Scientists Explore Fracking Technology for Nuclear Waste Disposal

A team of scientists is exploring the potential for using drilling techniques developed for natural gas fracking to inject nuclear waste deep into the earth's crust.

Gas rig in Wyoming. Source: BLMThe research, presented at an American Geophysical Union conference this week, used computer modeling to predict how a dense slurry mixed with waste would propagate through rock. reported that one of the study's authors from the Georgia Institute of Technology theorized the injected waste would travel straight down, rather than spreading out. The modeling and past research supported that conclusion. The team has since partnered with a company to conduct small-scale field experiments with non-nuclear material.

Fracking is a drilling technique that injects high-pressure fluids into deep wells to create cracks in the surrounding rock and free natural gas. Unlike fracking fluids, the slurry would be more dense than the rock around it, making it sink over time.

The concept is in its infancy. While the idea of depositing waste deep in the earth's crust is not new, using drilling methods adapted from the fossil fuel industry would create a host of engineering challenges. Among them, wells would have to cross through the water table, and only limited inspections of the waste could be conducted once it was injected.

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