Service Life of Concrete (NUREG/CR-5466, NISTIR 89-4086)

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Publication Information

Manuscript Completed: September 1989
Date Published: November 1989

Prepared by:
J. R. Clifton, L. I. Knab

National Institute of Standards and Technology
Gaithersburg, MD 20899

Prepared for:
Division of Engineering
Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Washington, DC 20555

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The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has the responsibility for developing a strategy for the disposal of low-level radioactive waste (LLW). An approach being considered for their disposal is to place the waste forms in concrete vaults buried in the earth. A service life of 500 years is required for the concrete vaults as they may be left unattended for much of their lives.

This report examines the basis for making service life predictions based on accelerated testing and mathematical modeling of factors controlling the durability of concrete buried in the ground. Degradation processes are analyzed based on considerations of their occurrence, extent of potential damage, and mechanisms. A recommended research plan for developing methods for predicting the service life of concrete is presented.

The major degradation processes that concrete of underground vaults will likely encounter are sulfate attack, corrosion of reinforcing steel, alkali-aggregate reactions, and leaching by ground water. Freezing and thawing damage could occur before the vaults are covered with soil and therefore are addressed. Other degradation processes which may occur are microbiological attack, salt crystallization, and attack by LLW, especially by acidic materials. Two important factors controlling the resistance of concrete to these degradation processes are its quality and permeability. Concepts of quality and factors affecting quality of concrete are discussed. Permeability is discussed in terms of the water-to-cement ratio, the pore structure of concrete, and the effects of cracks.

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