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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 socioeconomic 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 9-10 lecture and discussion sessions presented in the first 5 weeks of semester and a further session on socio-political issues presented in week 7.

The default format will be lectures given as timetabled face-to-face discussion sessions. If Covid restrictions demand it, the alternative format will be asynchronous presentations to be accessed online by students prior to discussion sessions delivered via an online platform. Lectures will use conventional powerpoints with supporting written commentaries, and subtitles where relevant, complemented by video clips. Both will be accessed and referred to in the online sessions or the face-to-face lecture / discussion sessions.

The second component will consist of the following:

A Question Time style panel debate on one or more of the key issues surrounding the Implementing Geological Disposal programme in the UK. This is scheduled to occur in week 8 of semester. It will be a hybrid face-to-face (students and UoE staff) / online (UK and overseas expert panellists) event within a timetabled session. The Panel will include representatives from national Waste Management Organisations, including UK WMO (Nuclear Waste Services, NWS) and one or more of NAGRA (Switzerland), BGE (Germany) and Posiva (Finland) or SKB (Sweden). An independent international expert will also act as a panellist.

The third component will be the Student Poster Presentation Event.

Students will select one from a suite of relevant nuclear waste topics on which they will prepare a poster and present that poster within a dedicated, conference style, "Poster Session". The topics will include those that trace and assess the state of nuclear waste management in specific countries, and others that focus on cross-cutting themes such as screening, siting, geosphere characterisation, key R&D topics, URLs, and issues associated with developing a GDF.

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).

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.

The detailed course content, which should be noted as being indicative rather than definitive, is provided below.

Week 1:

Introduction and Framework: Introduction to the Course: aims, approach, organisation. Introduction to nuclear energy: natural radioactivity, definitions - activity and dose. Nuclear fission. Types of nuclear reactors, implications for the nuclear fuel types and wastes. Nuclear energy statistics and economics (global and national). Regulatory controls on nuclear operations and nuclear waste management: laws, regulations and requirements. IAEA, NEA, Euratom. Fukushima. The IAEA requirements for safety in nuclear waste disposal. The UK context and framework in brief (ONR, EA, SEPA other bodies).

Waste types, inventories. Waste treatment and conditioning: Types of radioactive waste and how they arise: reactor, operational, reprocessing, and decommissioning. Classifications of waste: VLLW, LLW, ILW (SL-ILW and LL-ILW), HLW, HAW; TRU waste. Material not declared as waste: Spent fuel, Plutonium, Uranium. Implications for storage and disposal options. The Waste Hierarchy and what it means in practice. Waste treatment: ILW: current concepts and some future prospects (cement grouting, thermal treatment, alternative matrices). HLW: vitirification and canister storage. Alternative treatments (ceramics, synroc, transmutation). Further examples. The concept of the radioactive waste Inventory. Example inventory - the UK inventory for disposal.

Week 2:

Storage and disposal of Nuclear Waste: Example stores for VLLW, LLW and ILW; SF on-site storage, decay storage. Options proposed for the disposal of Nuclear Waste - all the options considered. Credible Options - including nearsurface disposal and deep borehole. The international consensus on deep geological disposal of higher activity wastes. Deep geological disposal: the concept, variations in overarching approaches to developing Geological Disposal Facilities (GDFs) internationally.

Deep Geological Disposal Concepts and Requirements: Geological Disposal Concepts: GDF in Salt. (e.g. Germany,

WIPP), GDF in clays/shales. (Switzerland - NAGRA; France - ANDRA), GDF in higher strength rock (e.g. Sweden - SKB, Finland - Posiva). Each will include an outline of the concept, the roles of engineered barriers and the geological barrier, and example generic designs. The Disposal System Safety Case concept for geological disposal: Operational, Transport and Environmental DSSCs (Disposal System Safety Cases). Monitoring and retrievability.

Weeks 3 and 4 (and 5 if needed):

Geological Screening: Statement of the problem and role of geological screening and geological information. International geological screening approaches and lessons (e.g. Switzerland, Finland). To screen "in or out", and the criteria used. History of screening in the UK, up to the current IGD process.

Siting a GDF - siting strategies and sub-surface site characterisation: Principles of 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). DVDs on Gorleben and other examples. Subsurface characterisation: the key geological / hydrogeological and coupled subsurface processes that need to be characterised and quantified. Stages of characterisation. Examples - Forsmark, Olkilouto.

Weeks 5 and 6:

No timetabled coursework. Students to work on their posters.

Week 7:

R&D Issues in Geological Disposal: R&D for site characterisation, process identification and analysis, performance assessment and GDF safety assessment. Key areas of research: THMC processes, Bentonite behaviour, EBS-EDZCDZ-Geosphere interactions, stress and fractures, groundwater transport, colloids, biosphere.

Underground Research Laboratories (URLs): examples of critical R&D in two (or more) internationally high-profile URLs (higher-strength rock: Grimsel, Aspo; bedded mudrocks: Mont Terri, Bure).

Natural analogues: their importance with respect to R&D issues.

Week 8:

Key socio-political issues associated with a Geological Disposal Facility. Overview of the development of nuclear waste policy in the UK. Volunteerism: Public understanding and acceptance issues associated with volunteerism, engagement, community benefit, decision-making and rights of withdrawal. The current UK approach to implementing geological disposal (IGD) - geological information, community engagement and national planning actions. Relation of the UK approach to approaches being adopted elsewhere.

Week 8 or 9:

Question Time style debate of topical issues surrounding Nuclear waste management and Geological Disposal in the UK and international contexts. Moderated by the CO, attended by students and, online, by invited expert(s). Note that this debate / session may be run at a different time / week in order to fit in with expert availability.

Week 10 or 11:

Student Posters. Poster Session "Current Processes, Policies and Research in Nuclear Waste Management"
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2024/25, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  12
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 100 ( Lecture Hours 15, Seminar/Tutorial Hours 7, Fieldwork Hours 8, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 2, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 68 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Assessment Details

100% Coursework

The components of this are:

25% Student Seminar

75% Student Essay (3000 words maximum, excluding abstract, references and figure captions).

Assessment Deadlines
Student Seminars ¿ Semester 2, Thursday Week 8 and Week 9 Wednesday / Thursday week 9

Student Essay ¿ Semester 2. Wednesday week 12
Feedback Students will be provided with feedback on their poster presentations during the Poster Session event. This oral feedback will be backed up by written feedback provided prior to submission of their final poster version.
No Exam Information
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,nuclear waste,storage,geological disposal,high level waste,uranium
Course organiserProf Simon Harley
Tel: (0131 6)50 8547
Course secretaryMr Johan De Klerk
Tel: (0131 6)50 7010
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