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Two adjacent burial areas were excavated in a clay-rich till at a radioactive waste disposal site near West Valley in Cattaraugus County, N.Y.: (1) which contains mainly low-level radioactive wastes generated onsite by a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant, has been in operation since 1966; and (2) which contains commercial low-level radioactive wastes, was operated during 1963-75. Groundwater below the upper 3 meters of till generally moves downward through a 20- to 30-meter thick sequence of tills underlain by lacustrine and kame-delta deposits of fine sand and silt. Groundwater in the weathered, upper 3 meters of till can move laterally for several meters before either moving downward into the kame-delta deposits or discharging to the land surface. A two-dimensional finite-element model that simulates two vertical sections was used to evaluate hydrologic factors that control groundwater flow in the till. Conditions observed during March 1983 were reproduced accurately in steady-state simulations that used four isotropic units of differing hydraulic conductivity to represent two fractured and weathered till units near land surfaces, an intermediate group of isolated till zones that contain significant amounts of fine sand and silt, and a sequence of till units at depths that have been consolidated by overburden pressure. Recharge rates used in the best-fit simulation ranged from 1.4 cm/yr along smooth, sloping or compacted surfaces to 3.8 cm/yr near swampy areas. Values of hydraulic conductivity and infiltration used in the calibrated best-fit model were nearly identical to values used in a previous model analysis of the nearby commercial-waste burial area. