Identification of key thermal couplings affecting the bentonite behaviour in a deep geological nuclear waste repository
Journal article, 2023

Deep geological nuclear waste repositories use the multi-layer Engineered Barrier System (EBS) to isolate nuclear waste from the environment. The key component of the barrier is densely compacted bentonite, closely resembling claystone. Therefore, to ensure safety, we need a numerical model for the bentonite and the barrier that predicts EBS behaviour during transient thermal, hydraulic, mechanical and chemical conditions. The paper identifies key mechanisms and processes affecting the bentonite in the barrier due to temperature changes (thermal couplings) based on advanced fully-coupled Finite Element Method simulations. The paper investigates 1) non-isothermal infiltration experiment on FEBEX bentonite (Villar and Gomez-Espina, 2009) and, 2) Centro de Investigaciones Energeticas Medioambientales y Tecnologicas (Ciemat) test (Martin et al., 2006), presenting 10 simulation configurations that are set up by inactivating one thermal coupling/variable at a time. The difference between these simulations and the baseline model results, examined in terms of the net mean stress (swelling pressure), suction and fluid flow, give insights into the significance of investigated coupling. Results suggest that thermal couplings related to vapour density, viscosity, water retention curve, and molecular diffusivity are among the most influential. The study additionally highlights the importance of water transport as liquid and gas, and water evaporation and condensation.



Nuclear waste repository


Thermo-hydro-mechanical coupling

Swelling pressure

Numerical modelling

Thermal coupling



Abhishek Gupta

Aalto University

Ayman Abed

Chalmers, Architecture and Civil Engineering, Geology and Geotechnics

W. Solowski

Aalto University

Engineering Geology

0013-7952 (ISSN)

Vol. 324 107251

Subject Categories

Energy Engineering




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