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For UFD, international collaboration is a beneficial and cost-effective strategy for advancing disposal science with regards to multiple disposal options and different geologic environments. While the United States disposal program focused solely on Yucca Mountain tuff as host rock over the past decades, several international programs have made significant progress in the characterization and performance evaluation of other geologic repository options, most of which are very different from the Yucca Mountain site in design and host rock characteristics. Because Yucca Mountain was so unique (e.g., no backfill, unsaturated densely fractured tuff), areas of direct collaboration with international disposal programs were quite limited during that time.
The decision by the U.S. Department of Energy to no longer pursue the disposal of high-level radioactive waste and spent fuel at Yucca Mountain has shifted DOE’s interest to disposal options and geologic environments similar to those being investigated by disposal programs in other nations. Much can be gained by close collaboration with these programs, including access to valuable experience and data collected over recent decades. Particularly worthwhile are opportunities for active international collaboration (.pdf), with which we mean that UFD scientists work together closely with international scientists on concrete research projects relevant to both sides. Such active collaboration provides direct access to information, data, and expertise on various disposal options and geologic environments that have been collected over the past decades. Many international programs have operating underground research laboratories (URLs) in clay/shale, granite, and salt environments, in which relevant field experiments have been and are being conducted.
To advance collaboration, Jens Birkholzer of LBNL has responsibility as UFD’s responsibility Technical Lead for International Activities. Jens advises UFD on international opportunities that complement ongoing R&D within the campaign, and helps identify those activities that provide the greatest potential for substantive technical advances. On behalf of UFD, he interacts with international organizations and programs to help advance specific collaborations.
Current LBNL activities related to active international collaboration between UFD and other countries are within the following multinational and multi-partner initiatives that promote active R&D in nuclear waste disposal science: the DECOVALEX Project, the Mont Terri Project, and the Colloid Formation and Migration Project.