Coupled THMC models for bentonite in clay repository for nuclear waste
Abstract:Illitization, the transformation of smectite to illite, could compromise some beneficiary features of an engineered barrier system (EBS) that is composed primarily of bentonite and clay host rock. It is a major determining factor to establish the maximum design temperature of the repositories because it is believed that illitization could be greatly enhanced at temperatures higher than 100 oC and thus significantly lower the sorption and swelling capacity of bentonite and clay rock. However, existing experimental and modeling studies on the occurrence of illitization and related performance impacts are not conclusive, in part because the relevant couplings between the thermal, hydrological, chemical, and mechanical (THMC) processes have not been fully represented in the models. Here we present fully coupled THMC simulations of a generic nuclear waste repository in a clay formation with bentonite-backfilled EBS. Two scenarios were simulated for comparison: a case in which the temperature in the bentonite near the waste canister can reach about 200 oC and a case in which the temperature in the bentonite near the waste canister peaks at about 100 oC.
The model simulations demonstrate that illitization is in general more significant at higher temperatures. We also compared the chemical changes and the resulting swelling stress change for two types of bentonite: Kunigel-VI and FEBEX bentonite. Higher temperatures also lead to much higher stress in the near field, caused by thermal pressurization and vapor pressure buildup in the EBS bentonite and clay host rock. Chemical changes lead to a reduction in swelling stress, which is more pronounced for Kunigel-VI bentonite than for FEBEX bentonite.