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Natural Convection in Tunnels at Yucca Mountain and Impact on Drift Seepage

N. Halecky, J. Birkholzer, P. Peterson

Nuclear Technology / Volume 174 / Number 3 / June 2011 / Pages 327-341

Technical Paper / TOUGH2 Symposium / Radioactive Waste Management and Disposal /

The decay heat from radioactive waste that is to be disposed in the once-proposed geologic repository at Yucca Mountain will significantly influence the moisture conditions in the fractured rock near emplacement tunnels (drifts). Additionally, large-scale convective cells will form in the open-air drifts and will serve as an important mechanism for the transport of vaporized pore water from the fractured rock in the drift center to the drift end. Such convective processes would also impact drift seepage, as evaporation could reduce the buildup of liquid water at the tunnel wall. Characterizing and understanding these liquid water and vapor transport processes is critical for evaluating the performance of the repository, in terms of water-induced canister corrosion and subsequent radionuclide containment. To study such processes, we previously developed and applied an enhanced version of TOUGH2 that solves for natural convection in the drift. We then used the results from this previous study as a time-dependent boundary condition in a high-resolution seepage model, allowing for a computationally efficient means for simulating these processes. The results from the seepage model show that cases with strong natural convection effects are expected to improve the performance of the repository, since smaller relative humidity values, with reduced local seepage, form a more desirable waste package environment.

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