An extensive set of chlorine-36 (36Cl) data has been collected in the Exploratory Studies Facility (ESF), an 8-km-long tunnel at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, for the purpose of developing and testing conceptual models of flow and transport in the unsaturated zone (UZ) at this site. At several locations, the measured values of 36Cl/Cl ratios for salts leached from rock samples are high enough to provide strong evidence that at least a small component of bomb-pulse 36Cl, fallout from atmospheric testing of nuclear devices in the 1950s and 1960s, was measured, implying that some fraction of the water traveled from the ground surface through 200-300 m of unsaturated rock to the level of the ESF during the last 50 years. These data are analyzed here using a formal statistical approach based on log-linear models to evaluate alternative conceptual models for the distribution of such fast flow paths. The most significant determinant of the presence of bomb-pulse 36Cl in a sample from the welded Topopah Spring unit (TSw) is the structural setting from which the sample was collected. Our analysis generally supports the conceptual model that a fault that cuts through the nonwelded Paintbrush tuff unit (PTn) that overlies the TSw is required in order for bomb-pulse 36Cl to be transmitted to the sample depth in less than 50 years. Away from PTn-cutting faults, the ages of water samples at the ESF appear to be a strong function of the thickness of the nonwelded tuff between the ground surface and the ESF, due to slow matrix flow in that unit. ?? 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
Additional publication details
Chlorine-36 data at Yucca Mountain: Statistical tests of conceptual models for unsaturated-zone flow