Basis for Technical Guidance to Evaluate Evapotranspiration Covers (NUREG-CR/7297)

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Publication Information

Manuscript Completed: February 2022
Date Published: September 2022

Prepared by:
T. Caldwell
J. Huntington
G. Davies
S. Tabatabai
M. Fuhrmann

U.S. Geological Survey
Nevada Water Science Center
2730 N. Deer Run Road
Carson City, NV 89701

Sarah Tabatabai, NRC Project Manager

Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Washington DC 20555-0001

Availability Notice


This report provides technical information to evaluate evapotranspiration (ET cover design criteria with emphasis on applications to long-term disposal sites such as Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978 (UMTRCA sites. Water balance covers, also known as ET covers, reduce percolation by storing precipitation then allowing vegetation to cycle it back to the atmosphere. For long-term (over 200 years waste isolation, ET covers may provide significant benefits over conventional, resistive covers that rely on engineered components, such as compacted clay barriers and geomembranes, to divert precipitation. UMTRCA covers were designed to impede and attenuate radioactive radon-222 gas flux from the underlying tailings, while minimizing percolation of any contaminants to groundwater. Such covers have implicit regulatory compliance post-construction. Alternative cover systems, such as ET covers, must explicitly meet some anticipated performance, and demonstrate beneficial use. While all engineered structures will change over time, an ET cover evolves with nature rather than resisting it, which may perpetuate a more reliable waste isolation system. For example, UMTRCA sites must provide safe and environmentally sound disposal, long-term stabilization, and control of uranium mill tailings and remain effective for up to 1,000 years, to the extent reasonably achievable, and, in any case, for at least 200 years. UMTRCA covers rely on the engineered properties to meet regulatory requirements during and immediately after construction. Subsequent compliance is implicit in the design. The design of an ET cover is far more dependent on mesoscale meteorology, native vegetation, and edaphic soil properties, which are site-specific. Therefore, the design and anticipated performance of an ET cover should be demonstrated through a combination of modeling, natural analogue and pilot studies, and then verified with monitoring data. There is no single ET cover design that can likely meet performance standards across different climates, available soils, and vegetation. The technical information presented in this report reviews guidelines and performance criteria commonly used for ET covers at municipal solid waste facilities and the consideration factors of such covers to meet the regulatory requirements at long-term disposal sites.

Page Last Reviewed/Updated Tuesday, September 27, 2022