skip to main content

Title: Method development for determining the hydraulic conductivity of fractured porous media

Plausible, but unvalidated, theoretical model constructs for unsaturated hydraulic conductivity of fractured porous media are currently used in Performance Assessment (PA) modeling for cracked saltstone and concrete (Flach 2011). The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has expressed concern about the lack of model support for these assumed Moisture Characteristic Curves (MCC) data, as noted in Requests for Additional Information (RAIs) PA-8 and SP-4 (Savannah River Remediation, LLC, 2011). The objective of this task was to advance PA model support by developing an experimental method for determining the hydraulic conductivity of fractured cementitious materials under unsaturated conditions, and to demonstrate the technique on fractured saltstone samples. The task was requested through Task Technical Request (TTR) HLW-SSF-TTR-2012-0016 and conducted in accordance with Task Technical & Quality Assurance Plan (TTQAP) SRNL-TR-2012-00090. Preliminary method development previously conducted by Kohn et al. (2012) identified transient outflow extraction as the most promising method for characterizing the unsaturated properties of fractured porous media. While the research conducted by Kohn et al. (2012) focused on fractured media analogs such as stacked glass slides, the current task focused directly on fractured saltstone. For this task, four sample types with differing fracture geometries were considered: 1) intact saltstone, 2) intact saltstonemore » with a single saw cut, smooth surface fracture, 3) micro-fractured saltstone (induced by oven drying), and 4) micro-fractured saltstone with a single, fully-penetrating, rough-surface fracture. Each sample type was tested initially for saturated hydraulic conductivity following method ASTM D 5084 using a flexible wall permeameter. Samples were subsequently tested using the transient outflow extraction method to determine cumulative outflow as a function of time and applied pressure. Of the four sample types tested, two yielded datasets suitable for analysis (sample types 3 and 4). The intact saltstone sample (sample type 1) did not yield any measureable outflow over the pressure range of the outflow test (0-1000 cm H2O). This was expected because the estimated air entry pressure for intact saltstone is on the order of 100,000 cm H2O (Dixon et al., 2009). The intact saltstone sample with a single saw cut smooth surface fracture (sample type 2) did not produce useable data because the fracture completely drained at less than 10 cm H2O applied pressure. The cumulative outflow data from sample types 3 and 4 were analyzed using an inverse solution of the Richard’s equation for water flow in variably saturated porous media. This technique was implemented using the computer code Hydrus-1D (Šimunek et al., 2008) and the resulting output included the van Genuchten-Mualem water retention and relative permeability parameters and predicted saturated hydraulic conductivity (Van Genuchten, 1980; Van Genuchten et al., 1991). Estimations of relative permeability and saturated conductivity are possible because the transient response of the sample to pressure changes is recorded during the multi-step outflow extraction test. Characteristic curves were developed for sample types 3 and 4 based on the results of the transient outflow method and compared to that of intact saltstone previously reported by Dixon et al. (2009). The overall results of this study indicate that the outflow extraction method is suitable for measuring the hydraulic properties of micro-fractured porous media. The resulting cumulative outflow data can be analyzed using the computer code Hydrus-1D to generate the van Genuchten curve fitting parameters that adequately describe fracture drainage. The resulting characteristic curves are consistent with blended characteristic curves that combine the behaviors of low pressure drainage associated with fracture flow with high pressure drainage from the bulk saltstone matrix.« less
  1. Savannah River Site (SRS), Aiken, SC (United States). Savannah River National Lab. (SRNL)
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
Report Number(s):
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Technical Report
Research Org:
Savannah River Site (SRS), Aiken, SC (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
Country of Publication:
United States
12 MANAGEMENT OF RADIOACTIVE AND NON-RADIOACTIVE WASTES FROM NUCLEAR FACILITIES Saltstone; fractured permeability; radioactive waste; permeameter; outflow extractor