The knowledge of pore water chemistry in the clay barrier is essential for performance assessment purposes in a nuclear waste repository, since the pore water composition controls the processes involved in the release and transport of the radionuclides. The methodology followed to define the representative composition of the FEBEX bentonite pore water is presented in this paper.
A series of bentonite-water interaction tests have been performed with the aim of providing a database on the main chemical parameters of the bentonite. These tests were carried out both with high solid to liquid (s:l) ratios (squeezing tests) and low s:l ratios (aqueous extracts tests). The exchangeable cations have also been analyzed to determine the selectivity coefficient of the exchange reactions. To complete the data set, a physical and mineralogical characterization of the bentonite was made.
The most significant bentonite-water interaction processes controlling the chemistry of the system was identified. The ion concentrations basically depend on the s:l ratio of the system, and the pore water composition is controlled by the dissolution of chlorides, dissolution/precipitation of carbonates and sulphates and the cation exchange reactions in the smectite.
The bentonite/water system was modelled with the PHREEQC2 program to obtain the best possible estimation of the pore water composition for initial conditions of water content (≍14%), after checking the conceptual model with the experimental results. The model predictions fitted satisfactorily with the experimental data at low s:l ratios. At high s:l ratios, the modelled results agree adequately, except for the sulphate content, which could be affected by the effective porosity, anion exclusion or stagnant zones not taken into account in the model. According to the model, the FEBEX bentonite pore water at 14% moisture is a sodium-chloride type, with an ionic strength of 0.25 M and pH of 7.78.