Thermally induced mechanical and permeability changes around a nuclear waste repository --
a far-field study based on equivalent properties determined by a discrete approach
A numerical investigation is conducted on the impacts of the thermal loading history on the evolution of mechanical response and permeability field of a fractured rock mass containing a hypothetical nuclear waste repository. The geological data are extracted from the site investigation results at Sellafield, England. A combined methodology of discrete and continuum approaches is presented. The results of a series of simulations based on the DFN-DEM (Discrete Fracture Network-Distinct Element Method) approach provide the mechanical and hydraulic properties of fractured rock masses, and their stress-dependencies. These properties are calculated on a representative scale that depends on fracture network characteristics and constitutive models of intact rock and fractures. In the present study, data indicate that the large scale domain can be divided into four regions with different property sets corresponding to the depth. The results derived by the DFN-DEM approach are then passed on to a large-scale analysis of the far-field problem for the equivalent continuum analysis. The large-scale far-field analysis is conducted using a FEM code, ROCMAS for coupled thermo-mechanical process. The results show that the thermal stresses of fractured rock masses vary significantly with mechanical properties determined at the representative scale. Vertical heaving and horizontal tensile displacement are observed above the repository. Observed stress and displacement fields also shows significant dependency on how the mechanical properties are characterized. The permeability changes induced by the thermal loading show that it generally decreases close to the repository. However, change of permeability is small, i.e., a factor of two, and thermally induced dilation of fracture was not observed. Note that the repository excavation effects were not considered in the study. The work presented in this paper is the result of efforts on a benchmark test (BMT2) within the international co-operative projects DECOVALEX III and BENCHPAR.