Projects involving deep geological disposal of nuclear waste are unique in that predictive models of long-term safety often involve geological timeframes. This manuscript provides a review of natural and anthropogenic analogues for high-level nuclear waste disposal in a deep geological repository. We also occasionally highlight analogues that have been used for low- and intermediate-level waste. Most studies define natural analogues as either naturally occurring or anthropogenic systems. In this paper, we distinguish between natural analogues and anthropogenic analogues because the latter generally provide non-technical (anecdotal) illustrations of concepts and processes for the safety case, whereas the former can provide technical and quantitative information. In addition, natural analogues can provide information over geological time scales (millions of years) and spatial scales (kilometers), whereas anthropogenic analogues provide information over a much more limited time scale (hundreds or thousands of years). Regardless of the definition, analogue studies provide one of the multiple lines of evidence intended to increase confidence in the safe geological disposal of high-level nuclear waste. They are deemed necessary because they complement the experiments that are carried out over a period of months or years. They also provide a way to validate numerical long-term safety assessment models with information and data covering geological time scales and spatial scales.
The first part of this review describes the analogue concept. The second and third parts provide examples of natural and anthropogenic analogues for engineered barrier systems and natural barriers. Part four describes analogues for complex coupled transport processes. Finally, we discuss general and specific areas of future research.
A concerted effort should be made to ensure that there is a transfer of data from the complex, natural analogue field studies to simplistic models which, by necessity, are used to evaluate the long-term safety of deep geological repositories. Field analogue studies should be planned to interface with laboratory experiments and, ultimately, with in situ field experiments, when the final repository site is selected. This will involve using natural analogue data in a quantitative way to support the deep geological repository safety case.