Significance of Geochemical Characterization to Performance at Yucca Mountain, Nevada

by Ardyth M. Simmons, U.S. Dep of Energy, Las Vegas, United States,

Document Type: Proceeding Paper

Part of: High Level Radioactive Waste Management 1993


The U.S. concept for permanent disposal of high-level radioactive waste resembles those of other countries in that it relies upon burial in a deep geologic medium. This concept relies upon multiple barriers to retard transport of radionuclides to the accessible environment; those barriers consist of the waste form, waste container, engineered barrier system (including possible backfill) and retardant properties of the host rock. Because mobilization of radionuclides is fundamentally a geochemical problem, an understanding of past, present, and future geochemical processes is a requisite part of site characterization studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Geochemical information is needed for evaluating three favorable conditions (the rates of geochemical processes, conditions that promote precipitation or sorption of radionuclides or prohibit formation of colloids, and stable mineral assemblages) and four potentially adverse conditions of the site (groundwater conditions that could increase the chemical reactivity of the engineered barrier system or reduce sorption, potential for gaseous radionuclide movement, and oxidizing groundwaters) for key issues of radionuclide release, groundwater quality, and stability of the geochemical environment. Preliminary results of long-term heating experiments indicate that although zeolites can be modified by long-term, low temperature reactions, their beneficial sorptive properties will not be adversely affected. Mineral reactions will be controlled by the aqueous activity of silica in groundwater with which the minerals are in contact. Geochemical barriers alone may satisfy release requirements to the accessible environment for many radionuclides; however, additional site specific geochemical and mineralogical data are needed to test existing and future radionuclide transport models.

Subject Headings: Sorption | Groundwater | Radioactive wastes | Rock properties | Groundwater quality | Temperature effects | Waste disposal | Materials characterization | Nevada | United States

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