The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

A Potential Solution for the Disposal of Transuranic Waste

Committee on the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

Board on Radioactive Waste Management

Commission on Geosciences, Environment, and Resources

National Research Council

NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS
Washington, D.C.
1996



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--> The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant A Potential Solution for the Disposal of Transuranic Waste Committee on the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant Board on Radioactive Waste Management Commission on Geosciences, Environment, and Resources National Research Council NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS Washington, D.C. 1996

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--> NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competencies and with regard for appropriate balance. This report has been reviewed by a group other than the authors according to procedures approved by a Report Review Committee consisting of members of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. Support for this study on the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant was provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, under Grant No. DE-FC01-94EW54069. All opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Energy. Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 96-68944 International Standard Book Number 0-309-05491-5 Additional copies of this report are available from: National Academy Press 2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W. Box 285 Washington, DC 20055 800-624-6242 202-334-3313 (in the Washington Metropolitan Area) http://www.nap.edu Cover: Federal regulations require calculations to show that the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), if certified as a transuranic radioactive waste repository, is expected to isolate waste from the environment for the next ten millennia. Current plans call for the erection on site of permanent markers containing signs and symbols, intended as decipherable messages to warn future generations of the dangers to nature and to human health of digging into a filled and sealed repository below the surface. Coincidentally, ten millennia is also the approximate age of the earliest known pottery from Asia. One millennium ago, a now-extinct Indian tribe, the Mimbres, lived in Arizona and New Mexico. The cover shows a Mimbres pottery design, perhaps representing the delicate balance of nature, using a man and two animals in a mobile arrangement. The Mimbres design is used by permission from Art of a Vanished Race: The Mimbres Classic Black-On-White, by Victor M. Giammattei and Nanci Greer Reichert, Published by Dillon Tyler, Publishers, P.O. Box 645, Calistoga, CA 94515. The background photograph, provided by the Department of Energy Carlsbad Area Office, shows a close-up of a sample of Permian age salt crystals taken from the WIPP excavations. The permanence of the geologic salt formation (over 200 million years old) is an attractive feature of the WIPP site and illustrates the exceptional time scales of concern in nuclear repository design, time scales that extend well beyond the typical duration of most engineering projects, languages, and civilizations. Copyright 1996 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America

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--> COMMITTEE ON THE WASTE ISOLATION PILOT PLANT CHARLES FAIRHURST, Chair, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis HOWARD ADLER, Oxyrase, Incorporated, Knoxville, Tennessee JOHN O. BLOMEKE, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (retired), Tennessee SUE B. CLARK, Washington State University, Pullman FRED ERNSBERGER, University of Florida, Gainesville RODNEY C. EWING, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque B. JOHN GARRICK, PLG, Inc., Newport Beach, California LEONARD F. KONIKOW, U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Virginia KONRAD B. KRAUSKOPF, Stanford University (emeritus), California DELLA ROY, Pennsylvania State University (emerita), University Park DAVID A. WAITE, CH2M Hill, Bellevue, Washington CHRIS G. WHIPPLE, ICF Kaiser Engineers, Oakland, California THOMAS A. ZORDAN, Zordan Associates, Murrysville, Pennsylvania Staff INA B. ALTERMAN, Senior Staff Officer ROBERT S. ANDREWS, Senior Staff Officer and Study Director (through December 1995) THOMAS KIESS, Staff Officer and Study Director (beginning December 1995) REBECCA BURKA, Senior Project Assistant DENNIS DUPREE, Senior Project Assistant ANGELA R. TAYLOR, Project Assistant ERIKA L. WILLIAMS, Project Assistant DONNA J. AHRENS, Consultant

