GRS, the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), DBE TECHNOLOGY GmbH and the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation (IFF) are currently in the process of developing the world’s first virtual underground research laboratory.
VIRTUS is not only intended as an instrument for assessing geomechanical and geochemical processes taking place in a repository. With the possibility of 3D-visualisation of the processes, the software platform also aims at contributing to more comprehensible and transparent information to the public.
VIRTUS as a tool for research
VIRTUS is to provide researchers with the means to carry out virtual experiments in detailed models of repository mines in real geological formations. It will thereby not only be possible to study the processes and their complex interactions in detail but also to represent them visually.
In the long run, researchers from all over the world are to be able to access the VIRTUS platform, carry out virtual experiments, and exchange results. Another reason why this project – which is sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology (BMWi) – is interesting for the research community is that it can help in future to visualise processes that are relevant in connection with repositories in clay and granite and thereby add to the work already carried out with regard to salt rock.
Support in site selection with VIRTUS
VIRTUS could also play an important role in the selection of a geological repository site. If one wants to explore the suitability of a possible site, a repository concept Endlager has to be developed. Only on this basis it is possible to assess the suitability and, as the case may be, demonstrate that it is feasible to store radioactive waste at the site in question over the required one million years and keep it isolated from the environment over this period. VIRTUS is to make the necessary development of a repository concept and the safety analyses more efficient and more comprehensible.
Involve general public by clear presentation
It is above all the visual representation of experiments and their results that can make VIRTUS an important aid for involving the general public in the search for a repository site. The virtual model enables even laypeople to develop certain knowledge of complicated processes that develop in a repository.
With VIRTUS, abstract scientific relationships that are rather difficult to formulate in their entirety can be represented in a comprehensible manner in computer graphics. For example, "zooming" through three-dimensional salt domes, past mine structures and drifts filled with casks in which radioactive waste is stored, will become possible.
The VIRTUS project will continue until the end of 2013. By then the VIRTUS platform will be available for research and to the general public.