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Opalinus Clay (OPA) is considered as a potential host rock for the deep geological disposal of radioactive waste. One key parameter in long-term storage prediction is permeability. In this study we investigated microstructural controls on permeability for the different facies of OPA. Permeability and porosity were determined under controlled pressure conditions. In addition, the pore space was investigated by SEM, using high-quality surfaces prepared by broad ion beam (BIB) milling. Water permeability coefficients range from 1.6 × 10−21 to 5.6 × 10−20 m2; He-pycnometer porosities range between approximately 21 and 12%. The sample with the highest He porosity (shaly facies) is characterized by the lowest permeability, and vice versa (carbonate-rich sandy facies). This inverse behaviour deviates from the generally reported trend of increasing permeability with increasing porosity, indicating that parameters other than porosity affect permeability. Visible porosities from SEM images revealed that 67–95% of the total porosity resides within pores smaller than the SEM detection limit. Pore sizes follow a power-law distribution, with characteristic power-law exponents (D) differing greatly between the facies. The carbonate-rich sandy facies contains a network of much larger pores (D(shaly)≈2.4; D(carbonate-rich)c. 2.0), because of the presence of load-supporting sand grains that locally prevent clay compaction, and are responsible for a higher permeability.

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