Long-Term Performance of Geosynthetics Used in Surface Barriers for Disposal Facilities

Investigators: Craig Benson (Wisconsin), James Clarke (Vanderbilt), and Nikki Woodward (Wisconsin)

Project Objective: The objective of this applied research project is to quantify the long-term performance of geosynthetic materials (i.e., geomembranes, geotextiles, and geosynthetic drainage layers comprised of polymeric materials) used in surface barriers over disposal facilities for low level-waste (LLW) and mixed waste (MW). This will be accomplished through literature review, experimentation, data assessment, and computer modeling. The findings from this study will provide DOE with the confidence necessary to account for geosynthetics in performance assessments (PAs) for disposal facilities.

Relevance and Impact to DOE: Surface barriers are used over disposal facilities at every site in the DOE Complex. They are used to reduce precipitation infiltrating into LLW and MW as well as to control radon emissions to the atmosphere. These functions can be achieved with greater cost efficiency when geosynthetic materials are incorporated into surface barriers. However, the history of geosynthetics is short (a few decades) and information about their long-term performance is not abundant. As a result, confidence in their long-term performance (over 100s – 1000s of years) is lacking. For this reason, performance assessments for DOE facilities normally ignore the function of geosynthetic materials used in surface barriers. Thus, to use geosynthetics more effectively in DOE’s surface barriers, greater understanding is needed regarding the rate of deterioration and life expectancy of geosynthetic materials. This study was initiated to address this issue. The findings from this study will provide DOE with the information needed to account for geosynthetics in performance assessments of surface barriers with confidence, resulting disposal facilities that are more cost effective and easier to maintain.

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