The Analysis of Repository-Heat-Driven Hydrothermal Flow at Yucca Mountain

by Thomas A. Buscheck, Lawrence Livermore Natl Lab, Livermore, United States,
John J. Nitao, Lawrence Livermore Natl Lab, Livermore, United States,

Document Type: Proceeding Paper

Part of: High Level Radioactive Waste Management 1993


To safely and permanently store high-level nuclear waste, the potential Yucca Mountain repository site must mitigate the release and transport of radionuclides for tens of thousands of years. In the failure scenario of greatest concern, water would contact the waste package (WP), accelerate its failure rate, and eventually transport radionuclides to the water table. In a concept called the 'extended-dry repository,' decay heat arising from radioactive waste extends the time before liquid water can contact a WP. Recent modeling and theoretical advances in nonisothermal, multiphase fracture-matrix flow have demonstrated (1) the critical importance of capillary pressure disequilibrium between fracture and matrix flow, and (2) that radioactive decay heat plays a dominant role in the ability of the engineered and natural barriers to contain and isolate radionuclides. Our analyses indicate that the thermo-hydrological performance of both the unsaturated zone (UZ) and saturated zone (SZ) will be dominated by repository-heat-driven hydrothermal flow for tens of thousands of years. For thermal loads resulting in extended-dry repository conditions, UZ performance is primarily sensitive to the thermal properties and thermal loading conditions and much less sensitive to the highly spatially and temporally variable ambient hydrologic properties and conditions. The magnitude of repository-heat-driven buoyancy flow in the SZ is far more dependent on the total mass of emplaced spent nuclear fuel (SNF) than on the details of SNF emplacement, such as the Areal Power Density [(APD) expressed in kW/acre] or SNF age.

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