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Journal Articles Applied Geochemistry Year : 2014

Nuclear waste disposal: I. Laboratory simulation of repository properties

Bernd Grambow
Catherine Landesman
Solange Ribet


After more than 30 years of research and development, there is a broad technical consensus that geologic disposal will provide for the safety of humankind, now and far into the future. Safety analyses have demonstrated that the risk, measured as the exposure to radiation, will be of little consequence. Still, there is not yet an operating geologic repository for highly radioactive waste, and there remains substantial public concern about the long-term safety of geologic disposal. In the two linked papers we argue for a stronger connection between the scientific data (this paper I) and the safety analysis, particularly in the context of societal expectations (paper II). In the present paper I, we use new experimental data on the properties of clay formations simulating geological disposal conditions to illustrate how one can understand the ability of clay to isolate radionuclides. The data include percolation tests on various intact clay–rock cores with different calcite contents. For the first time, hydrodynamic parameters (anion and cation accessible porosities, permeability, dispersion and diffusion coefficients), as well as retention parameters (sorption behavior of iodine, cesium) and materials interaction parameters (glass dissolution rates, etc.) have been obtained for a series of clay–rock samples of varying mineralogy. Increased calcite content leads to lower permeability and porosity, but the difference between anion and cation accessible porosity diminished. The data confirm very slow radionuclide migration, and a direct extrapolation to repository geometry yields isolation times, for a 70 m clay–rock formation, of many hundreds of thousands of years, even for the most mobile radionuclides such as iodine-129 and chlorine 36 and complete retention for the more radiotoxic, less mobile radionuclides such as the actinides or cesium-137. In order to assess the meaning of the technical results and derived models for long-term safety, paper II addresses model validity and credibility not only from a technical perspective, but in a much broader historical, epistemological and societal context. Safety analysis is treated in its social and temporal dimensions. This approach provides new insights into the societal dimension of scenarios and risk, and it shows that there is certainly no direct link between increased scientific understanding and a public position for or against different strategies of nuclear waste disposal.


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Dates and versions

in2p3-00850856 , version 1 (28-01-2014)



Bernd Grambow, Catherine Landesman, Solange Ribet. Nuclear waste disposal: I. Laboratory simulation of repository properties. Applied Geochemistry, 2014, 49, pp.237-246. ⟨10.1016/j.apgeochem.2014.05.017⟩. ⟨in2p3-00850856⟩
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