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Water density impact on water flow and mass transport in rock fractures

Time: Fri 2020-01-31 14.00

Location: K1, Teknikringen 56, Stockholm (English)

Doctoral student: Helen Winberg-Wang , Kemisk apparatteknik, Nuclear Waste Engineering

Opponent: Docent Andrew Frampton, Stockholm Universitet

Supervisor: Longcheng Liu, Kemisk apparatteknik; Ivars Neretnieks,

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One way of taking care of spent nuclear fuel is to place it in a geological repository. In Sweden, a three-barrier system is planned. The system is based on encapsulating the fuel in copper canisters. These are surrounded by bentonite clay and buried under 500 m of bedrock. As a part of the safety assessment, the Q-equivalent model is used to quantify the possible release of radioactive material. This model also describes the rate at which corrosive agents carried by seeping water in rock fractures can reach the canisters, which may affect the longevity of the canisters.

The aim of this thesis was originally to develop an experimental, phys- ical model to visualize and validate the Q-equivalent model. However, the overarching theme of this work has been to study the effect of minor density differences that might be overlooked in experiments, both concentration- dependent and density-difference induced by light absorption.

In the initial diffusion and flow-experiment and associated calculations and simulations, it was found that simple Q-equivalent can describe and quantify the mass transport in both parallel and variable aperture fractures. However, this is the case only if the density difference between seeping water and clay pore water is insignificant. It was found in experiments with dyes used to visualise the flow and diffusion patterns that even minimal density differences could significantly alter the flow pattern. Density differences can result from concentration gradients or be induced by light absorption. TheQ-equivalent model was extended to account for density-induced flow. The importance of density-induced flow due to concentration gradients at the setting of a long-term repository for nuclear waste was evaluated. It was found that concentration gradients are able to induce rapid vertical up- or downward flow. This could increase the overall mass transport of radioactive material up to the biosphere or carry it downward to larger depths.