Deep geological repository is a favorable choice for the long-term disposal of nuclear wastes. Bentonite–sand mixtures have been proposed as the potential engineered barrier materials because of their suitable swelling properties and good ability to seal under hydrated repository conditions. To investigate the effects of sand grain size on the engineering performance of bentonite–sand mixtures, we prepare five types of bentonite–sand mixtures by mixing bentonite with sand of varying particle size ranges (0.075–0.25 mm, 0.25–0.5 mm, 0.5–1 mm, 1–2 mm and 2–5 mm, respectively). We carry out sequential oedometer tests under different simulated repository conditions, including constant vertical stress (CVS), constant stiffness (CS) and constant volume (CV) conditions. The microstructural heterogeneity and anisotropy of these soil mixtures are characterized through the quantitative analysis of micro-CT scanning results. Experimental results reveal that both sand grain size and boundary condition significantly influence the swelling of soil mixtures. Under three conditions, the temporal evolutions of swelling stress and strain follow similar trends that they increase faster at the beginning and gradually stabilize afterward. Comparing the ultimate values, swelling strains follow CVS > CS > CV, while swelling stresses follow CV > CS > CVS. Under CS boundary conditions, as the stiffness coefficient increases, the swelling pressure increases and the swelling strain decreases. CT results further indicate that mixtures with larger sand inclusions are more structurally heterogeneous and anisotropic, resulting in increased inter-particle friction and collision and a higher energy dissipation during the swelling process. Moreover, the non-uniform distribution of bentonite in local zones would be intensified, which plays an important role in compromising swelling behavior. Therefore, soil samples mixed with larger sand particles present a smaller swelling stress and strain values. This study may guide the choice of engineered barrier materials toward an improved design and assessment of geological repository facilities.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
- Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)