4. What is a DGR?

A deep geological repository (DGR) is a series of underground tunnels and rooms for the storage of radioactive waste (see diagram below) [1]. Long lived radioactive wastes need to be contained, and isolated from people and the environment. These wastes are disposed of in repositories that are typically more than 300 m (1000 ft) underground, and “to construct the deep geological repository, rock excavation would primarily be done using a method that involves controlled drilling and blasting. Rock boring technology may also be used depending on the final design and site conditions.”[2]

All three attempts at using a DGR to store nuclear waste have experienced accidents and the release of hazardous material into the environment. The Asse II DGR and Morsleben DGR, located in salt mines in Germany, faced problems with stability and containment and were closed in 1995 and 1998, respectively [3][4]. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico, USA, is the only operating DGR but was closed between February 2014 and January 2017 after it experienced two accidents: (1) a chemical fire [5] and (2) the release of radioactive material into the environment [6]

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  1. Nuclear Waste Management Organization. 2016. Deep Geological Repository [online]. Retrieved from: https://www.nwmo.ca/en/A-Safe-Approach/Facilities/Deep-Geological-Repository

  2. World Nuclear Association. 2016. Storage and Disposal of Radioactive Wastes [online]. Retrieved from: http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/nuclear-wastes/storage-and-disposal-of-radioactive-wastes.aspx#ECSArticleLink1

  3. The German Federal Office for Radiation Protection. Asse II [online]. Retrieved from: http://www.asse.bund.de/Asse/EN/topics/what-is/what-is_node.html

  4.  Ripkens, M. & Biurrun, E. 2002. Decommissioning and closure of the Morsleben Deep Geological Repository The Final Step [online]. WM’02 Conference, February 24-28, 2002. Retrieved from: http://www.wmsym.org/archives/2002/Proceedings/26/540.pdf

  5.  U.S. Department of Energy: Office of Environmental Management. March 2014. Accident Investigation Report. Underground Salt Haul Truck Fire at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant February 5, 2014 [online]. Retrieved from: http://wipp.energy.gov/Special/AIB%20Report.pdf

  6. U.S. Department of Energy: Office of Environmental Management. April 2014. Accident Investigation Report. Phase 1 Radiological Release Event at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant on February 14, 2014 [online]. Retrieved from: http://www.wipp.energy.gov/Special/AIB_Final_WIPP_Rad_Release_Phase1_04_22_2014.pdf