The main aim of a gas-permeable seal is to increase the gas transport capacity of the backfilled underground structures without compromising the radionuclide retention capacity of the engineered barrier system or the host rock. Such a seal, proposed by NAGRA as part of the “Engineered Gas Transport System” in a L/ILW repository, considers specially designed backfill and sealing materials such as sand/bentonite (S/B) mixtures with a bentonite content of 20–30%. NAGRA’s RD&D plan foresees demonstrating the construction and performance of repository seals and improving the understanding and the database for reliably predicting water and gas transport through these systems. The fluid flow and gas transport properties of these backfills have been determined at the laboratory scale and through modelling the maximum gas pressures in the near field of a repository system and the gas flow rates have been evaluated. Within this context, the Gas-permeable Seal Test (GAST) was constructed at Grimsel Test Site (GTS) to validate the effective functioning of gas-permeable seals at realistic scale. The intrinsic permeability of such seals should be in the order of 10−18 m2. Because the construction of S/B seals is not common practice for construction companies, a stepwise approach was followed to evaluate different construction and quality assurance methods. As a first step, an investigation campaign with simple tests in the laboratory and in the field followed by 1:1 scale pre-tests at GTS was performed. Through this gradual increase of the degree of complexity, practical experience was gained and confidence in the methods and procedures to be used was built, which allowed reliably producing and working with S/B mixtures at a realistic scale. During the whole pre-testing phase, a quality assurance (QA) programme for S/B mixtures was developed and different methods were assessed. They helped to evaluate and choose appropriate emplacement techniques and methodologies to achieve the target S/B dry density of 1.70 g/cm3, which results in the desired intrinsic permeability throughout the experiment. The final QA methodology was targeted at engineering measures to decide if the work can proceed, and at producing high resolution material properties database for future water and gas transport modelling activities. The different applied QA techniques included standard core cutter tests, the application of neutron-gamma (Troxler) probes and two mass balance methods (2D and 3D). The methods, looking at different representative scales, have provided only slightly different results and showed that the average density of the emplaced S/B plug was between 1.65 and 1.73 g/cm3. Spatial variability of dry densities was observed at decimeter scale. Overall, the pre-testing and QA programme performed for the GAST project demonstrated how the given design criteria and requirements can be met by appropriately planning and designing the material emplacement.

This content is only available via PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.