Bentonite colloids generated from the backfill barrier in nuclear waste repositories may act as radionuclide carriers, if they are stable and mobile. Repository scenarios with highly saline groundwater inhibit colloid stability as particles tend to aggregate but, in the time frame of repositories, groundwater conditions may evolve, promoting particle disaggregation and stabilization. The disaggregation of FEBEX bentonite colloids by fast dilution to lower ionic strength was analysed in this study. Time-resolved dynamic light-scattering experiments were carried out to evaluate the kinetics of bentonite colloid aggregation and disaggregation processes in Na+ and Na+-Ca2+ mixed electrolytes of low ionic strength. Attachment and detachment efficiencies were determined.
Aggregation is promoted by increasing ionic strength, being more efficient in the presence of divalent cations. Once bentonite colloids are aggregated, a decrease in ionic strength facilitates disaggregation, but the process is not fully reversible as the initial size of the stable bentonite colloids at low ionic strength is not fully recovered. Particle-size distribution and concentration in suspension were analysed on disaggregated samples by single particle-counting measurements. Small colloids were measured in the disaggregated samples but their population was smaller than in the initial stable sample, especially in the presence of Ca2+.