Vitrification is used for the immobilization and conditioning of high-level waste (HLW) arising from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel in the UK. Vitrification is also under consideration for the immobilization of certain intermediate-level wastes (ILW), where there may be advantages of volume reduction and removal of uncertainties in long-term waste behaviour, compared to encapsulation in a cement grout. This paper gives an overview of recent work into the chemical durability of UK vitrified wasteforms to inform the technical specification for the disposal facilities for these waste products and the treatment of their long-term behaviour in post-closure performance assessment. This has included: (1) measurements of the initial glass dissolution rates of a simulated HLW Magnox waste glass in a range of groundwater types representative of potential UK host geologies and in simulated high pH near-field porewaters relevant to potential disposal concepts, using Product Consistency Test type-B (PCT-B) at 40°C; and (2) durability testing of three simulant ILW glasses in a saturated calcium hydroxide buffered solution to simulate conditions in cement-based disposal vaults, using PCT-B tests at 50°C.
The experimentally defined initial rate of HLW Magnox waste glass dissolution in a range of simulated groundwater compositions appears to be similar regardless of the ionic strength and major element composition of the solution. The release of caesium from HLW Magnox waste glass appears to be sensitive to solution composition. Caesium is selectively retained in the glass compared to other soluble components in the two low ionic strength solutions, but is released at similar rates to other soluble components in the three groundwaters and Ca(OH)2 solution. Whether this change in caesium retention is an ionic strength effect or is related to changes in the nature of the surface alteration layer formed on the glass, has yet to be established. For HLW Magnox waste glass, dissolution is accelerated at high pH in NaOH solution, however, the presence of calcium acts to mitigate the effects of high pH, at least initially. In Ca(OH)2 solution, calcium is found to react with all the glasses studied leading to the formation of calcium-containing alteration products. The initial dissolution behaviour in Ca(OH)2 solution varies with glass composition and in particular appears to be sensitive to the boron content.