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Geoelectrical monitoring of simulated subsurface leakage to support high-hazard nuclear decommissioning at the Sellafield Site, UK

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

  • Oliver Kuras
  • Paul B. Wilkinson
  • Philip I. Meldrum
  • Lucy S. Oxby
  • Sebastian Uhlemann
  • Jonathan E. Chambers
  • Andrew Mark Binley
  • James Graham
  • Nicholas T. Smith
  • Nick Atherton
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/10/2016
<mark>Journal</mark>Science of the Total Environment
Number of pages10
Pages (from-to)350-359
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date23/05/16
<mark>Original language</mark>English


A full-scale field experiment applying 4D (3D time-lapse) cross-borehole Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT) to the monitoring of simulated subsurface leakage was undertaken at a legacy nuclear waste silo at the Sellafield Site, UK. The experiment constituted the first application of geoelectrical monitoring in support of decommissioning work at a UK nuclear licensed site. Images of resistivity changes occurring since a baseline date prior to the simulated leaks revealed likely preferential pathways of silo liquor simulant flow in the vadose zone and upper groundwater system. Geophysical evidence was found to be compatible with historic contamination detected in permeable facies in sediment cores retrieved from the ERT boreholes. Results indicate that laterally discontinuous till units forming localized hydraulic barriers substantially affect flow patterns and contaminant transport in the shallow subsurface at Sellafield. We conclude that only geophysical imaging of the kind presented here has the potential to provide the detailed spatial and temporal information at the (sub-)meter scale needed to reduce the uncertainty in models of subsurface processes at nuclear sites.