Cement and concrete will be used as fracture grouts, shotcrete, tunnel and borehole seals, and as matrices for waste encapsulation inter alia in geological repositories for radioactive wastes. Alteration of the host rock and/or swelling clay in waste package buffers and tunnel backfills by hyperalkaline solutions from cement/concrete may be deleterious to system performance through changes in the physicochemical properties of these barrier materials.
Analogue systems (and timescales) relevant to the understanding of the alkaline disturbed zone include: industrial analogues, such as alkaline flooding of hydrocarbon reservoirs (up to 30 y), cement-aggregate reactions (up to 100 y) and the Tournemire tunnel (up to 125 y); and natural analogues, including the hyperalkaline springs at Maqarin, Jordan (more than 100,000 y), saline, alkaline lakes (more than 1,000,000 y) and certain fracture fillings in granites (more than 1,000,000 y).
These systems show that alkaline alteration can be observed for thousands of years over distance scales of hundreds of metres under extreme conditions of hydraulic gradients in fractured rocks (Maqarin), but may be limited to a few centimetres over tens to a hundred years in mudstone (Tournemire). Important reaction mechanisms for retardation of alkaline fluids include: fluid mixing (alkaline oil floods, Maqarin), ion exchange (alkaline oil floods, Tournemire) and kinetic mineral dissolution-precipitation reactions (all systems studied). Qualitative and quantitative kinetic data for mineral reactions are available from cement aggregate reactions and the Searles Lake analogue, respectively. Short-term alteration observed in cement-aggregates is characterized by calcium silicate hydrate (C-S-H) minerals and incipient zeolite formation, whereas evidence from the Tournemire tunnel shows the growth of K-feldspar after relatively short time intervals (tens to a hundred years). There is a tendency for alkaline alteration to result in porosity decreases, but locally, porosity may be enhanced (e.g. near-injection well interactions in alkaline oil floods, or at fracture margins at Maqarin, Jordan). Data from industrial and natural analogues may thus supply some key data for bridging time and space scales between laboratory and in situ experiments on one hand and the requirements for safety assessment on the other.