One million tons. Depending on your frame of reference, this is either a very large number, or a very small one. If you’re comparing it to the amount of “waste” produced by the average nuclear power plant in the US right now, it’s very large; your average American could receive 100% of their lifetime electricity use from nuclear power, and produce just about 1 kilogram of spent fuel, the classical “nuclear waste.” If you’re comparing it to the amount of carbon released by the average coal power plant, then it’s a very small number indeed; a modestly-sized coal power plant will output about three times that amount of CO2 every year. Clearly, understanding big numbers like this one requires the correct context for interpretation, so when you hear that the US Department of Energy and partners have managed to store a million metric tons of CO2 underground, how do we evaluate this number? Is that a lot? Or, like, not?
The Illinois Basin Decatur Project (IBDP), the carbon sequestration project in question, has captured 1,000,000 tons of CO2 sludge in the form of 1,000-ton pressurized injections every day since November of 2011. For those keeping track at home, that means that a mid-sized coal power plant will produce roughly nine times as much CO2 as this technique can capture, in a given year. Once three years have elapsed and just over a million tons of CO2 have been deposited two kilometers underground, the bunker is closed forever and construction begins on a new one. There is currently no info available on just how much carbon is emitted in the process of building and filling these enormous, inadequate, shale-capped wells of liquid coal waste.