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A Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) employee wearing a protective suit and mask uses a survey meter near storage tanks for radioactive water in the H4 area where radioactive water leaked from a storage tank in August, at the tsunami-crippled TEPCO A Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) employee wearing a protective suit and mask uses a survey meter near storage tanks for radioactive water in the H4 area where radioactive water leaked from a storage tank in August, at the tsunami-crippled TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture in this November 7, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Kimimasa Mayama/Pool  

Scientists suggest stuffing nuclear waste into the hole fracking leaves behind

Could nuclear waste storage and hydraulic fracturing go hand in hand? Scientists are suggesting that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, could be the solution to the America’s nuclear waste storage issues.

A presentation made at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union argued that nuclear waste could be stored in fracking boreholes which go deep into the Earth. Nuclear waste would be mixed with other heavy materials and injected miles below the surface. Since the nuclear fluid mixture would be heavier than the fluid typically used in fracking, it would move downward.

“It’s basic physics here — if it’s heavier than rock, the fracture will propagate down,” Leonid Germanovich, a physicist and civil and environmental engineer at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told LiveScience.

Germanovich’s research team “used a theoretical model to describe the nuclear slurry’s trajectory through the rock, then looked through past research and found that the physics of the problem had been well studied in the lab,” reports LiveScience. “As long as fluids are pumped at the proper rate, the heavy slurry of radioactive waste would fall straight down in a long, finger-like projection towards the Earth’s core, and it wouldn’t spread outward” LiveScience added.

However, the idea is still theoretical and faces many practical problems, says Jens Birkholzer, head of the Nuclear Energy and Waste Program at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“I can’t see it being a feasible concept, for many reasons,” Birkholzer told LiveScience. Nuclear waste stays radioactive for more than 100,000 years and burying it so deep would make it hard to inspect the geology of the rocks it’s going into.

“You really don’t want to be close to this material,” Birkholzer said. “The whole worker-safety issue is to me a big concern.”

Both fracking and nuclear waste storage are hot button issues and heavily contested by environmental groups.

Fracking involves injecting fluids more than a mile underground into tight rock formations to release oil and natural gas. Environmentalists argue that fracking could contaminate drinking water, though there has been no confirmed case of the drilling technique harming water supplies. Activists also argue that fracking can cause earthquakes.

Activists have opposed the storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada for nearly 40 years. The government initially planned to store nuclear waste there, but have since abandoned their plans in the face of strong opposition.

According to Birkholzer, researchers would have to make sure the fracking boreholes “placed correctly, so that there was no chance the nuclear waste could somehow contaminate an underground water supply.”

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