Geohydrology of the unsaturated zone at the burial site for low-level radioactive waste near Beatty, Nye County, Nevada

Open-File Report 85-198



Low-level radioactive solid waste has been buried in trenches at a site near Beatty, Nevada, since 1962. In 1976, as part of a national program, the U.S. Geological Survey began a study of the geohydrology of the waste burial site to provide a basis for estimating the potential for radionuclide migration in the unsaturated zone beneath the waste burial trenches. Data collected include meteorological information for calibration of a long-term water budget analysis, soil moisture profiles, soil water potentials, and hydraulic properties of representative unsaturated sediment samples to a depth of about 10 m. The waste burial facility is in the northern Amargosa Desert about 170 km northwest of Las Vegas, NV. The region is arid; mean annual precipitation at Lathrop Wells, 30 km south of the site, is only 7.4 cm. The mean daily maximum temperature at Lathrop Wells in July, the hottest month, is 37 C. The site is underlain by poorly stratified deposits of gravelly or silty sand and sandy gravel, and thick beds of clayey sediments. The total thickness of valley fill deposits beneath the site is about 175 m; the unsaturated zone is about 85 m thick. Volumetric soil moisture to depths of 4 m ranges from 4% to 10%, but commonly is in the range from 6% to 8%. Soil water potential, measured to depths of 3 to 10 m, ranged from -10 to -70 bars. Unsaturated hydraulic conductivity computed from laboratory analyses of representative samples ranges from 10 to the -13th power to 10 to the -4th power cm/day. Evaporation studies over a 2-yr period were used to calibrate a numerical procedure for analyzing long-term precipitation data and estimating annual water budgets during the 15-yr period 1962-76. This analysis (1) demonstrated that a potential exists for deep percolation (> 2 m), despite high annual evaporation demands, and (2) provided predictions of the time of yr and the antecedent conditions which enhance the probability of deep percolation. Soil moisture profiles obtained monthly over an 18-mo period demonstrate that deep percolation does occur. Soil moisture conditions antecedent to an observed deep-percolation event, and the time of yr when the percolation occurred, support the interpretations based on long-term meteorological records. (Author 's abstract)

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Geohydrology of the unsaturated zone at the burial site for low-level radioactive waste near Beatty, Nye County, Nevada
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 85-198
DOI 10.3133/ofr85198
Edition -
Year Published 1986
Language ENGLISH
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey,
Description vii, 85 p. :ill., maps ;28 cm.
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