Disposal of High-Level Nuclear Wastes: A Geological Perspective

A. E. Ringwood
Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

Abstract: Most countries intend to dispose of their high-level radioactive wastes by converting them into a solidified wasteform which is to be buried within the earth. SYNROC is a titanate ceramic wasteform which has been designed for this purpose on the basis of geochemical principles. It comprises essentially rutile TiO2, ‘hollandite’ Ba(Al,Ti)Ti6O16, zirconolite CaZrTi2O7, and perovskite CaTiO3. The latter three phases have the capacity to accept the great majority of radioactive elements occurring in high-level wastes into their crystal lattice sites. These minerals (or their close relatives) also occur in nature, where they have demonstrated their capacity to survive for many millions of years in a wide range of geological environments. The properties of SYNROC and the crystal chemistry of its constituent minerals are reviewed in some detail and current formulations of SYNROC are summarized. A notable property of SYNROC it its extremely high resistance to leaching by groundwaters, particularly above 100°C. In addition, it can be shown that the capacity of SYNROC minerals to immobilize high-level waste elements is not markedly impaired by high levels of radiation damage. Current investigations are focused on developing a satisfactory production technology for SYNROC and progress towards this objective is described. The high leach resistance of SYNROC at elevated temperatures increases the range of geological environments in which the waste may be finally interred; in particular, SYNROC is well adapted for disposal in deep drill-holes, both in continental and marine environments. The fact that SYNROC is comprised of minerals which have demonstrated long-term geological stability is significant in establishing public confidence in the ability of the nuclear industry to immobilize high-level wastes for the very long periods required.

Keywords: radioactive waste • SYNROC • hollandite • zirconolite • perovskite • radiation damage • leaching

Mineralogical Magazine; April 1985 v. 49; no. 351; p. 159-176; DOI: 10.1180/minmag.1985.049.351.04
© 1985, The Mineralogical Society
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