Swelling in Switzerland by an Early Career Researcher

My name is Andrew Wiseall and I am an early career researcher at the British Geological Survey (BGS). I work within the Radioactive Waste team at the BGS based at the main office in Keyworth, Nottingham however I also take part in research for shale gas and Carbon, Capture and Storage. In terms of radioactive waste this primarily concerns characterising the potential hydro-mechanical properties of potential host rocks and engineered barriers. A key part of my role is to present my findings at international conferences and meetings and in September 2017 the GeoEnergy Research Centre assisted in this by awarding me funding from there Early Career Researchers Development Fund. I presented my work in the form of a poster at the ‘7th International Conference on Clays in Natural and Engineered Barriers for Radioactive Waste Confinement’ this was held in the Swiss town of Davos from the 24th-27th September. The work I presented was titled ‘Three-dimensional swelling properties of clay-rich rocks and engineered barriers.’

The Swiss Nuclear Waste Management Organisation (NWMO), NAGRA, hosted the conference in the Swiss town of Davos, which is surrounded by the beautiful Alps. A long day of travelling from Luton to Zurich and onto Davos was worth it for the views of the Alps from the train! The conference itself was held at the Congress Centre, which also helps host the World Economic Forum every January which many worldwide presidents and prime ministers attend, however I’m sure the Clay Conference will have been the most glamorous event in Davos this year!..
Swiss town of Davos, the host of the 7th International Clay Barriers conference. The photo was taken from the cable car to the top of the mountain in the little time off we had!
The conference started on the Monday morning with well over 400 people in attendance from all over the world. The scene was set in the first couple of sessions with key note talks from some of the more advanced European NWMO’s in terms of being close to geological disposal and also to highlight the importance of the ongoing research. The conference then split off into three parallel sessions in which research was discussed in much greater detail. Topics ranged from sample preparation to micro-scale clay characterization to full scale disposal demonstration projects, thus highlighting the broad nature of this research field. This gave me a great insight into the importance of research at all scales and also allowed me to see exactly where my research slots in to the wider research programme.
I presented my poster on the final day of the conference in an hour long poster session. However, the poster sessions were interactive all week so discussion on my work was held throughout the week. My work focused on how groundwater would interact with clays in potential host rocks and engineered barriers, in these rock types the clay minerals will often incorporate water into their structure, resulting in swelling. This is a wanted characteristic for geological disposal as it can lead to the sealing of fractures and therefore stop radionuclides flowing away from a disposal facility. The technique I used in my research was novel and therefore attracted much discussion, especially from the Dutch NWMO for whom much of this work was carried out.

Presenting my poster at the Clay Conference, Davos, Switzerland

Overall, I believe the conference was a success for both BGS and myself as we presented some important results on an international stage directly to stakeholders and I learnt a lot through doing this.  I now feel that I can see exactly where my work fits in to the wider context and I can also see where further research needs to be done in my field. This should therefore stand me in good stead for my future career and hopefully lead to more international collaboration in the future.
I fully look forward to the next Clay Conference in Nancy, France in 2020 although I expect they may not be able to match the beautiful Swiss Alps I’m sure they will be able to match the amount of cheese consumed!
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