The Dutch national research programme into the feasibility of retrievable storage of radioactive waste (CORA Programme Phase I; CORA: Comité Opslag Radioactief Afval = Committee on Radioactive Waste Disposal) examined the suitability of Tertiary clay deposits for such storage. Long-term isolation – up to 1 million years – of high-level radioactive waste under varying conditions is essential. A key concern is the hydro-mechanical response of the clay deposits in which radioactive waste might possibly be stored, in particular during glacial climate conditions as has happened repeatedly in the Netherlands during the Pleistocene. To evaluate this possibility hydro-mechanical computer simulations and mechanical laboratory experiments have been performed to analyse the effects of glacial loading by a thousand-metre-thick ice sheet on the permeability characteristics, fluid flow rates and the associated migration of radio-nuclides both within and out of Tertiary clays.
Glacial loading causes the expulsion of pore water from deeply buried clay deposits into adjoining aquifers. The rates and duration of the consolidation-driven outflow of water from the clay deposit, are very sensitive to the permeability of the clay and the dynamics of the advancing ice sheet. The maximum outflow rate of pore water is 1 mm per year. This rate is approximately three times faster than the flow rate of water in clay prior to ice loading. These preliminary simulation studies also indicate that cyclic loading can result in more rapid migration of radio-nuclides in clays. In clay deposits that are covered by a thick ice sheet, the contribution of dispersed transport relative to the total transport by diffusion amounts to 14%, assuming that there is no absorption of radio-nuclides by the clays and a longitudinal dispersivity of 50 m.