Bentonite permeability at elevated temperature

Katherine A. Daniels, Jon F. Harrington, Stephanie G. Zihms, Andrew C. Wiseall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Repository designs frequently favour geological disposal of radioactive waste with a backfill material occupying void space around the waste. The backfill material must tolerate the high temperatures produced by decaying radioactive waste to prevent its failure or degradation, leading to increased hydraulic conductivity and reduced sealing performance. The results of four experiments investigating the effect of temperature on the permeability of a bentonite backfill are presented. Bentonite is a clay commonly proposed as the backfill in repository designs because of its high swelling capacity and very low permeability. The experiments were conducted in two sets of purpose-built, temperature controlled apparatus, designed to simulate isotropic pressure and constant volume conditions within the testing range of 4-6 MPa average effective stress. The response of bentonite during thermal loading at temperatures up to 200 °C was investigated, extending the previously considered temperature range. The results provide details of bentonite’s intrinsic permeability, total stress, swelling pressure and porewater pressure during thermal cycles. We find that bentonite’s hydraulic properties are sensitive to thermal loading and the type of imposed boundary condition. However, the permeability change is not large and can mostly be accounted for by water viscosity changes. Thus, under 150 °C, temperature has a minimal impact on bentonite’s hydraulic permeability.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jan 2017


  • Bentonite
  • Clay response
  • Permeability
  • Radioactive waste disposal
  • Temperature
  • Thermal loading


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