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Current concepts of the geological disposal of low- and intermediate-level radioactive wastes in the UK envisage the construction of a mined facility (incorporating cementitious engineered barriers) in chlorite-bearing rocks. To model accurately the fluid-rock reactions within the ‘disturbed zone’ surrounding a repository requires functions that describe mineral dissolution kinetics under pH conditions that vary from near neutral to highly alkaline.
Therefore, an experimental study to determine the dissolution rates of Fe-rich chlorite has been undertaken as part of the Nirex Safety Assessment Research Programme. Four experiments have been carried out at 25 °C and four at 70 °C, both sets using a range of NaCl/NaOH solutions of differing pH (of nominal pH 9.0,10.3, 11.6 and 13.0 [at 25 °C]).
Dissolution rates have been calculated and were found to increase with increasing pH and temperature. However, increased pH resulted in non-stoichiometric dissolution possibly due to preferential dissolution of part of the chlorite structure relative to another, or reprecipitation of some elements as thin hydroxide or oxyhydroxide surface coatings on the chlorite.
These results also show that chlorite dissolution is appreciably slower than that of albite and quartz at both 25 and 70 °C, but slightly faster than that of muscovite at 70 °C.
The Maqarin site, Jordan is being studied as a natural analogue of a cementitious radioactive waste repository. The microbiology has been studied and diverse microbial populations capable of tolerating alkaline pH were detected at all sampling localities. Dissolved organic carbon was identified as the potentially most important reductant with sulphate identified as the main oxidant, both supplying energy for microbial life. Calculations on upper limits of microbial numbers were made with a microbiology code (MGSE) using existing information but the results are overestimates when compared with field observations. This indicates that the model is very conservative and that more information on, for example, carbon sources is required.
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