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--> BOARD ON RADIOACTIVE WASTE MANAGEMENT MICHAEL C. KAVANAUGH, Chair, ENVIRON Corporation, Emeryville, California B. JOHN GARRICK, Vice-Chair, PLG, Incorporated, Newport Beach, California JOHN F. AHEARNE, Sigma Xi and Duke University, The Scientific Research Society, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina JEAN M. BAHR, University of Wisconsin, Madison SOL BURSTEIN, Wisconsin Electric Power (retired), Milwaukee ANDREW P. CAPUTO, Natural Resources Defense Council, Washington, D.C. MELVIN W. CARTER, Georgia Institute of Technology (emeritus), Atlanta PAUL P. CRAIG, University of California (emeritus), Davis MARY R. ENGLISH, University of Tennessee, Knoxville ROBERT D. HATCHER, JR., University of Tennessee/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Knoxville DARLEANE C. HOFFMAN, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, Berkeley, California JAMES JOHNSON, Howard University, Washington, D.C. CHARLES McCOMBIE, National Cooperative for the Disposal of Radioactive Waste, Wettingen, Switzerland H. ROBERT MEYER, Keystone Scientific, Inc., Fort Collins, Colorado PRISCILLA P. NELSON, University of Texas, Austin D. KIRK NORDSTROM, U.S. Geological Survey, Boulder, Colorado D. WARNER NORTH, Decision Focus, Incorporated, Mountain View, California PAUL SLOVIC, Decision Research, Eugene, Oregon BENJAMIN L. SMITH, Independent Consultant, Columbia, Tennessee Staff KEVIN D. CROWLEY, Director ROBERT S. ANDREWS, Senior Staff Officer KARYANIL T. THOMAS, Senior Staff Officer THOMAS KIESS, Staff Officer SUSAN B. MOCKLER, Research Associate LISA J. CLENDENING, Administrative Assistant ROBIN L. ALLEN, Senior Project Assistant REBECCA BURKA, Senior Project Assistant DENNIS L. DUPREE, Senior Project Assistant PATRICIA A. JONES, Project Assistant ANGELA R. TAYLOR, Project Assistant ERIKA L. WILLIAMS, Project Assistant

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--> COMMISSION ON GEOSCIENCES, ENVIRONMENT, AND RESOURCES GEORGE M. HORNBERGER (Chairman), University of Virginia, Charlottesville PATRICK R. ATKINS, Aluminum Company of America, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania JAMES P. BRUCE, Canadian Climate Program Board, Ottawa, Ontario WILLIAM L. FISHER, University of Texas, Austin JERRY F. FRANKLIN, University of Washington, Seattle DEBRA KNOPMAN, Progressive Foundation, Washington, D.C. PERRY L. MCCARTY, Stanford University, California JUDITH E. MCDOWELL, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Massachusetts S. GEORGE PHILANDER, Princeton University, New Jersey RAYMOND A. PRICE, Queen's University at Kingston, Ontario THOMAS C. SCHELLING, University of Maryland, College Park ELLEN SILBERGELD, University of Maryland Medical School, Baltimore STEVEN M. STANLEY, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland VICTORIA J. TSCHINKEL, Landers and Parsons, Tallahassee, Florida Staff STEPHEN RATTIEN, Executive Director STEPHEN D. PARKER, Associate Executive Director MORGAN GOPNIK, Assistant Executive Director GREGORY SYMMES, Reports Officer JAMES MALLORY, Administrative Officer SANDI FITZPATRICK, Administrative Associate MARQUITA SMITH, PC Analyst & Project Assistant

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--> Acknowledgments The committee has spent countless hours over the more than ten years since its last full report on WIPP, in discussions with staff from DOE and its contractors, EPA, officials of the State of New Mexico, the Environmental Evaluation Group, community leaders from Carlsbad, and concerned citizens. In open meetings held several times a year for more than a decade, the committee has heard a wide diversity of views on WIPP. Genuine concerns have been expressed without rancor or polemics, but with conviction and unfailing courtesy. This is a tribute to the community involved in and concerned about WIPP. For the committee, and particularly the chair, it has been a privilege to have participated in these discussions. We sincerely appreciate all of the information and insights gained and hope that our report will be of value in arriving at an appropriate decision on the proposal to establish a TRU waste site at WIPP. The committee thanks the many anonymous reviewers who painstakingly read and criticized our report, which has benefitted considerably from their efforts. Finally, we wish to express our appreciation to staff colleagues of the National Research Council's Board on Radioactive Waste Management, both past and present, who have done much to assist the committee in its task. Particular thanks are due to Tom Kiess, Angela Taylor, and Erika Williams, without whose efforts the report would not have been completed. Charles Fairhurst, Chair October 1996

