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Yucca Mountain Project Branch

Secondary Mineral Deposits and Evidence of Past
Seismicity and Heating of the Proposed Repository
Horizon at Yucca Mountain, Nevada

By Joseph F. Whelan

USGS Water-Resources Investigations Report 03-4321, 12 p., 8 figs.

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The citation for this report, in USGS format, is:
Whelan, J.F., Secondary Mineral Deposits and Evidence of Past Seismicity and Heating of the Proposed Repository Horizon at Yucca Mountain, Nevada: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 03-4321, 12 p.


The Drift Degradation Analysis (DDA) (BSC, 2003) for the proposed high-level radioactive waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, describes model simulations of the effects of pre- and post-closure seismicity and waste-induced heating on emplacement drifts. Based on probabilistic seismic hazard analyses of the intensity and frequency of future seismic events in the region (CRWMS M&O, 1998), the DDA concludes that future seismicity will lead to substantial damage to emplacement drifts, particularly those in the lithophysal tuffs, where some simulations predict complete collapse of the drift walls.

Secondary mineral studies conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey since 1995 indicate that secondary calcite and silica have been deposited in some fractures and lithophysal cavities in the unsaturated zone (UZ) at Yucca Mountain during at least the past 10 million years (m.y.), and probably since the tuffs cooled to less than 100°C. Tuff fragments, likely generated by past seismic activity, have commonly been incorporated into the secondary mineral depositional sequences.

Preliminary observations indicate that seismic activity has generated few, if any, tuff fragments during the last 2 to 4 m.y., which may be inconsistent with the predictions of drift-wall collapse described in the DDA. Whether or not seismicity-induced tuff fragmentation occurring at centimeter to decimeter scales in the fracture and cavity openings relates directly to failure of tuff walls in the 5.5-m-diameter waste emplacement drifts, the deposits do provide a potential record of the spatial and temporal distribution of tuff fragments in the UZ. In addition, the preservation of weakly attached coatings and (or) delicate, upright blades of calcite in the secondary mineral deposits provides an upper limit for ground motion during the late stage of deposition that might be used as input to future DDA simulations. Finally, bleaching and alteration at a few of the secondary mineral sites indicate that they were subjected to heated gases at approximately the temperatures expected from waste emplacement. These deposits provide at least limited textural and mineralogic analogs for waste-induced, high-humidity thermal alteration of emplacement drift wall rocks.




Site Geology

Secondary Mineral Deposits

Vapor-Phase and Fumarolic Mineral Deposition

Low-Temperature Secondary Mineral Deposition

Thermal History

Evidence of Past Seismicity and Heating

Tuff Fragmentation

Coating Displacement or Damage to Delicate Mineral Textures

Heating Effects and Alteration of Fracture Surfaces


References Cited


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