geological / hydrogeological and coupled subsurface-EBS R&D areas and issues that need to be addressed in developing a safety case. Monitoring and retreivability.

Week 4: a) Geological Disposal Concepts: Hard rock.
b) Geological Disposal Concepts: clays/shales.
c) Geological Disposal Concepts: evaporates.
Each will include an analysis of the roles of engineered barriers and the geological barrier. The requirements for subsurface characterisation to support safe geological disposal. The value of Underground Research Laboratories. Examples of natural analogues.
Week 5: Key issues associated with finding, selecting and selling a Geological Disposal Facility to communities and the public.
a) The role of geology and geological information. Principles of screening (national and regional), site identification, site selection and site assessment, both surface and underground. Approaches to this in the UK and other nations (e.g. France, Sweden, Germany, USA, Canada) will be examined.
b) Public understanding and acceptance issues associated with volunteerism, engagement, community benefit, decision-making and rights of withdrawal, with international context.
c) The current UK approach to implementing geological disposal (IGD). Historical context in the UK, relation to approaches being adopted elsewhere.

Week 6: Potential site visit. Student self-review week; preparation for Question Time style debate.

Week 7: Question Time style debate of topical issues surrounding the UK Implementing Geological Disposal process.

Week 8 and/or Week 9: Student Seminar series.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Additional Costs 100 per student plus full site visit
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Explain how nuclear power is generated, what a waste inventory is, and how wastes are produced, treated and potentially disposed of.
  2. Explain the concept of a Safety Case in relation to geological disposal facilities and produce an evidence-based outline of the role of geology in these cases, including evidence from natural analogues, and the R&D needs associated with progressing geological disposal.
  3. Explain and analyse the UK approach to waste management, including current policy and issues surrounding implementing geological disposal.
  4. Describe and compare with the UK approach at least two other approaches to geological disposal internationally.
  5. Present intelligent arguments, based on evidence but also taking into account public perceptions and concerns, on such key issues as voluntarism, community benefit, decision-making and regulation in the nuclear waste area.
Reading List
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Student will gain confidence in their ability to distil, evaluate, synthesise and interpret data from a range of sources.
Students will develop presentation skills.
Students will develop critical listening and debating skills.
Students will develop skills in discriminating between evidence-based and emotive forms of argument.
KeywordsNuclear Waste,Managment
Course organiserProf Simon Harley
Tel: (0131 6)50 8547
Course secretaryMiss Sarah Thomas
Tel: (0131 6)50 8510
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