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--> Contents     EXECUTIVE SUMMARY   1     General Conclusions and Recommendations   3     Summary   6 CHAPTER 1   INTRODUCTION   7     Transuranic Waste: What it is, Where it Comes From, Where it Must Go   7     Geologic Disposal of Radioactive Waste in Salt   8     History of WIPP   10     The WIPP Underground Facility Today   10     The Disposal Plan   10     Regulation and Licensing of WIPP   10     Framework for the Report   12 CHAPTER 2   REGULATORY COMPLIANCE AND REPOSITORY PERFORMANCE   15     EPA Standards for Radioactive Waste   15     Performance Assessment   18     Radionuclide Release Scenarios   24     Discussion of PA Modeling Efforts   27     Discussion of Repository Performance   29     General Quality of WIPP Performance Assessment Activities   32     Other Long-Term Radiological Compliance Issues   32     Conclusions   35 CHAPTER 3   SALADO HYDROGEOLOGY, GAS PRESSURE, AND ROOM CLOSURE   37     Salado Hydrogeology   37     Gas Pressure   39     Room Closure   41     The Combined Effects of Brine Inflow, Gas Generation and Room Closure   44     Summary and Conclusions   45 CHAPTER 4   ENGINEERING TO IMPROVE PREDICTED REPOSITORY PERFORMANCE   47     Repository Design and Excavation Alternatives   47     Sealing of Shafts and Boreholes   50     Sealing of Rooms and Panels   57     Conclusions   57 CHAPTER 5   ACTINIDE SOURCE TERM   58     Actinide Source Term Model   59     Schedule   62

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-->     Summary and Discussion   62     Conclusion and Recommendations   63 CHAPTER 6   NON-SALADO HYDROLOGY   65     Regional Hydrogeologic Modeling   65     Flow and Transport Modeling   66     WIPP 1992 PA Model Analysis   68     Discussion and Summary of Findings, Conclusions, and Recommendations   73     Perspective Based on International Repository Siting Efforts   75 CHAPTER 7   PERSPECTIVES   77     Integrity of the Waste Isolation System   77     Human Intrusion   78     Role of Performance Assessment   78     The Nature and Frequency of Human Intrusion   79     Retrospective   80     REFERENCES   82     APPENDIXES         A.NATURAL SETTING AND RESOURCES   95     Geologic Framework   95     Hydrologic Setting of WIPP   99     Natural Resources   103     B.THE COMPLEMENTARY CUMULATIVE DISTRIBUTION FUNCTION: THE RISK CURVE   110     C.BRINE INFLOW TO EXCAVATIONS IN THE SALADO   116     Permeability of WIPP Salado Anhydrite and Interbeds   116     One-Dimensional Flow in Anhydrite interbeds in Impermeable Salt   117     Radial Flow into Excavations in Permeable Salt   118     Bredehoeft Calculation   119     Shaft Seals—Approximate Check on PA Flow Calculations   120     D.CREEP BEHAVIOR OF WIPP SALT   123     E.ACTINIDE SOURCE TERM   129     Experimental Work on Actinide Solubilities   129     Experiments on Colloids   132     Retardation Experiments   132     F.REGIONAL HYDROGEOLOGY   134     Approaches to Studying Regional Aquifer Systems   134     Ground-Water Models   134

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-->     G.AN OVERVIEW OF WIPP COMPLIANCE ISSUES   143     Deep Geologic Disposal   143     Project Administration and Regulation   143     Certification Criteria   143     Certification of WIPP   144     Chemistry, Biology, and Geotechnology   145     The Actinide Source Term   146     Hydrology Above the Salado Formation   146     Repository Design Using Compartmentation   147     Summary, Conclusions, and Perspective   148     H.BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES OF COMMITTEE MEMBERS   149     I.GLOSSARY   152     J.LIST OF ACRONYMS AND SYMBOLS   158     K.BIBLIOGRAPHY   159

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