Russia has begun work on construction of an underground research laboratory (PIL – Podzemnaya Issledovatelskaya Laboratoriya) at the site of the Zheleznogorsk branch of radwaste national operator NO RAO in Krasnoyarsk. “Several countries are undertaking such developments, and we are not lagging behind ”, said Vasily Tinin, director of state policy in the field of radwaste, used fuel, decommissioning and renewable energy at Rosatom. The work is being done within the framework of the Federal Target Programme "Ensuring Nuclear and Radiation Safety for 2016-2020 and for the Period Until 2030" (FTP-YaRB).

The underground research laboratory at the Yenisei site is a research complex in which, in 2025-2040, it is planned to study natural and engineering security barriers, handling technology and final isolation radwaste and other factors affecting safety. Based on the results of the studies, the characteristics of the rock and the design of the facility for drawing up the safety justification will be clarified as the basis for a decision on a deep geological repository. which a decision will be made on the construction of a point of deep isolation of radioactive waste.

A detailed research list for PIL was developed in accordance with Russian regulatory documents and international recommendations, approved by Rosatom in 2019 and was included in the Comprehensive Research Programme to justify the safe construction of the PGZRO (Punkt Glubinnovo Zakhoroneniya Radioaktivnikh Otkhodob – Point for Deep Burial of Radioactive Waste), its operation and closure at the Yenisei site.

Research in underground mining is already underway and it is planned to put PIL into operation PIL in 2028, after which long-term experiments will be launched. “First of all, we will establish a facility for scientific research and only after the scientists give a positive opinion and public discussions have been held, will a decision be made on the construction of PGZRO. Now our main task is to organize construction of PIL”, said Sergey Peshkov, director of the NO RAO Zheleznogorsk branch.

"Russia supports the world practice of the final isolation of radioactive waste in deep formations, as well as the main requirement for the reasonable isolation of these wastes due to their high risk,” says Dmitry Ozersky, director of the Krasnoyarsk branch of the Nuclear Safety Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IBRAE RAS). “Scientific research is being conducted on this topic, at IBRAE RAS and more than 150 tasks in various areas are being investigated. The list of our collaborators is quite wide. It includes scientific organisations responsible for the development of the theoretical basis for handling radwaste, and production associations ensuring the development of applied science.”

The programme comprises three stages:

  • Stage 1. The energy complex for PIL which was completed in 2022 to supply electricity and water for mining.
  • Stage 2. Construction of PIL, now underway. This includes: construction of ventilation and auxiliary shafts with a horizontal bridge between them (for studies of a rock mass over five years or more and confirmation of the long-term safety of radwaste disposal; construction of a technological shaft and the remaining horizons.
  • Stage 3. PGZRO – construction of a facility for deep isolation of radioactive waste based on the results of all studies and obtaining the necessary licences.

During June, construction continued at PIL and a three-dimensional laser scanning of the surface of the rock mass was undertaken by IBRAE RAS. The research work includes the study of the rock mass, carried out in parallel with the construction of the mine shafts of the laboratory.

The construction process is carried continuously with scientists constantly present at the construction site recording the geological and hydrogeological parameters of the massif as the depth of the shafts grows. Currently tubes penetrate loose rocks and weathered areas of the rock massif. In the future, drilling will be carried into the main rock mass, which will be of greater interest to scientists.

The three-dimensional laser scanning took place in the period when the broken rock has already been removed, but the concrete lining has not yet been put in place. The scanning produces a cloud of points, from which a three-dimensional digital model of the shaft section is created. Digital models at various intervals are planned to be combined into a single 3D model that visualises the basic geological information. This model will be demonstration material, reflecting the state of the massif for both expert organisations and the public.

Image: Construction site of Russia's new underground research laboratory in Zheleznogorsk (courtesy of Rosatom)