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Characteristics of host rocks, secondary minerals, and fluids would affect the transport of radionuclides from a previously proposed repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Minerals in the Yucca Mountain tuffs that are important for retarding radionuclides include clinoptilolite and mordenite (zeolites), clay minerals, and iron and manganese oxides and hydroxides. Water compositions along flow paths beneath Yucca Mountain are controlled by dissolution reactions, silica and calcite precipitation, and ion-exchange reactions. Radionuclide concentrations along flow paths from a repository could be limited by (1) low waste-form dissolution rates, (2) low radionuclide solubility, and (3) radionuclide sorption onto geological media.

The chief sources of radioactivity in spent nuclear fuel are americium, plutonium, and neptunium. Therefore, studies have concentrated on their geochemical mobility. Uranium-233, uranium-234, iodine-129, technetium-99, and other radionuclides also have been included in some experiments. Solubilities were determined experimentally in representative Yucca Mountain waters. Sorption coefficients were determined using water, rock, and pure mineral samples from Yucca Mountain. Batch experiments were performed at several pH levels and oxidizing conditions. Dynamic transport-column experiments, diffusion experiments, and solid-rock beaker experiments also were conducted. The batch tests gave slightly lower retardation factors than those derived from column-breakthrough experiments. This finding indicates that using batch-sorption coefficients to predict radionuclide transport will yield conservative results in a performance assessment.

Understanding of unsaturated-zone transport is based on laboratory and field-scale experiments. Fractures provide advective transport pathways. Sorption and matrix diffusion may contribute to retardation of radionuclides. Conversely, sorption onto mobile colloids may enhance radionuclide transport.

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