Over time, nuclear waste packages disposed in geological repositories are expected to fail gradually due to localized and general corrosion. As a result, water will have access to the nuclear waste and radionuclides will be transported to the accessible environment by ground water. In this paper we consider a serious failure case in which penetrations at the top and bottom of the waste package will allow water to flow through it (flow-through model). We introduce a new conceptual model that examines the effect of the residual heat release of the nuclear waste stored in an unsaturated environment on radionuclide release. This model predicts that the evaporation of water at the hotter sheltered areas (from condensate and seepage) inside the failed waste package will create a capillary pressure gradient that drives water to wick with its dissolved and suspended contents toward these relict areas, effectively preventing radionuclides release. We drive a dimensionless group to estimate the minimum length of the sheltered areas required to sequester radionuclides and prevent their release. The implications of this model on the performance of the proposed repository at Yucca Mountain or unsaturated zone geological repositories in general are explored.

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