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An innovative hydrogeologic setting for disposal of low-level radioactive wastes

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A natural unique hydrogeological setting favorable for safe and economical disposal of low-level radioactive wastes occurs in the flat hinterland of southeastern North Carolina. The uniqueness results partly from the absence of vertical and horizontal groundwater gradients, representing a nonflow, or null, zone. The null setting is localized to key horizons 30 to 75 feet below land surface and to areas where glauconitic sandy clays of the Peedee Formation lie under less than 25 feet of surficial sandy clays; the Peedee contains nearly stagnant brackish groundwater slightly below the proposed disposal zone.

Issues to overcome include: (1) demonstrating better combined safety and economical features over conventional and prescribed settings, (2) dewatering the low-permeability disposal zone for the 20-year operational period, and (3) changing rules to allow disposal slightly below the zone in which the normal water table occurs.

Favorable site characteristics of the key setting are: (1) no major aquifer to contaminate, (2) no surface streams or lakes to contaminate, (3) optimal ion exchange and sorptive capacity (clay and glauconite pellets), (4) no appreciable or distinctive vertical and horizontal gradients, (5) no elongated contaminated plume to develop, (6) no surface erosion, (7) a capable setting for injection of potential contaminated water into deep brackish water wells, if needed and allowed, (8) minimum problems of the “overfilled bathtub effect,” (9) no apparent long-term harmful environmental impact (normal water table would be restored after the 20-year period), (10) relatively inexpensive disposal (engineered barriers not needed and desired), (11) simple and relatively inexpensive monitoring, (12) large tracts of land likely available, and (13) sparse population.

In spite of legal and political obstacles to shallow land burial, the null setting described is a capable hydrogeological host to contain low-level radioactive wastes. The setting may have safety and economic advantages over selected sites in eastern North America and over innovative technological experiences in Europe.

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References Cited

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Legrand, H.E. An innovative hydrogeologic setting for disposal of low-level radioactive wastes. Environ. Geol. Water Sci 13, 233–239 (1989).

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  • North America
  • Burial
  • Radioactive Waste
  • Operational Period
  • Sandy Clay