Nuclear Waste Management

Providing scientific information and analyses, as well as programmatic guidance, to both national and international entities, to facilitate resolving nuclear waste management challenges

Sandia started working in the nuclear waste research area in the early 1970’s and published its first report on nuclear waste in 1973. Sandia has since developed long-lasting, diverse collaborative teams of outstanding scientists and engineers, including geoscientists, material scientists, nuclear engineers, mechanical engineers, computer scientists, and mathematicians. These integrated teams generated the foundational science and engineering data and analyses for developing their recommendations and solutions to the nation’s challenges in spent nuclear fuel storage, transportation, security, and disposal.

Sandia performs many different tests and analyses to understand and reduce any potential risks from the long-term storage, transportation, and eventual disposal of radioactive materials and waste. Some of these tests include:

  • characterizing properties of different rock types to evaluate their performance as potential host rocks for geologic disposal.
  • analyzing methods and modifications for directly disposing of the existing storage and transportation canisters without repackaging the spent fuel in them.
  • transporting surrogate fuel by rail, ship, and truck with sensors on the surrogate fuel, which showed that the risk of fuel breakage is extremely low.
  • understanding how spent nuclear fuel canisters may corrode over time, how to minimize the chance that corrosion would occur, how to mitigate that corrosion if it occurs, and to determine the degree of consequence of such corrosion.
  • how fuel in long-term storage may be affected by different earthquake scenarios.

We have a deep understanding of the wide range of rock types and geologic settings in the United States and of the mechanisms by which spent fuel will maintain its mechanical and chemical integrity in the future after burial in this range of rock types. We develop computer models that can estimate the range of behavior of the fuel, rods, and canisters as they age over long times in disparate rock types. Using these computer models, we can also estimate the possible range of radioactivity migrating to different locations over very long times (one million years), to see if the disposal systems meet regulatory requirements for safety. Our team not only works to solve nuclear energy storage, transportation, safety, and security challenges, but we also actively record tacit technical knowledge to inform our newer team members and future workers.

Sandia’s nuclear waste management expertise is highlighted particularly by our long-standing scientific advisor role in support of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) that is the final disposal solution for transuranic defense waste in southeast New Mexico.

Sylvia Saltzstein

(505) 844-0651

Paul Shoemaker

(505) 235-3216