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Geologic uncertainty in a regulatory environment: An example from the potential Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository site

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Regulatory geologists are concerned with predicting the performance of sites proposed for waste disposal or for remediation of existing pollution problems. Geologic modeling of these sites requires large-scale expansion of knowledge obtained from very limited sampling. This expansion induces considerable uncertainty into the geologic models of rock properties that are required for modeling the predicted performance of the site.

One method for assessing this uncertainty is through nonparametric geostatistical simulation. Simulation can produce a series of equiprobable models of a rock property of interest. Each model honors measured values at sampled locations, and each can be constructed to emulate both the univariate histogram and the spatial covariance structure of the measured data. Computing a performance model for a number of geologic simulations allows evaluation of the effects of geologic uncertainty. A site may be judged acceptable if the number of failures to meet a particular performance criterion produced by these computations is sufficiently low. A site that produces too many failures may be either unacceptable or simply inadequately described.

The simulation approach to addressing geologic uncertainty is being applied to the potential high-level nuclear waste repository site at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, U.S.A. Preliminary geologic models of unsaturated permeability have been created that reproduce observed statistical properties reasonably well. A spread of unsaturated groundwater travel times has been computed that reflects the variability of those geologic models. Regions within the simulated models exhibiting the greatest variability among multiple runs are candidates for obtaining the greatest reduction in uncertainty through additional site characterization.

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Rautman, C.A., Treadway, A.H. Geologic uncertainty in a regulatory environment: An example from the potential Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository site. Environ. Geol. Water Sci 18, 171–184 (1991).

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  • Waste Disposal
  • Geologic Model
  • Rock Property
  • Site Characterization
  • Geostatistical Simulation