A range of potential concepts for the geological disposal of high level wastes and spent fuel are being studied and considered in the UK. These include concepts that use bentonite as a buffer material around the waste containers. The bentonite will be required to fulfil certain safety functions, the most important being (1) to protect the waste containers from detrimental thermal, hydraulic, mechanical and chemical processes; and (2) to retard the release of radionuclides from any waste container that fails. The bentonite should have a low permeability and a high sorption capacity.
These safety functions could be challenged by certain features, events and processes (FEPs) that may occur during the evolution of the disposal system. A consideration of how these FEPs may affect the safety functions can be used to identify and to prioritize the important areas for research on bentonite. We identify these important areas (which include hydration of compacted bentonite, illitization and erosion of bentonite), and describe how they are being investigated in current international research on bentonite.
The Äspö EBS Task Force is a collaborative international project designed to carry out research on bentonite. In 2011, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority Radioactive Waste Management Directorate joined the EBS Task Force partly to benefit from its collective experience. The work of the EBS Task Force is split into two research subareas: (1) the THM subarea, which includes tasks to understand homogenization of bentonite as it resaturates, to investigate the hydraulic interaction between bentonite and fractured rock, and to model in situ experiments; and (2) the THC subarea, which includes tasks to investigate the issue of understanding transport through bentonite, and to model in situ experiments. In particular, the bentonite rock interaction experiment is a large-scale in situ experiment concerned with understanding groundwater exchange across bentonite rock interfaces, with the objective of establishing better understanding of bentonite wetting. In this paper, we describe our work to model the spatial and temporal resaturation of bentonite buffer in a fractured host rock.