EMU Volume 13 – Chapter 9

Chapter 9: Mineralogy in long-term nuclear-waste management
Charles Curtis and Katherin Morris

Globally there is a legacy of radioactive waste associated with more than 50 years of nuclear power generation and weapons production. Typically, this waste is stored at Earth’s surface, and nations are beginning to face up to managing these highly radioactive and hazardous materials for the long term. Nuclear-power generation is increasingly considered as a low carbon, politically secure power source and geological disposal is seen as the favoured route for long-term management of the waste materials produced. Thus, timely implementation of geological disposal is a challenge facing nuclear-power generating societies if we are to demonstrate safe management of these waste materials for the future. In this chapter we review the role that environmental mineralogy has in this critical task. We begin with an introduction to the topic, discuss the waste types and strategies for management, and then discuss the environmental mineralogy of spent fuel and high-level vitrified wastes. We then place the discussion in a geological context with coverage of natural analogue sites, of mineral weathering and stability, and of geochemical conditions that will influence mineral stability. Finally, we discuss mineralogy relevant to the engineered disposal facility as well as the natural environment surrounding the facility in terms of retardation of radionuclide mobility and examine the role of geomicrobiology in nuclear waste management.

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