Geologic and hydrologic considerations for various concepts of high-level radioactive waste disposal in conterminous United States

Open-File Report 74-158

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The purpose of this investigation is to evaluate and identify which geohydrologic environments in conterminous United States are best suited for various concepts or methods of underground disposal of high-level radioactive wastes and to establish geologic and hydrologic criteria that are pertinent to high-level waste disposal. The unproven methods of disposal include (1) a very deep drill hole (30,000-50,000 ft or 9,140-15,240 m), (2) a matrix of (an array of multiple) drill holes (1,000-20,000 ft or 305-6,100 m), (3) a mined chamber (1,000-10,000 ft or 305-3,050 m), (4) a cavity with separate manmade structures (1,000-10,000 ft or 305-3,050 m), and (5) an exploded cavity (2,000-20,000 ft or 610-6,100 m) o The geohydrologic investigation is made on the presumption that the concepts or methods of disposal are technically feasible. Field and laboratory experiments in the future may demonstrate whether or not any of the methods are practical and safe. All the conclusions drawn are tentative pending experimental confirmation. The investigation focuses principally on the geohydrologic possibilities of several methods of disposal in rocks other than salt. Disposal in mined chambers in salt is currently under field investigation, and this disposal method has been intensely investigated and evaluated by various workers under the sponsorship of the Atomic Energy Commission. Of the various geohydrologic factors that must be considered in the selection of optimum waste-disposal sites, the most important is hydrologic isolation to assure that the wastes will be safely contained within a small radius of the emplacement zone. To achieve this degree of hydrologic isolation, the host rock for the wastes must have very low permeability and the site must be virtually free of faults. In addition, the locality should be in (1) an area of low seismic risk where the possibility of large earthquakes rupturing the emplacement zone is very low, (2) where the possibility- of flooding by rise is very low, (3) where a possible return of glacial or pluvial climate will not cause potentially hazardous changes in surface- or ground-water regimens, and (4) where danger of exhumation by erosion is nil. The geographic location for an optimum site is one that is far removed from major drainages, lakes, and oceans, where population density is low, and where the topographic relief is gentle in order to avoid steep surface-water drainage gradients that would allow rapid distribution of contaminants in case of accident. The most suitable medium for the unproven deep drill-hole, matrix-holes, and exploded-cavity methods appears to be crystalline rocks, either intrusive igneous or metamorphic because of their potentially low permeabilities and high mechanical strengths. Salt (either in thick beds or stable domes), tuff, and possibly shale appear to be suitable for mined chambers and cavities with separate manmade structures. Salt appears to be suitable because of its very low permeability, high thermal conductivity, and natural plasticity. Tuff and shale appear suitable because of their very low permeabilities and high ion-exchange capacities. Sedimentary rocks other than shale and volcanic rocks, exclusive of tuff, are considered to be generally unsuitable for waste emplacement because of their potentially high permeabilities. Areas that appear to satisfy most geohydrologic requirements for the deep drill hole and the matrix holes include principally (1) the stable continental interior where the sedimentary cover is thin or absent, (2) the shield area of the North-Central States, and (3) the metamorphic belt of Eastern United States--primarily the Piedmont. These areas are possibly suitable also for the exploded cavity and the mined chamber because the possibility of finding rock with very- permeability at depths from 1,000? feet (305? m) to 20,000 feet (6,100 m) appears to be high. The Basin and Range province of Western United States, particula

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Geologic and hydrologic considerations for various concepts of high-level radioactive waste disposal in conterminous United States
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Open-File Report
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U.S. Geological Survey],
x, 219 p. :ill., maps; (229 p. - PGS)