Science/DGR Quality people doing quality research


Written for Canadian Community News by Mike Sterling

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Before going to other issues concerning the proposed DGR, we should look at an example of the individuals working on it and what they do.  World-wide there are a variety of people doing basic research relative to Deep Geologic Repositories. (DGR)

Most researchers fall into the following categories:

  • University departments and professors that have basic research interests in the area of nuclear power and/or waste management of high, intermediate and low waste.

Many of professors serve as paid consultants to the nuclear power industry or to governments, who want to have the broadest and  best science.  This is not surprising as they need money to do the basic research.

  • Industry researchers who work for private companies.

  • Government employees world-wide who concentrate on nuclear power and waste management.

  • Researchers who do consulting for special interest groups, who oppose either nuclear power in general or DGRs in particular.  They also need funds to compensate for their time and travel costs.

  • Key specialists who have something to contribute in scientific or engineering areas.  These people are brought in as consultants to all of the above, where needed.  They usually are engaged because they have special expertise in a very narrow areas.

It's interesting to see how Canada is approaching the issue and how other countries are too.  The history and science of DGRs goes back decades  There is much in common across countries, but some differences in terms of timing and the political and social impact strategies invoked. 

There seems to be total transparency of communication between nations who are doing the research.  Nothing seems to be secret in terms of the science, except security precautions and even these are revealed on a need to know basis.

Most countries are concerned with the security of above ground storage for long term safety as well as DGR security.

In doing the reading on the Copper Canisters proposed for the Finnish DGR, I found a paper by Dr. R. C. Newman from the University of Toronto.  He seems typical of the serious researchers involved.

It's an in-depth look at corrosion and cracking in copper containers.  It's a long article intended for the scientific community.  You can see what it's all about by clicking here.  It's worth a look.

It's a good example. It shows how the scientific method works as he answers some questions by others relative to the past and new research and conclusions that he has drawn. 

Details are not without different opinions.  Newman and his co-author answer questions point by point.  It's in a very technical area and deep into the specific research on copper.  It's intended for his peers and not for special interest community based groups.

Lay people can understand his conclusions, but to delve into the intricacies of the research is difficult for the non-expert person or even for the general experts, because his area is certainly special. 

The  DGR administrators have to make sure that the scientific method is working and qualified peers are reviewing results.  You can see this going on in Newman's work.

As you read the research, you have to be impressed with the credentials of people like Dr. Newman.  Here is his brief educational  background.

R.C. Newman

MA, PhD (Cambridge), DSc, CEng, FIMMM, FNACE, FICorr (Hon) 
NSERC-UNENE Senior Industrial Research Chair in Corrosion and Materials Performance in Nuclear Power Systems

For more go to his web site by clicking hereIt's very impressive

It's possible to look at the issue from many sides. The more I read, the more I'm convinced that the science and engineering are in capable hands.  The real issues reside in the social sphere.  It appears that all the organizations concerned  seriously with DGRs hold that opinion and want to work with interested communities as their technical work continues.

I can't believe how much literature there is on all aspects of DGRs.  It would take at least a year to read the most important research papers on the subject.  Most people can't do that, I know I can't.  I can put a dent in it by reading something every day. I won't last a year on the review.  Where risk management is concerned, I can go deeper.

The social bridge is the most important issue right now.  Although it seems like the easy part, it is by far the most complicated and it has stalled information transfer to the general public.  There is much to learn about that aspect.

Click here for a somewhat dated, but good survey-summary article about DGRs including social acceptance importance.

This is an excellent summary and does not require any special knowledge in science.  The graphs and any formulas are crucial to the narrative.  It shows the cycle clearly.  That's its main use.

What have I learned or what has been reinforced by reading the two articles?

1.  There are very good people working in the area of DGR research in specialized areas. (Dr. Newman's Bio)

2.  Normal Scientific Methods are being used with peer review.  This involves back and forth interplay. (go to page 18 to see how normal peer review works or to the conclusion to see how it works

You will see how Newman answers some issues.  This goes on all the time.  It's not like scientists are arguing, they are presenting results and correcting things in the peer review process.  There is a constant back and forth until things are established. 

Newman's paper was done for Sweden's proposed DGR, but applies in general within the geologic parameters.

It's impossible for the lay person to keep up or follow these developments.  That's up to the experts.  Therein is the problem.  How to communicate all this material?  How to have it assimilated?

3. The social issues are far behind the science.

4.  Some areas like DGR canisters and the metallurgy therein are very complicated and have to be left to select experts with the right credentials and competent organizations. 

The process of peer review has been healthy and has been going on for more than three decades. This has been insulated from the social issues, somewhat. This accounts for much of the progress and lack of progress to date.

You can follow the chain of copper and other materials for DGR containers by following the trail of the research.  It is extensive. You cannot just dive in a quote an author without following the time stamped peer review process that is flowing and ongoing all the time. Experts like Newman don't get hired because they will dredge up results that their employer wants to hear.  They have international reputations and are paid for their knowledge.

For now, I've had enough about pH levels and corrosion patinas for copper.

I've concluded that copper seems to be well chosen given the proper ambient conditions.  If you have some doubts, then go and ask a person like Dr. Newman.  He's in Toronto.  Is there something better?  I have no idea.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012