Performance assessments of mined repositories for radioactive waste require estimates of the likelihood of fault movements and earthquakes that may affect the repository and its surrounding ground water flow system. Some previous assessments have attempted to estimate the rate of formation of new faults; some have relied heavily on historic seismicity or the time of latest movement on faults. More appropriate emphasis is on the identification of faults that have been active or may have been active under the present teconic regime in a broad region and on estimates of the long-term rate of movement of such faults. Faults that have moved under the current stress field, even at low rates, are likely to move again during the time the wastes will remain toxic. A continuum exists for the present rate of movement of faults which ranges from 10 mm per year for obviously active faults along the western margin of the North American plate to as low as 10 -4 mm per year for recently documented faults in the Atlantic Coast province. On the basis of regional consistency in movement rates and constraints imposed by geomorphology, I derive upper bounds for the rates of occurrence of fault offsets for various crustal stress provinces in the conterminous United States.
These upper bounds are not meant to substitute for detailed studies of specific faults and seismicity at specific sites. They can help to reduce the considerable uncertainty that attaches to all estimates of future tectonic activity. The principal uncertainty in their estimation is the manner in which total slip across faults is distributed among discrete events especially in regions in which the rate of movement is very low.
Additional Publication Details
USGS Numbered Series
Performance assessments for radioactive waste repositories; the rate of movement of faults