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Considerations of Autocatalytic Criticality of Fissile Materials in Geologic Respositories

William E. Kastenberg, Per F. Peterson, Joonhong Ahn, J. Burch, G. Casher, Paul L. Chambré, Ehud Greenspan, Donald R. Olander, Jasmina L. Vujic, B. Bessinger, Neville G. W. Cook, Fiona M. Doyle, L. Brun Hilbert, Jr.

Nuclear Technology / Volume 115 / Number 3 / September 1996 / Pages 298-310

Technical Paper / Radioactive Waste Management /

Potential routes to autocatalytic criticality in geologic repositories are systematically assessed. If highly enriched uranium (HEU) or 239Pu are transported and deposited in concentrations similar to natural uranium ore, in principle, criticality can occur. For some hypothesized critical configurations, removal of a small fraction of pore water provides a positive feedback mechanism that can lead to supercriticality. Rock heating and homogenization for these configurations can also significantly increase reactivity. At Yucca Mountain, it is highly unlikely that these configurations can occur; plutonium transport would occur primarily as colloids and deposit over short distances. HEU solute can move large distances in the Yucca Mountain setting; its ability to precipitate into critical configurations is unlikely because of a lack of active reducing agents. Appropriate engineering of the waste form and the repository can reduce any remaining probability of criticality.

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