Bentonite and iron metals are common materials proposed for use in deep-seated geological repositories for radioactive waste. The inevitable corrosion of iron leads to interaction processes with the clay which may affect the sealing properties of the bentonite backfill. The objective of the present study was to improve our understanding of this process by studying the interface between iron and compacted bentonite in a geological repository-type setting. Samples of MX-80 bentonite samples which had been exposed to an iron source and elevated temperatures (up to 115°C) for 2.5 y in an in situ experiment (termed ABM1) at the Äspö Hard Rock Laboratory, Sweden, were investigated by microscopic means, including scanning electron microscopy, μ-Raman spectroscopy, spatially resolved X-ray diffraction, and X-ray fluorescence.
The corrosion process led to the formation of a ~100 μm thick corrosion layer containing siderite, magnetite, some goethite, and lepidocrocite mixed with the montmorillonitic clay. Most of the corroded Fe occurred within a 10 mm-thick clay layer adjacent to the corrosion layer. An average corrosion depth of the steel of 22–35 μm and an average Fe2+ diffusivity of 1–2×10−13 m2/s were estimated based on the properties of the Fe-enriched clay layer. In that layer, the corrosion-derived Fe occurred predominantly in the clay matrix. The nature of this Fe could not be identified. No indications of clay transformation or newly formed clay phases were found. A slight enrichment of Mg close to the Fe–clay contact was observed. The formation of anhydrite and gypsum, and the dissolution of some SiO2 resulting from the temperature gradient in the in situ test, were also identified.