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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Coupled THMC models for bentonite in an argillite repository for nuclear waste: Illitization and its effect on swelling stress under high temperature

  • Author(s): Zheng, L
  • Rutqvist, J
  • Xu, H
  • Birkholzer, JT
  • et al.

Subsurface manipulations such as those expected from the disposal of heat-emanating radioactive waste in deep repositories can induce strongly coupled Thermal (T), hydrological (H), mechanical (M) and chemical (C) processes. Adequate coupled THMC models are highly desirable or even indispensable for performance assessment of such repositories, for examples for the analysis of bentonite-based engineered barrier system (EBS) surrounding the emplaced waste. In this study, we present coupled THMC model simulations of a generic nuclear waste repository in an argillite with a bentonite-based buffer. The objective is to evaluate the chemical changes in the EBS bentonite and their effect on mechanical behavior under high temperature, attempting to shed light on whether EBS bentonite can sustain temperatures higher than 100 °C without significant impact on barrier's performance. Two scenarios were simulated for comparison: a case in which the temperature near the waste canister peaks at 200 °C and a case in which the temperature at the same spot culminate with about 100 °C. Simulations for a generic case with Kunigel-VI bentonite as backfill and Opalinus Clay as host rock were conducted for 1000 years and reported in the previous study (Zheng et al., 2015). In this paper, simulations for 100,000 years have been done for two types of bentonite-based buffer materials: Kunigel-VI and FEBEX bentonite. This enables us to evaluate how different types of bentonite behave in terms of the illitization and its impact on swelling stress and whether we can generalize these results to support decision making. The simulations show the occurrence of illitization in the bentonite buffer and the enhancement of illitization under high temperature. However, FEBEX bentonite undergoes less illitization mainly due to the higher ion concentration in pore water and the lower content of K-feldspar in the bentonite mineral composition. Moreover, the reduction of swelling stress by chemical changes is more pronounced for Kunigel-VI bentonite than for FEBEX bentonite. Overall, the results of our model simulations suggest that an argillite repository with a bentonite-based EBS that is similar to FEBEX bentonite could sustain temperatures much higher than 100 °C as far as illitization concerns. Model results also reveal that illitization is stabilized after about 2000 years in bentonite near the waste package, but continues in bentonite near the bentonite-argillite interface, which manifests the strong effect of geochemical interaction between EBS bentonite and host rock on long term illitization in bentonite.

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