Looking Deep into the Future for Radioactive Waste Disposal

New research into long-term climate change is applied to nuclear waste disposal sites in Finland and Sweden.

A new paper was recently published on research that uses Earth system models to project future changes in climate over timescales pertinent to the disposal of radioactive waste. This research involved  Dr Natalie Lord, Professor Andy Ridgwell and Professor Dan Lunt from the School of Geographical Sciences alongside colleagues from Belgium, USA and Saudi Arabia.

The project is funded by Posiva Oy (Finland) and SKB (Sweden), and aims to give insight into important questions such as when the next ice age might occur, and what impacts this may have on a high-latitude waste repository site. This research, along with Natalie’s PhD, builds on the European Union BIOCLIM project (2000-2003) and contributes to Working Group 6 of the IAEA programme Modelling and Data for Radiological Impact Assessments (MODARIA; 2012-2015).

Application to Nuclear Waste Disposal Sites

The aim is to produce  long-term ‘continuous’ projections of future climate evolution over the next million years at the Finnish and Swedish nuclear waste disposal sites of Olkiluoto and Forsmark, for use in post-closure safety assessments performed as part of the application process for a radioactive waste disposal facility. A combination of Earth system modelling approaches is being developed and applied to model long-term climate, including the statistical modelling tools developed during Natalie’s PhD. Past climate changes will also be modelled, such as those that occurred during the late Pliocene, as a way of evaluating the modelling approaches being used.

Statistical Emulator Using Climate Data

In the paper, the emulator is calibrated on climate data from an ensemble of simulations run using the Hadley Centre climate model (HadCM3). The emulator is used to project changes in temperature and precipitation occurring over the next 200 thousand years at a number of European sites, selected either because they have been identified as adopted or proposed locations for the geological disposal of solid radioactive wastes (e.g. Forsmark, Sweden, and El Cabril, Spain), or simply as reference locations where a suitable site has not yet been identified (e.g. Switzerland and the UK).

The impact of the Earth's orbit and the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration on climate is assessed. Climate over the late Pliocene (3.3–2.8 million years before present) is also modelled, and the data compared to reconstructions of temperature and atmospheric CO2 concentration produced using proxy data.

Research Published Open Access in November

The paper was published in Climate of the Past and is titled “Emulation of long-term changes in global climate: Application to the late Pliocene and future”.

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