Digital modeling of radioactive and chemical waste transport in the aquifer underlying the Snake River Plain at the National Reactor Testing Station, Idaho

Open-File Report 74-1089

Work done in cooperation with the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission



Industrial and low-level radioactive liquid wastes at the National Reactor Testing Station (NRTS) in Idaho have been disposed to the Snake River Plain aquifer since 1952. Monitoring studies have indicated that tritium and chloride have dispersed over a 15-square mile (39-square kilometer) area of the aquifer in low but detectable concentrations and have only migrated as far as 5 miles (8 kilometers) downgradient from discharge points. The movement of cationic waste solutes, particularly 90Sr and 137Cs, has been significantly retarded due to sorption phenomena, principally ion exchange. 137Cs has shown no detectable migration in the aquifer and 90Sr has migrated only about 1.5 miles (2 kilometers) from the Idaho Chemical Processing Plant (ICPP) discharge well, and is detectable over an area of only 1.5 square miles ( 4 square kilometers) of the aquifer. Digital modeling techniques have been applied successfully to the analysis of the complex waste-transport system by utilizing numerical solution of the coupled equations of groundwater motion and mass transport. The model includes the effects of convective transport, flow divergence, two-dimensional hydraulic dispersion, radioactive decay, and reversible linear sorption. The hydraulic phase of the model uses the iterative, alternating direction, implicit finite-difference scheme to solve the groundwater flow equations, while the waste-transport phase uses a modified method of characteristics to solve the solute transport equations simulated by the model. The modeling results indicate that hydraulic dispersion (especially transverse) is a much more significant influence than previously suggested by earlier studies. The model has been used to estimate future waste migration patterns for varied assumed hydrological and waste conditions up through the year 2000. The hydraulic effects of recharge from the Big Lost River have an important (but not predominant) influence on the simulated future migration patterns. For the assumed conditions, the model indicates that detectable concentrations of waste chloride and tritium could move as much as 15 miles (24 kilometers) downgradient from the original discharge points by the year 2000. However, the model shows 90Sr moving only 2 to 3 miles (3 to 5 kilometers) downgradient in the same time. The model may also be used to estimate the effects of the various future waste disposal practices and hydrologic conditions on subsequent migration of waste products.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Digital modeling of radioactive and chemical waste transport in the aquifer underlying the Snake River Plain at the National Reactor Testing Station, Idaho
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Water Resources Program
vi, 41 p. : ill., maps ; 28 cm.
First page:
Last page:
United States
Other Geospatial:
Snake River