Low-temperature calcite and opal record the past seepage of water into open fractures and lithophysal cavities in the unsaturated zone at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, site of a proposed high-level radioactive waste repository. Systematic measurements of calcite and opal coatings in the Exploratory Studies Facility (ESF) tunnel at the proposed repository horizon are used to estimate the volume of calcite at each site of calcite and/or opal deposition. By estimating the volume of water required to precipitate the measured volumes of calcite in the unsaturated zone, seepage rates of 0.005 to 5 liters/year (l/year) are calculated at the median and 95th percentile of the measured volumes, respectively. These seepage rates are at the low end of the range of seepage rates from recent performance assessment (PA) calculations, confirming the conservative nature of the performance assessment. However, the distribution of the calcite and opal coatings indicate that a much larger fraction of the potential waste packages would be contacted by this seepage than is calculated in the performance assessment.
Additional publication details
Estimation of past seepage volumes from calcite distribution in the Topopah Spring Tuff, Yucca Mountain, Nevada