Predicting the amount of water that may seep into waste emplacement tunnels (drifts) is important for assessing the performance of the proposed geologic repository for high-level radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The repository will be located in thick, partially saturated fractured tuff that—for the first several hundred years after emplacement—will be heated to above-boiling temperatures as a result of heat generation from the decay of radioactive waste. Heating of rock water to above-boiling conditions induces water saturation changes and perturbs water fluxes that affect the potential for water seepage into drifts. We describe numerical analyses of the coupled thermal-hydrological (TH) processes in the vicinity of waste emplacement drifts, evaluate the potential of seepage during the heating phase of the repository, and discuss the implications for the performance of the site. In addition to the capillary barrier at the rock-drift interface—independent of the thermal conditions—a second barrier exists to downward percolation at above-boiling conditions. This barrier is caused by vaporization of water in the fractured rock overlying the repository. A TOUGH2 dual-permeability simulation model was developed to analyze the combined effect of these two barriers; it accounts for all relevant TH processes in response to heating, while incorporating the capillary barrier condition at the drift wall. Model results are presented for a variety of simulation cases that cover the expected variability and uncertainty of relevant rock properties and boundary conditions.

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