The role of the Nuclear Energy and Waste Program is to perform fundamental and applied Earth-sciences-related research concerning the safe, secure, and responsible use of nuclear energy, as well as the safe storage and disposal of used nuclear fuel and waste. Research in this program is primarily associated with the need for secure long-term subsurface disposal of high-level radioactive waste. After being a key contributor to the research and licensing activities for the proposed Yucca Mountain repository, the program is now conducting research and technology development to enable long-term disposal of used nuclear fuel and wastes in other host-rock environments (e.g., shale, salt rock, crystalline rock). Examples of research foci include the near-field rock damage and potential transport pathways induced by repository construction and waste emplacement, the impact of such damage on radionuclide transport in different components of engineered barrier, and long-term performance assessment studies on the suitability of alternative repository locations and designs. Advanced methods for monitoring and simulating relevant coupled processes are tested against data from large in situ experiments conducted in subsurface field observatories.
Beyond disposal research, Nuclear Energy and Waste Program researchers engage in the seismic analysis and structural design of nuclear power plants. More rigorous and realistic seismic simulation tools are developed for increased efficiency and safety, using modern solution algorithms and high-performance computing.
The Nuclear Energy and Waste Program is one of four within Earth and Environmental Sciences Area’s Energy Resources Program Area and is largely supported by DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, with additional funding coming from a variety of domestic and international sponsors. Many activities reside within DOE’s Used Fuel Disposition Campaign which was established in 2009. This program also supports disposal work undertaken by several international nuclear waste organizations, and is engaged in collaborative international initiatives such as the DECOVALEX project and the Mont Terri Partnership.