The plan to use copper for sealing nuclear waste underground is being thrown into disarray by corrosion in artifacts from the Vasa
* Terry Macalister
* November 14, 2009
Plans for nuclear waste disposal could be thrown into confusion tomorrow at a summit because of new evidence of corrosion in materials traditionally used for burial procedures.
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) says it will keep careful watch on a meeting organised by the Swedish National Council for Nuclear Waste, which will look at potential problems with copper, designated for an important role in sealing radioactive waste underground.
Concerns have risen from a most unexpected quarter. Examination of copper artefacts from the Vasa, a fifteenth-century galleon raised from Stockholm harbour, has shown a level of decay that challenges the scientific wisdom that copper corrodes only when exposed to oxygen.
David Lowry, a consultant on the nuclear industry, said the latest evidence had profound implications. "As the British nuclear industry gears up to build a new generation of nuclear reactors, so the pressure builds to demonstrate there is a solution to the long-term management of nuclear waste. But plans to adopt the Swedish system of nuclear waste disposal look as if they might have hit the rocks."
The NDA said that no decision had been taken on what materials would be used for containment. "It's not a showstopper. There are other options," a spokesman said. Researchers from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm have prepared a report for tomorrow's meeting which says its findings "cast additional doubt on copper for nuclear waste containment and other important applications."