Deep Isolation is solving the $40B nuclear waste problem by leveraging recent drilling techniques. Our innovative, low-cost, patented technology profitably and safely disposes of spent nuclear fuel.
Nuclear waste, in the form of spent nuclear fuel, has been accumulating at nuclear reactors since the dawn of the nuclear age. The United States has never had an operational disposal solution, but nuclear operators have paid 0.1 cents per kWH into the Nuclear Waste Fund, which is meant to eventually be used for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel. There is currently approximately $40 Billion in the Fund, but no active program to dispose of nuclear waste. Deep Isolation will be the first private disposal solution in the United States.
Deep Isolation offers an innovative solution to safely and securely isolate and dispose of spent nuclear fuel from commercial nuclear reactors. Our horizontal drill hole technology offers a safe and low cost alternative to conventional disposal methods.
Deep Isolation utilizes mature technology perfected by the US drilling industry over the last two decades. We can emplace spent nuclear fuel within a few years after site selection and licensing, while staying well within the budget of the current Nuclear Waste Fund.
Nuclear waste, in its original fuel assemblies (requiring minimal handling) is placed in sealed canisters. These are lowered a mile deep down vertical drill holes lined with steel casing, and then inserted into horizontal storage portions that are several miles long. The waste is placed in sedimentary formations that have demonstrated geologic stability and impermeability by having contained volatile gases for tens of millions of years. Each drillhole can hold 30% to 50% of the lifetime waste from a gigawatt nuclear reactor. If desired, the waste is readily retrievable.
Horizontal drillholes in sedimentary rock are an established and straightforward technology (unlike the vertical boreholes in granite from a recent DOE defense nuclear waste study). Over 50,000 such drillholes have already been drilled in the US for oil and natural gas production. The storage region in the sedimentary rock is several thousands of feet below any aquifer. The vertical drillhole is sealed after waste is emplaced.
Safety is assured by multiple levels of protection: the waste is in ceramic fuel pellets; the pellets are in metal fuel rods contained in a fuel assembly; the assemblies are surrounded by bentonite that fills the canisters; the canister walls and the steel casing offer more isolation. The ultimate protection is the deep geology, with a billion tons of rock above the storage region. A slight tilt of the drill hole with a plumber’s trap helps assure isolation from the vertical portion of the sealed drillhole.
There are appropriate sedimentary basins for Deep Isolation repositories throughout the United States. A distributed/modular siting of repositories could drastically reduce transportation challenges.
While the drilling technology is standard, Deep Isolation is the first company proposing to use this method for the safe isolation of spent nuclear fuel, and has applied for multiple patents – the first of which has already been allowed.
The short video below illustrates our drilling technology.
The diagram below provides a visual understanding of how spent nuclear fuel could be disposed of in Deep Isolation.
Raised $4.7 Million of the $8 Million Series A Capital RaiseMay, 2018
Emerged from Stealth Mode (Bloomberg piece, video release and online content, etc)March, 2018
Seed round oversubscribedMarch, 2018
Seed round completedFebruary, 2018
Representative survey of the American Public by GfKJanuary, 2018
Completed a technical white paperDecember, 2017
One out of three US citizens live within 50 miles of a nuclear waste storage facility. There are 80,000 tons of nuclear waste currently stored on site at the nuclear reactors that produced it, including decommissioned (nonoperating) nuclear plants. Most of the waste is being stored in water cooling pools in buildings adjacent to the reactors. Some has been transferred to dry casks that are sitting on or near the surface of the ground within the fenced reactor facility.
The waste we are concerned with in this document is “spent nuclear fuel” from commercial nuclear reactors. It consists of small (1 cm) ceramic pellets made of uranium dioxide. It is not the green sludge of science fiction, or the radioactive liquids that are held in tanks at U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) sites such as Hanford. These pellets are stored inside metal fuel rods about 14 feet long, which are in turn held in fuel assemblies about 8 to 12 inches in diameter. We will place these assemblies in steel canisters, with internal space filled with bentonite.
A permanent repository is partially constructed at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, where waste will be transported and then stored in casks placed in tunnels about 1000 feet deep. No waste is currently stored at this site. The cost of completing the Yucca repository is estimated by the US Office of Management & Budget (OMB) as $96B. Licensing of the repository was halted by President Obama, but there is pending legislation to restart the process to license the facility. However, the State of Nevada opposes these plans, and has budgeted $3.5M per year to oppose the Yucca repository on legal grounds. Even after the Yucca repository is licensed for construction, it will need another license in order to operate and actually place waste in the repository.
Deep Isolation will only work with communities and states that give their support for the permanent isolation of the nuclear waste. If a community is not interested in permanent disposal, they can still plan on shipping their waste to an interim site, or a different disposal facility, when one becomes available. Potential benefits of permanent isolation in their community include a timely solution to improve safety, minimizing transportation, increasing jobs, and new fees for the use of land. Only if the community decides the benefits make it worthwhile would a site be selected. Deep Isolation will work with communities to help them make an informed decision about which option is the best fit for them. With over 60 locations in the United States that are currently storing nuclear waste, we have indications that at least a few of them are interested in exploring our option.
