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What Lies Beneath: Carbon Capture and Nuclear Waste Study Begins

Multi-year Project Will Make Comparative Analysis of Nuclear Waste and CO2 Storage

Researching ways of securing radioactive waste. Experiments to find solutions to dispose of high-level radioactive waste are conducted at the Grimsel Underground Rock Laboratory in Switzerland (Photo: Comet)

Economists and energy planners at the IAEA have embarked upon a multi-year project that will make a comparative analysis of the storage of nuclear waste and carbon dioxide. The project will examine the advantages and drawbacks of both approaches to dealing with power generation by-products, and is expected to be of interest to many countries investigating nuclear power while weighing mounting anxiety over climate change.

"Even with a phenomenal increase in renewable and other energy sources, the main energy sources will still be fossil-based for the foreseeable future," said Ferenc Laszlo Toth, Senior Energy Economist in the IAEA´s Planning and Economic Studies Section (PESS). "Our study will seek to provide information and experience about the possible advantages and disadvantages of going to fossil-based or nuclear-based power generation."

Concerns over climate change and energy security have prompted greater interest in carbon capture and storage (CCS), a technology that would reduce greenhouse gases emissions by trapping CO2 emitted by fossil fuel power plants and storing them underground. With "new build" countries keen to develop a nuclear power program, the safe long-term disposal of nuclear waste is also an issue of obvious concern.

Roughly twenty papers have been commissioned in preparation for the coordinated research project (CRP). The study will examine various aspects of the geological storage of both nuclear waste and CO2, including characteristics, requirements, transport, and their physical storage. The CRP will look at the environmental impact of storing the two waste products underground, opine about the transport options available for both, and study the potential hazards to human health. The research will also delve into what lessons and learning the two storage options can garner from one another.

The IAEA is accumulating material and resources to be used by participants in the CRP. And since the topic has generated enough interest, the final project results may be produced in a journal or as a commercially published book.

"We are encouraging participants to produce peer-reviewed publications based on their work in the CRP as well. If they come up with interesting results, it increases the value of their research and also raises the profile of our programme," explained Toth.

IAEA discussions with Member States have confirmed that the CCS/Nuclear Waste CRP is of interest to many of them, and the CRP is open to all IAEA Member States for participation. Any State who wishes to work within the CRP can develop its own research programme for the 2-3 year lifetime of the project.


PESS provides information, tools and analytical studies to IAEA Member States for energy planning. The work of the Section enables countries to undertake energy planning on their own.

A typical CRP is announced to Member States, parties are invited to register their interest in the months following, and then the project begins in earnest.

The groundwork for the CRP was laid at an earlier meeting in Trieste, Italy, this past 14-18 April. The IAEA engaged potential partners and organizations at the meeting, and representatives from China and India were among the first to register initial interest.

Last update: 27 Jul 2017


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