The saturated zone at Yucca Mountain: An overview of the characterization and assessment of the saturated zone as a barrier to potential radionuclide migration

Journal of Contaminant Hydrology
By: , and 



The US Department of Energy is pursuing Yucca Mountain, Nevada, for the development of a geologic repository for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste, if the repository is able to meet applicable radiation protection standards established by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Effective performance of such a repository would rely on a number of natural and engineered barriers to isolate radioactive waste from the accessible environment. Groundwater beneath Yucca Mountain is the primary medium through which most radionuclides might move away from the potential repository. The saturated zone (SZ) system is expected to act as a natural barrier to this possible movement of radionuclides both by delaying their transport and by reducing their concentration before they reach the accessible environment. Information obtained from Yucca Mountain Site Characterization Project activities is used to estimate groundwater flow rates through the site-scale SZ flow and transport model area and to constrain general conceptual models of groundwater flow in the site-scale area. The site-scale conceptual model is a synthesis of what is known about flow and transport processes at the scale required for total system performance assessment of the site. This knowledge builds on and is consistent with knowledge that has accumulated at the regional scale but is more detailed because more data are available at the site-scale level. The mathematical basis of the site-scale model and the associated numerical approaches are designed to assist in quantifying the uncertainty in the permeability of rocks in the geologic framework model and to represent accurately the flow and transport processes included in the site-scale conceptual model. Confidence in the results of the mathematical model was obtained by comparing calculated to observed hydraulic heads, estimated to measured permeabilities, and lateral flow rates calculated by the site-scale model to those calculated by the regional-scale flow model. In addition, it was confirmed that the flow paths leaving the region of the potential repository are consistent with those inferred from gradients of measured head and those independently inferred from water-chemistry data. The general approach of the site-scale SZ flow and transport model analysis is to calculate unit breakthrough curves for radionuclides at the interface between the SZ and the biosphere using the three-dimensional site-scale SZ flow and transport model. Uncertainties are explicitly incorporated into the site-scale SZ flow and transport abstractions through key parameters and conceptual models. ?? 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title The saturated zone at Yucca Mountain: An overview of the characterization and assessment of the saturated zone as a barrier to potential radionuclide migration
Series title Journal of Contaminant Hydrology
DOI 10.1016/S0169-7722(02)00154-7
Volume 62-63
Year Published 2003
Language English
Contributing office(s) California Water Science Center
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title Journal of Contaminant Hydrology
First page 477
Last page 493
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