Warship Vasa corrosion may inluence nuclear waste storage

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Sunday, 15 November, 2009 - 00:00

The 17th century warship Vasa, one of conservation's biggest challenges, is playing a surprising part in determining how the world's nuclear waste is to be stored. According to Terry Macalister in The Observer (15 November 2009), plans for nuclear waste disposal could be thrown into confusion because of new evidence of corrosion in materials traditionally used for burial procedures.

The UK's Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) was keeping a careful watch on a meeting organised by the Swedish National Council for Nuclear Waste, looking at potential problems with copper, designated for an important role in sealing radioactive waste underground. It is reported that examination of copper artefacts from the Vasa (or Wasa), sunk in Stockolm harbour in 1628, its hull raised intact in 1961, shows a level of decay that challenges the scientific wisdom that copper corrodes only when exposed to oxygen.

David Lowry, a consultant on the nuclear industry, is quoted as saying that the latest evidence had profound implications and that "plans to adopt the Swedish system of nuclear waste disposal look as if they might have hit the rocks." But according to Macalister the NDA said that no decision had been taken on what materials would be used for containment. "It's not a showstopper. There are other options."