In the Swedish KBS-3 repository concept, there is potential for gas to be generated from corrosion of ferrous materials under anoxic conditions, combined with the radioactive decay of the waste and radiolysis of water. A full understanding of the probable behaviour of this gas phase within the engineered barrier system (EBS) is therefore required for performance assessment. We demonstrate key features from gas transport experiments on pre-compacted Mx80 bentonite, under laboratory and field conditions, and discuss their implications in terms of a conceptual model for gas migration behaviour. On both scales, major gas entry is seen to occur close to the sum of the porewater and swelling pressures of the bentonite. In addition, gas pressure at breakthrough is profoundly sensitive to the number and location of available sinks for gas escape. Observations of breakthrough can be explained by the creation of dilatational pathways, resulting in localized changes in the monitored porewater pressures and total stresses. These pathways are highly unstable, evolving spatially and temporally, and must consequently influence the gas permeability as their distribution/geometry develops.
Such observations are poorly embodied by conventional concepts of two-phase flow, which do not fully represent the key processes involved. Although dilatancy based models provide a better description of these processes, the paucity of data limits further development and validation of these models at present.