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Clay mineralogical investigations related to nuclear waste disposal

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Mineralogical and geotechnical investigations on the possible use of compacted bentonite as a buffer material in nuclear waste repositories are reported. The swelling capacity is highly dependent on the density of the compacted bentonite. Swelling pressures >30 MPa were measured for dry densities of ~2.0 g/cm3. Added iron or magnetite powder up to 20 wt% had no influence on the swelling capacity. Compacted mixtures of 20 wt% ground set cement and bentonite showed higher swelling pressures but lower swelling strain capability than compacted bentonite alone. Steam lowered the swelling pressure of compacted bentonite to ~60% of the original value. The influence was, however, reversible by ultrasonic treatment. The thermal conductivity of saturated compacted bentonite at a density of 2.0-2.1 g/cm3 is ~1.35-1.45 W/m°K. The volumetric heat capacity ranges from 3.1 x 106 to 3.4 x 106 J/m3°K. The saturated hydraulic conductivity of the compacted bentonite is <10-12 m2/s. The apparent diffusion coefficients for various ions in compacted bentonite for water contents in the range of 20 to 25 wt% are: K+: 5 x 10-11, Cs+: 6 x 10-12, Sr2+: 3 x 10-11, UO2+2: <10-13, Th4+: <10-13, Fe2+: 4 x 10-11, Fe3+: 4 x 10-11, Cl-: 1 x 10-10, and I-: 1 x 10-10 m2/s. The 'breakthrough time' for an apparent diffusion coefficient of 10-11 m2/s in compacted bentonite 1 m thick was estimated to be ~3000 years. The mineralogical longevity was investigated on natural K-bentonites from Kinnekulle, Sweden, and Montana, USA. Although these materials have undergone considerable changes during diagenesis and contain various amounts of mixed-layer illite-smectite, they still have a substantial swelling and adsorption capacity. The investigations demonstrate that although the properties of bentonite are negatively influenced to a certain extent by heat, hot steam, iron and cement, compacted bentonite is still the best choice to act as a buffer material in a nuclear waste repository.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Laboratory for Clay Mineralogy, Division of Geotechnical Engineering, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, CH-8092 Zurich, Switzerland

Publication date: 1998-03-01

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