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Backfill Modification Using Geochemical Principles to Optimize High Level Nuclear Waste Isolation in a Geological Repository

  • Donald Langmuir (a1) and Michael J. Apted (a2)

Abstract

The clay backfill that will surround a buried high level nuclear waste package in most national repository programs, could be modified to play a greater role as a barrier to radionuclide (RN) releases. The RN steady state release (Mb) rate from a clay backfill to adjacent rock is directly proportional to backfill porosity (ε), RN diffusion rate In the backfill (Ds), and RN solubility at the waste form surface (C*), and Inversely proportional to RN half-life (λ) and RN retardation coefficient (R) in the backfill [1]. We propose ways to reduce ε, Ds and C* and Increase R for important radionuclides, mostly through the addition of reactive minerals to the backfill. Silica, calcite and anhydrite may be added to precipitate and clog porosity. Increased backfill compaction similarly reducesε, Ds and Mb for all the RN's. Strongly sorbent phases can be added to selectively adsorb both cationic and anionic RN's (e.g. 1–129). However, adsorption will not Importantly reduce peak release rates of most long-lived RN's. The backfill can be poised at reducing Eh's with mineral additives to lower Ds and so immobilize radioisotopes of NI, Np, Pa, Pu, Se, Tc and U. Minerals of stable or more stable isotopes of Cs, NI, Se, Sn and U can be added to lower Ds values of the RN's and to coprecipitate them in solid solution. Phosphorite-apatites, which are known to have high selectivities for rare earths and RN's, may be added to coprecipitate Am, Np, Pu, Sr, Th and U.

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