COLUMBUS, Ohio (Jan. 12, 2016) –The U.S. Department of Energy has selected a Battelle-led team to drill a test borehole more than 16,000 feet deep into a crystalline basement rock formation near Rugby, North Dakota.
The project is an important step in exploring the science needed for using deep boreholes in crystalline rock formations. One of the most promising applications is the potential for disposal of certain types of high-level radioactive wastes. Another application may be geothermal energy development.
The field test will provide key insights into crosscutting subsurface science and engineering challenges such as drilling techniques, wellbore stability and sealing, and subsurface characterization. “We are so pleased to lead this great team on this important scientific mission for the Department of Energy,” said Rod Osborne, Battelle’s Energy Business Line Manager. “Characterization and testing of subsurface geology is our strong suit. We’ve been doing it for nearly two decades and we feel that winning this project is an affirmation of that expertise.”
Osborne added that the strengths of the team make it a formidable group. The Energy & Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota has site-specific knowledge; Schlumberger will oversee the drilling and Solexperts, a Swiss geologic testing company, will support Battelle in testing the underground well system. Additionally, faculty from the University of Pittsburgh will consult on the project.
Ernest Moniz, the U.S. Energy Secretary, noted the significance of the project when announcing Battelle as team leader. “This is an important first step to increasing our scientific understanding of the potential uses for crystalline rock formations,” he said, adding, “including the feasibility of boreholes as an option for long term nuclear waste disposal.”
More than 40 years ago, scientists suggested the idea of disposing of nuclear weapons production waste in holes drilled miles into granite. In January 2012 the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future recommended research into the possibility of using deep boreholes “particularly as a disposal alternative for certain forms of waste that have essentially no potential for re-use.”
Determining the feasibility of deep borehole disposal is the goal of the DOE’s estimated $35 million, five-year project on approximately 20 acres of state-owned land. This research will include examination of the hydrogeological, geochemical, and geo-mechanical characteristics of the host rock at considerable depth. Researchers will collect extensive data during drilling and will allow for specialized scientific testing after drilling is complete. No radioactive material will be used during any of the testing for this borehole project.
Scientists have identified many regions in the United States that have large, geologically stable rock formations similar to the Rugby, North Dakota location. The work in North Dakota will help increase understanding of similar locations across the country.
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