The BEACON (Bentonite Mechanical Evolution) project is a €4M research project funded by the European Commission (EC), as part of the Horizon 2020 EURATOM work programme. Its objective is to contribute to the development of engineered solutions for the management of high-level radioactive waste, and in particular the implementation of the first-of-the-kind geological repositories. The current pan-European consensus solution for nuclear waste disposal involves burial of the nuclear waste-filled canisters in galleries and tunnels excavated deep in a host geological formation. The key protection between the canister and the host formation is a buffer material, usually a highly swelling clay, such as bentonite, that is expected to mechanically evolve over time and seal the repository, thus preventing the long-term leakage of radioactive nucleoids into the surrounding ground.

The key drive for the project is to ensure efficient repository safety, thus contributing to the European Strategic Energy Technology (SET) Plan to make low-carbon technologies affordable and competitive. The aim is to verify the performance of the current designs for buffers, backfills, seals and plugs.

The project comprises 25 academic and industry partners of which 8 are major European waste management organisations, including the UK’s Radioactive Waste Management (RWM) Ltd. The primary contribution of the Imperial’s Geotechnics group is in the computational modelling of thermo-hydro-mechanical evolution of bentonite buffers with time, using advanced modelling capabilities of the bespoke FE software ICFEP. ICFEP will also be applied in the modelling of large-scale prototype repository experiments conducted in Sweden and Spain.

The work on the BEACON project builds on and expands the current both experimental and computational research on bentonite buffers in the Geotechnics group, funded by RWM Ltd. (UK), AMEC Foster Wheeler (UK) and EPSRC.

Academic team: Prof. Lidija Zdravkovic, Prof. David Potts, Dr. Aikaterini Tsiampousi, Dr. Jamie Standing

Research team: G. Ghiadistri, V. Mantikos, A. Kirkham