Deep Borehole Disposal of Nuclear Waste: Engineering Challenges, London

25 January, 2016 | 18:00 - 19:35

Deep Borehole Disposal of Nuclear Waste: Engineering Challenges, London

About this event

In recent years, geological disposal of radioactive waste has focused on placement of high and intermediate-level wastes in mined underground caverns at depths of 500–800 m.

Notwithstanding the billions of dollars spent to date on this approach, the difficulty of finding suitable sites and demonstrating to the public and regulators that a robust safety case can be developed has frustrated attempts to implement disposal programmes in several countries, and no disposal facility for spent nuclear fuel exists anywhere.

The concept of deep borehole disposal was first considered in the 1950s, but was rejected as it was believed to be beyond existing drilling capabilities. Improvements in drilling and associated technologies and advances in sealing methods have prompted a re-examination of this option for the disposal of high-level radioactive wastes, including spent fuel and plutonium.

Since the 1950s, studies of deep boreholes have involved minimal investment. However, deep borehole disposal offers a potentially safer, more secure, cost-effective and environmentally sound solution for the long-term management of high-level radioactive waste than mined repositories. Potentially it could accommodate most of the world’s spent fuel inventory.

This lecture, based on the award winning paper, will discuss the concept, the status of existing supporting equipment and technologies and the challenges that remain.

Event materials

The following materials are available for download:


John Beswick, Director, Marriott Drilling Group

John Beswick
John Beswick, Director, Marriott Drilling Group

John graduated from Loughborough University in civil engineering and has an MSc degree in engineering geology from Imperial College, London. His first job was for Coode and Partners at 2 Victoria Street (just round the corner) designing docks and harbours at various places round the world.

After three years with Costain working on highway bridges and heavy industrial foundations, he joined Soil Mechanics (Mowlem Group) where he became a Director responsible for activities in the UK, Ireland, Australia, Philippines, Hong Kong, and Abu Dhabi together with major projects in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. He then spent five years seconded by Mowlem to the geothermal research project at Camborne School of Mines in Cornwall to investigate methods of engineering geothermal systems in granites.

In 1985 he joined a major international oil field drilling contractor, Kenting Drilling, where he became Managing Director responsible for operations in the UK and Europe working in 10 European countries. During this period he was also Project Manager for the eight year major investigation programmes for a mined repository for radioactive waste at Sellafield and Dounreay. He also organised and supervised a deep well drilled to almost 7000 m in Central Sweden to investigate Prof Thomas Gold's theory of abiogenic methane and a 5000 m deep geothermal well in Basel, Switzerland.

He is currently advisor for a 5000 m deep geothermal system in the Czech Republic as well as for a major gas storage project in the UK. He theoretically retired in 2007 and was asked by Marriott Drilling to join them as a Director, a post which he currently holds. Marriott is involved in drilling for oil, gas, gas storage, shale gas, geothermal, mining and water resources in the UK, Europe, Central America and East Africa and has drilled all the shale gas exploration wells drilled to date in the UK.

His involvement with geological disposal of radioactive waste started in the mid 1970s and his interest in the deep borehole disposal concept dates back to 1988 following some work for the Swedish radioactive waste agency, SKB. He later reviewed the subject for the UK agency NDA, in 2008. Recent work in association with researchers at Sheffield University, working for the US DOE, prompted the publication of this paper.


John Earp,  Nuclear Consultant

John Beswick
John Earp,  Nuclear Consultant

A Fellow of both the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Nuclear Institute John’s career began as a mechanical apprentice with the CEGB in 1964 and progressed to the role of Generation Manager with British Energy from which he “retired” in 2001.  During this time he undertook various engineering, technical and managerial roles associated with AGR and Magnox stations enabling him to gain a detailed knowledge of the UK Nuclear Site Licence and its application to nuclear power stations.  This period also included extensive engagement with nuclear safety committees involving both the preparation of papers and their presentation.   A broad knowledge of technology and management of PWR and BWR reactors was gained whilst representing British Energy working with INPO in the USA.
Since “retiring” he established a consultancy supporting several companies to review their nuclear strategy initially in a declining market focused on decommissioning and subsequently on new build.  During this period he also assisted the setting up of the NDA, briefly becoming the interim Director of Nuclear Safety.  Latterly working with Aker Solutions (now Jacobs) he was the sponsoring director for the development of a new accelerator driven reactor concept utilizing thorium as its prime fuel.   
John is an independent member of the Pre-licence nuclear safety committee for Horizon Nuclear associated with the new nuclear build on Anglesey.  He also supports both the institutions of which he is a member and was privileged to be invited to sit on the UK’s Chief Nuclear Inspectors Technical Advisory Panel on the impact of Fukushima on the UK’s nuclear sector.  
Throughout this period John has accumulated more than 38 years of broad nuclear experience.