Results of hydrologic research at a low-level radioactive-waste disposal site near Sheffield, Illinois

Open-File Report 88-318




Ten years of hydrologic research have been conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey at a commercial low-level radioactive-waste disposal site near Sheffield, Illinois. Research included studies of microclimate, evapotranspiration, and tritium release by plants; runoff and land modification; water movement through a trench cover; water and tritium movement in the unsaturated zone; gases in the unsaturated zone; water and tritium movement in the saturated zone; and water chemistry. Implications specific to each research topic and those based on overlapping research topics are summarized as to their potential effect on the selection, characterization, design, operation, and decommissioning processes of future low-level radioactive-waste disposal sites. Unconsolidated deposits at the site are diverse in lithologic character and are spatially and stratigraphically complex. Thickness of these Quaternary deposits ranges from 3 to 27 meters and averages 17 meters. The unconsolidated deposits overlay 140 meters of Pennsylvanian shale, mudstone, siltstone, and coal. Approximately 90,500 cubic meters of waste were buried from August 1967 through August 1978, in 21 trenches that were constructed in glacial materials by using a cut-and-fill process. Trenches generally were constructed below grade and ranged from 11 to 180 meters long, 2.4 to 21 meters wide, and 2.4 to about 7.9 meters deep. Research on microclimate and evapotranspiration at the site was conducted from July 1982 through June 1984. Continuous measurements were made of precipitation, incoming and reflected solar (shortwave) radiation, incoming and emitted terrestrial (longwave) radiation, horizontal windspeed and direction, wet- and dry-bulb air temperature, barometric pressure, soil-heat fluxes, and soil temperature. Soil-moisture content, for this research phase, was measured approximately biweekly. Evapotranspiration rates were estimated by using three techniques--energy budget, aerodynamic profile, and water budget. Although monthly totals for each method differed, estimated annual evapotranspiration averages ranged from 630 to 693 millimeters or about 70 percent of precipitation. Tritium concentrations in leaf water from on-site plants were determined for 125 vegetation samples collected during the summers of 1982 through 1986. Concentrations varied significantly among some locations and plant types. Tritium concentrations ranged from the detection limit of 0 .2 to 1,330 nanocuries per liter, with alfalfa (Medicago sativa) having the highest concentrations, followed by brome grass (Bromus inermis), and then red clover (Trifoleum pratense); these variations in concentration are most likely a result of root depth. Runoff and sediment transport were measured from July 1982 through December 1985 in four basins--three comprising almost two-thirds of the 8.1-hectare site and one comprising a 1.4-hectare undisturbed area. Volumes and equivalent weights of collapses were estimated from records of site surficial conditions from October 1978 through December 1985. Runoff showed a direct relation to degree of land modification; lowest mean yields were measured at the undisturbed area, and highest mean yields were measured from the basin composed wholly of trench and intertrench areas. Sediment yield measured onsite averaged 3.4 megagrams per hectare. A total of 315 collapse cavities, corresponding to a cumulative volume of about 500 cubic meters, were documented. Most collapses were recorded after periods of rainfall or snowmelt when soil moisture was near maximum. Almost two-thirds of the collapses, corresponding to 63 percent of the cumulative cavity volume, occurred during February through April. Data for the study of water movement through a trench cover were collected from July 1982 through June 1934. Pressure-head data were collected at four different clusters at depths ranging from 50 to 1,850 millimeters within a selected trench cover. Soil-moisture content f

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Results of hydrologic research at a low-level radioactive-waste disposal site near Sheffield, Illinois
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U.S. Geological Survey ; Copies of the report can be purchased from Books and Open-File Reports Section,
x, 114 p. ill., maps ;28 cm.