The first major benefit is safety. The nuclear waste that is currently stored in nearby above ground facilities would be safely isolated a mile deep in rock. Additional benefits will depend on the interest of community. Because Deep Isolation would not require the full amount allocated by the Nuclear Waste Fund (currently about $40B), there could be substantial financial and other benefits to the communities that choose to license such a facility. Deep Isolation would work in partnership with the community to determine what type of benefits would work best for them. We would also want to make sure that these are sustainable for the community, perhaps setting up an annual recurring benefit or fund for future generations.
With Deep Isolation, the surface would be left essentially pristine. There is not even a need for a concrete platform; boreholes often have the platform removed when the well is sealed. The specifics of the surface would be determined in partnership with the community. Access to the waste could not be covertly obtained. Retrieval of the waste is a highly specialized endeavor and would require sizeable equipment as a large drilling rig and would take an extended period of days.
No, quite the contrary. The public overwhelmingly believes that private enterprise should be given the chance to participate in nuclear waste innovation. A recent (2018) survey done by the highly respected firm GfK Global , was designed to reach a representative crosssection of the American public. Their poll found that 70% of Americans think the private sector should be able to propose solutions, and over 90% believed that allowing innovation in nuclear waste disposal would be a good thing to do.
The Yucca Mountain tunnel repository was chosen by the US government in the 1980s, due for completion in 1998, before the new drilling technologies were highly developed. When the Yucca Mountain facility ran into physical and political problems, no alternatives could be considered because the Nuclear Waste Policy Act specified that they could not be licensed. The Nuclear Waste Innovation Act would change that law.
Spent nuclear fuel is compact, amounting to only 2 cubic meters per year for a gigawatt (thousand megawatt) reactor. Coal waste takes over a million times as much volume. One drill hole has 1000 cubic meters of space, enough for 20reactor years of waste, assuming that we do no repackaging of the fuel assemblies. The assemblies that hold the waste fit in long narrow canisters that can be lowered into a drillhole.
The Deep Isolation design relies on both engineered and geological barriers so there is built-in redundancy to the system. The deep geology of the Deep Isolation design is a significant barrier. If there were to be any releases, they would have to get through a mile of rock, over a billion tons, including layers that have held volatiles (methane) for millions of years. Additional engineered barriers include the ceramic pellets themselves, the metal rods that contain them, the bentonite surrounding the rods, sealed steel canisters that hold the rod assemblies, steel casing that lines the drillhole, and the cement that fills the space between the casing and the drillhole. For geologic times, the geology is a key barrier. The geologic formations that would be used have been stable for tens of millions of years.
The waste is placed far below aquifers, in regions in which water has had no contact with the surface for a million years or more. We will dispose in or under geologic formations that have been stable for tens of millions of years. Typically, this means a depth of about a mile, but in some locations it could be as shallow as 3000 feet, or as deep as 10,000 feet. Drilling such holes is now routine, and the drilling industry has made over 50,000 of such horizontal drillholes over the last 20 years.
The drilling technology has been used for over 50,000 boreholes drilled for natural gas and oil in the US in the past two decades. This is a well developed technology, and has become a low-cost commodity.
Yes. The drilling industry regularly retrieves objects and monitoring instruments from boreholes, and the process is standard. Once the vertical drillhole is sealed, an expert crew could still retrieve the waste, but it would take a week or possibly longer. Doing so is sufficiently complex to offer substantial security from a terrorist attempt.
Drilling and storage does not cause earthquakes. We do not use the explosives employed in fracking, and we do not use high pressure water to extend fractures. The earthquakes observed near oil and gas fields come from highpressure reinjection of produced water, and we will not be doing anything like that. Since we prefer regions that have clay rich ductile rock (which is not frackable) we would generally be miles away from fracked areas.
Yes. Former US Secretary of Energy and Nobel Laureate Steven Chu says: “Deep isolation is adapting recently developed drilling technologies to make disposal of nuclear fuel less expensive and even safer than other approaches. This is a technology that could prove important, not only in the US, but around the world.” Nobel Laureate Arno Penzias says: “Deep Isolation offers an ingenious and practical approach for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel. I believe that their technology is the key to the solution to the nuclear waste problem." Other technical endorsers (quotes available upon request) include Per Peterson, a highly regarded nuclear engineer and member of the US President’s Blue Ribbon Panel on the future of nuclear power; and Bob Budnitz, former director of nuclear waste research at the Dept. of Energy, and advisor to the Director of the Yucca Mountain Facility.
Some nuclear facilities may be located in areas where the population is not receptive to having the nuclear waste stored within the state, no matter how deep it is buried (NIMBY).
Some nuclear facilities may lack the geologic formations nearby, necessitating transportation across long distances.
The US government, and some State, and Local governments may determine that private companies may not be permitted to provide long-term nuclear waste storage.
The company’s operations could be disrupted by natural or human causes beyond its control. The company’s operations are subject to disruption from natural or human causes, including physical risks from hurricanes, severe storms, earthquakes, and system failures any of which could result in suspension of operations for a time.
Political instability and significant changes in the regulatory environment could harm Deep Isolation's business. The company’s operations, can be affected by changing economic, regulatory and political environments in the various states in which it plans to operate. In addition, changes in national or state environmental regulations, could adversely affect the company's anticipated future operations and profitability.