Salting the Earth

Spat out in the aftershock of

atoms that we forced apart;

their separation strategized

for the marriage of our consumptive

convenience.

Radioactive entrails that litter

our collective consciousness,

throbbing with the poisoned potential

of a thousand artificial suns.

We clutch at phosphorescent binbags,

our tainted hands digging through

ancient beds of clay and gypsum;

our burden laid to rest.

Buried now beneath

pillars of salt, statues to which

we can never return.

Salt deposits in Oregon, in the United States (Image Credit: fishermansdaughter).

This poem is inspired by recent research, which has investigated how salt may be used for the long-term, safe disposal of nuclear waste.

Investigations into the disposal of high‐level heat‐generating nuclear waste (created from decades of nuclear power generation) are essential for the long‐term safety and security of disused nuclear materials. Since the 1950s, salt has been seen as a material of interest for such disposal. Salt deposits exist naturally underground, are self-healing, have very low permeability and conduct heat well, all of which make them an effective barrier to the long-term release of radioactivity into the human environment.

One proposed solution for safely encasing nuclear waste in salt is via a technique called ‘in‐drift disposal’. In this process, a horizontal tunnel (i.e. a ‘drift’), is carved into the naturally occurring salt deposit. A canister containing the nuclear waste is then placed on the floor of this drift and covered with crushed salt that was extracted when the drift was created. After filling the drift with waste canisters, it is backfilled with more salt. The United States and Germany are currently disposing of low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste in such a manner. However, more information had been required to determine the safety of using salt deposits for high-level nuclear waste, specifically with regards to how these salt deposits would react to the presence of water, heat, and other geologic factors. Initial studies carried out by the Los Alamos National Labs and the US Department of Energy indicate that in-drift disposal might also be suitable for storing high‐level heat‐generating nuclear waste. However, further research is needed to fully understand the effect that this would have on the moisture content and porosity of the surrounding deposits.

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