Deep beneath the surface: Innovating nuclear waste disposal with Elizabeth Muller

Deep beneath the surface: Innovating nuclear waste disposal with Elizabeth Muller

In this episode, Lexie Weghorn and Shelly Lesher discuss nuclear waste disposal with Elizabeth Muller, CEO of Deep Isolation. Topics include nuclear energy’s “waste problem”, how nuclear waste is currently stored, and options for our future. Visit us at: Patreon:
Elizabeth MullerElizabeth MullerGuest
Lexie WeghornLexie WeghornGuest

In today’s episode of My Nuclear Life, hosts Shelly Lesher and Lexie Weghorn sit down with Elizabeth Muller, co-founder and executive director of the environmental science non-profit, Berkeley Earth, and CEO of Deep Isolation, a first of its kind company offering innovative solutions to the challenges facing the nuclear waste storage and disposal industry. 

The episode kicks off with Lexie asking the big question, “is there really a nuclear waste problem?” Elizabeth responds emphasizing the need for long-term solutions, a theme often revisited throughout today’s episode. She states that while nuclear waste is currently being stored safely and effectively, we can’t say for how long. With many government solutions focused on decades-long environmental plans, Elizabeth zeros in on the importance of finding solutions that don’t just protect us today, but that protect future generations as well.

Elizabeth goes on to breakdown the current state of the nuclear waste industry, clarifying what qualifies as nuclear waste and how it’s currently being disposed of. In addition, she reveals the 3 main methods of nuclear waste storage and disposal utilized by the drilling industry today. She explains that while traditional methods include techniques such as mine repositories or vertical boreholes, Deep Isolation focuses on directional drilling as a safe and sustainable alternative solution.

 With high-level waste posing potential harm to humans, Elizabeth details how horizontal drilling, versus the traditional vertical drilling methods, will remove the waste’s pathway from below ground to the surface, preventing people from accidentally stumbling upon a waste site. The key, she says, is making it deep enough. By using deep geological isolation, the waste won't have as much of an impact on our environment’s ever-changing surface elements, making it more environmentally safe, but while also leaving it accessible to potentially be used as a fuel source in the future. 

Even with a clear goal in mind, and the confidence to meet all government safety regulations, Deep Isolation has had no shortage of roadblocks in getting off the ground. Elizabeth shares the reasons why institutional investors have been hesitant to get on board, and the varying public responses that Deep Isolation has received in response to their work.

When it comes to her work, Elizabeth operates with a mindset of “small people making a big impact.” Working alongside her father, Richard A. Muller, as well as with a team of expert engineers, scientists, and geologists, Deep Isolation is leading the way in the development of new ideas for nuclear waste storage and disposal. As the episode comes to a close, Elizabeth reminds listeners to take a big idea and “go for it in a big and meaningful way!”

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Elizabeth Muller is co-founder and executive director of the environmental science non-profit, Berkeley Earth, and CEO of Deep Isolation. She is an entrepreneur and innovator in the area of nuclear waste disposal.

Production costs for this episode were provided through National Science Foundation Grant PHY-1713816.