Will salt repositories be dry?



The National Academy of Science committee that considered geologic disposal of nuclear waste in the mid-1950s recommended salt as a repository medium, partly because of its high thermal conductivity and because it was believed to be “dry” (perhaps the appropriate thought is “impermeable”). Certainly, the fact that Paleozoic salt deposits exist in many parts of t h e world is evidence for very low rates of dissolution by moving groundwater. The fact that the dissolution rates were so small led many scientists to the conclusion that the salt beds were nearly impermeable. The major source of brine within the salt beds was thought to be fluid inclusions within salt crystals, which could migrate through differential solution toward a source of high heat. The idea that salt was uniformly “dry” was revised when exploratory drilling in the vicinity of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico encountered brines within the Castile Formation, an evaporite deposit below the Salado Formation. The brine reservoirs were thought to be isolated pockets of brine in an otherwise “impermeable” salt section.