A groundwater model was set up to study far-field transport for the potential of a radioactive waste repository the Boom Clay in the Netherlands. The existing national groundwater model, the Netherlands Hydrological Instrument, was extended in the vertical direction to include geological formation up to and beyond the Boom Clay. As the amount of hydrogeological data in the deeper subsurface is limited, simplifications in the model schematisation were necessary. Moreover, nationwide data about the tops and bottoms of many of the deeper geological formations and their members are lacking and required interpolation. Finally, values for hydrogeological parameters, such as porosity and hydraulic conductivity, are also lacking for the deeper formations. These values were estimated using relationships with depth and lithology. Moreover, no quantitative data about heterogeneity within the deeper geological formations or its members were available.
In the Dutch research programme on the geological disposal of radioactive waste (OPERA), the post-closure safety of a generic repository is assessed in either Boom Clay or rock salt. Disposal of Dutch radioactive waste is not foreseen in the next decades and a choice of host rock has not been made. In the early, conceptual phase of the radioactive waste disposal process in the Netherlands no potential repository locations were selected and a groundwater flow model for the entire Netherlands was build. As a starting point a geological disposal facility is assumed to be present at a depth of at least 500 m within a Boom Clay formation of 100 m in order to be able to make an assessment of post-closure safety with this geological formation in a disposal concept. With these assumptions, a general idea of potential flow patterns has been obtained and broken down into pathline trajectories. These trajectories were calculated to achieve input for the potential transport of radioactive isotopes (radionuclides) from this waste in the Netherlands after the closure of a disposal facility in Boom Clay.
The groundwater flow patterns in the deeper subsurface strongly resemble the larger scale flow patterns in the shallow subsurface, with flow from infiltration areas in the east and the south of the Netherlands towards to seepage areas of the polders in the west and the northern part of the country or towards the river valleys of the Rhine and IJssel. Groundwater flow velocities, however, are much lower in the deeper part of the model and consequently travel times are much larger. The conservative travel times from the pathlines range from a few 1000 years to more than 10,000,000 years depending on the location for the repository. Longer travel times are obtained for locations with a downward groundwater flow in the Boom Clay.
Because of the simplifications in the model schematisation and the uncertainty in the model parameters, the present results should only be considered as a first indication. Moreover, the model could not be validated due to a lack of validation data. However, the insight gained with the model may help to design a data collection strategy for dedicated model validation, such as measuring the hydraulic gradient over the Boom Clay to validate downward flow in the Boom Clay to obtain the necessary data for a post-closure safety assessment.