Maturation of Clay Seals in Deep Bore Holes for Disposal of Radioactive waste : Theory and Experiments

Abstract: KBS-3 and very deep borehole (VDH) concepts are two major types of long-term geologicaldisposal methods for high-level radioactive waste (HLW) isolating from the biosphere. TheKBS-3V concept for isolating the HLW at the depth of 400-500 m, is the officially proposedoption in Sweden and has been the subject of considerable research in the past few decades,while the VDH concept was considered as an option in the 1950s but later became discouragedbecause of insufficient experience in drilling technology. The greatest merit of the VDHconcept is that the almost stagnant groundwater in the deep boreholes prevents the transport ofthe possible release of radionuclides into the rock or up to the ground level. Since variousdisadvantages of the KBS-3V concept were found in previous research, the superiority of VDHconcept attracted the researchers to continue studying it into the late 1980s.The geological repositories of both of KBS-3V and VDH types primarily consist of a naturalbarrier (host rock) and of an engineering barrier (also known as a buffer/backfill barrier).According to the principle of IAEA and national relative research organizations, thebuffer/backfill material should have low permeability and good expandability, as well assuitable physical and sealing properties.The thesis concerns the VDH concept and is focused on the construction and performance ofthose parts of the sealed repository that are not affected by high temperature or gamma radiation.In the lower part of a VDH repository, the clay packages containing HLW will be exposed tohigh temperature (100-150 ? ) in the borehole and to highly saline groundwater. In theinstallation phase of HLW, the groundwater will be pumped out and replaced by medium-softsmectite clay mud in which the HLW packages are installed vertically. During the hydrationand maturation of the clay components, the microstructural reorganization, water transport,migration of clay particles and redistribution of the density of the components take place. Thematuration determines the transient evolution of the clay seals and influences the rheologicaland soil mechanical behavior in the installation phase. The maturation of clay system alsodetermines their ultimate sealing potential of VDH repositories.This study presents the work carried out for investigating the maturation of the buffer-backfillclay in the HLW deep borehole. Initially in the study three types of clays, the Namontmorillonite,magnesium-rich and illite-smectite mixed layer clays, were examined for estimating their performance as the barrier candidate material. This is mainly presented in theliterature review. The experimental study was conducted on montmorillonite GMZ clays andI/S mixed-layer Holmehus clay. The expandability and permeability tests were carried out forinterpretation of the recorded swelling development and assessment of the effect of the salineconditions, with the goal of deriving a relationship between swelling pressure and hydraulicconductivity for different dry densities. The maturation tests of initially fully-saturatedHolmehus clay and partly saturated GMZ clay were performed. During the tests, the shearstrength mobilised by the relative movement of densified mud and migrated dense clay -contained in a perforated central tube - were determined. According to the results of shearstrength tests, the maximum operation time or the number of clay packages to be placed in asingle operation was evaluated, whilst the suitable saturation degree of the dense clay wasdiscussed as well.A model of the maturation of initially water-saturated clay seals based on Darcy’s law wasworked out and the evolution of the clay components in a lab-scale borehole using Holmehusclay were performed and compared with the experimental recordings. Good agreementsbetween the physical behaviors of the theoretical simulations and the measurements wasachieved by which the validity of the model was verified. Using the results, the hydration andsoil migration in the entire maturation process were presented in diagram. The model was alsoused for preliminary evaluation of the maturation products in real boreholes by assuming thesame Holmehus clay as used in the tests. Two constellation of borehole and dense clay withdifferent diameters, 80 cm borehole /60 cm clay and 80cm/50cm, were assumed. The resultsrespecting dry density and hydraulic conductivity of the ultimate maturation products, and thedegree of homogeneous of the buffer and backfill clay system in the assumed boreholes, arepresented and discussed. The options of different mineral types and initial physical propertiesof the candidate buffer clays provide a reference for engineering barrier design of HLW disposalin VDH.