So I mentioned in an earlier post that I attended (and spoke at) a workshop organized by a nuclear waste consortium consisting of NWMO (Canada), SKB (Sweden), and Posiva (Finland). They’ve initiated a research study called the Greenland Analogue Project (GAP). I should just add here that although I am doing research related to this project (GAP) I am not funded by GAP (I receive no money from a nuclear waste company – not that I would necessarily have anything against that!).

I will now attempt to explain why nuclear waste companies are interested in Glaciology and more particularly modelling subglacial hydrology (which is what I do). So here goes …

High-level radioactive waste from spent nuclear fuel (as a result of nuclear power generation) has to be disposed of – safely of course! This is a difficult problem because every precaution has to be made to contain and isolate radioactive material and prevent any interaction with the biosphere for at least 100,000 years.  The radioactive waste will be buried deep (>0.5 km) in an underground repository in ancient bedrock and measures taken to ensure against every possible scenario.

Within its lifespan, this final repository site, will undergo glaciation (an ice age) – how will these conditions affect the stringent safety standards?  What are the conditions and processes that impact the recharge of glacial meltwater into the geosphere, in particular to repository depth in a fractured crystalline rock?  In order to help answer these questions investigations are focused on Greenland – the closest current analogue to these conditions (hence the title name GAP).

The overall aim of the Greenland Analogue Project is to improve the current understanding of how an ice sheet affects the groundwater flow and the water chemistry around a deep geological repository in crystalline bedrock during glacial periods.

My own research in modelling subglacial hydrology has principally been driven by a need to understand how hydrology influences ice dynamics, because water at the base of an ice sheet governs glacier sliding.  However, the interest related to the above project is how subglacial and ice dynamic interactions influence the geosphere, i.e. what is the interaction with the groundwater circulation around a deep geological repository.

Quantities of interest include knowledge of subglacial water volumes and pressures.  They will want to know how much meltwater seeps into the underlying bedrock, and whether seasonal subglacial network evolution and discrete flooding events are important in constraining leakage into the groundwater system on geological timescales.

This is my own personal understanding of the situation and does not represent any official take on the matter or the views of any nuclear waste management organization.

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