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Effects of Perched Water on Thermally Driven Moisture Flow at the Proposed Yucca Mountain Repository for High-Level Waste

Goodluck I. Ofoegbu, Amvrossios C. Bagtzoglou, Ronald T. Green, Michael A. Muller

Nuclear Technology / Volume 125 / Number 2 / Pages 235-253

February 1999


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Numerical modeling was conducted to identify potential perched-water sites and examine the effects of perched water on thermally driven moisture flow at the proposed Yucca Mountain repository for high-level nuclear waste. It is demonstrated that perched-water zones may occur at two horizons on the up-dip side of faults such as the Ghost Dance Fault (GDF): in nonwelded volcanic strata [such as the Paintbrush Tuff nonwelded (PTn) stratigraphic unit], where juxtaposition of welded strata against nonwelded may constitute a barrier to lateral flow within the nonwelded strata; and in fractured horizons of underlying welded units [such as the Topopah Spring welded (TSw) unit] because of focused infiltration fed by overlying perched zones. The potential perched zones (PPZs) may contain perched water (which would flow freely into a well or opening) if infiltration rates are high enough. At lower infiltration rates, the PPZs contain only capillary-held water at relatively high saturations. Areas of the proposed repository that lie below PPZs are likely to experience relatively high percolation flux even if the PPZ contains only capillary-held water at high saturation. As a result, PPZs that contain only capillary-held water may be as important to repository performance as those that contain perched water. Thermal loading from emplaced waste in the repository is not likely to have an effect on PPZs located an adequate distance above the repository (such as in the PTn). As a result, such PPZs may be considered as permanent features of the environment. On the other hand, PPZs close to the repository depth (such as those that may occur in the TSw rock unit) would experience an initial period of spatial growth and increased saturation following waste emplacement. Thereafter, drying would begin at the repository horizon with perched-zone growth simultaneously above and below the repository. As a result, after the initial period of expansion, PPZs close to the repository horizon would undergo a period of net dissipation followed by a period of net rejuvenation. The duration of perched-zone dissipation decreases with increasing infiltration rate from the ground surface and varies spatially, depending on distance from the controlling fault. Areas of the repository close to, and on the up-dip side of, faults such as the GDF are likely to experience relatively long periods of wetness and high percolation flux.

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