Geological disposal of radioactive waste, Low permeable clay, Hydraulic conductivity, Laboratory/in situ measurements, Grain-size, Science & Technology, Physical Sciences, Technology, Chemistry, Physical, Materials Science, Multidisciplinary, Mineralogy, Chemistry, Materials Science, PERFORMANCE ASSESSMENT, DISPOSAL, WASTE, Civil Engineering, 04 Earth Sciences, 09 Engineering
The Boom Clay has been investigated for more than 30 years as a candidate host formation for the disposal of high-level and long-lived radioactive waste in Belgium. The very low hydraulic conductivity (on the order of 10− 12 m/s) in combination with limited hydraulic gradients over the host formation (0.02–0.04) results in water flow in the Boom Formation being negligible and diffusion the dominant transport mechanism. The assessment of the long-term barrier function of the host clay formation in the framework of radioactive waste disposal requires rigorous quantitative characterization of key formation properties such as the hydraulic conductivity (K). Hydraulic conductivities of Boom Clay measured through various testing techniques in the laboratory, i.e. tracer percolation experiments, constant head permeameter experiments and isostatic experiments, exhibit similar K values in the order of 10− 12 m/s. Based on a large set of test samples, the impact of sample scale, hydraulic gradient range adopted in the tests, stress controlled methods and pre-existing fissures in the sample on the K value is shown to be quite limited. In situ measurements obtained from both several-centimetre long piezometer filters and percolation into a 7-metre long gallery and 21-metre long shaft at the HADES underground research facility yield K values that are very similar to values measured in the laboratory on samples of a few centimetres. This indicates that the K measurements for the Boom Clay obtained through various techniques are very consistent. K values measured on a centimetre-scale are also representative at the metre-scale, which is often the size of grid cells used in numerical simulations for long-term safety assessments. Spatial analysis of K values across the Boom Clay at the Mol site reveals a typical profile with a very homogenous 61-m thick central part, i.e. the so-called Putte and Terhagen Members, which is also the least permeable part of the Boom Clay. The geometric mean of the vertical (Kv) and horizontal (Kh) hydraulic conductivities for the Putte and Terhagen Members at the Mol site are 1.7 × 10− 12 and 4.4 × 10− 12 m/s, respectively, with a vertical anisotropy Kh/Kv of about 2.5. Higher K values, but still low (10− 12 to 10− 10 m/s), are observed in the more silty zones above and below the Putte and Terhagen Members, i.e. the Belsele–Waas Member and the Boeretang Member, as well as in the double band of the lower Putte Member. A regional analysis of vertical K variability of the Boom Clay in the northeast of Belgium based on test results from five boreholes shows an increase in hydraulic conductivity from the east towards the west. Statistical analyses indicate that the effect of the samples' stratigraphic position on hydraulic conductivity is strongly related to different grain-size characteristics. However, a general K–grain-size model does not explain the geographical differences in K values satisfactorily. Geographical differences can be best explained by different K–grain-size relationships at the different boreholes. The regional variation in K could be attributed in part to porosity, which in turn is related to the burial depth of the clay.