Evolution of Disposal Cell Cover Design Used for Uranium Mill Tailings Long-Term Containment

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Courtesy of Weston Solutions, Inc

ABSTRACT

Technology used to design protective covers overlying hazardous and low-level radioactive waste cells evolved significantly during the course of the Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action (UMTRA) Project. Our country's operational experience in long-term containment of hazardous and radioactive wastes has been gained primarily through efforts expended by the UMTRA Project administered by the U.S. Department of Energy. Covers overlying waste facilities have two primary purposes: to minimize or prevent infiltration of precipitation and to prevent escape of toxic gases. Observed degradation to barrier layers intended to control fluid movement has led to modifications in the design of protective layers. For long-term containment, the adage 'what goes in must come out' is applicable to infiltration of precipitation. Accordingly, UMTRA design efforts focused on cover technology as opposed to liner technology. Compacted clay barriers were selected by the UMTRA Project for barrier layer construction to isolate wastes from the environment because this material can be constructed with a low hydraulic conductivity. Also, clay has a proven geologic service life and durability well beyond regulatory design limits of hundreds to thousands of years. These barrier layers must be protected from degradation by climatic forces throughout the life of the facility without active maintenance. As observation of existing UMTRA disposal facilities continues and performance data are compiled, the knowledge gained is used to update design methods. One result of current studies suggests that information gleaned from analog studies can benefit long-term cover performance.

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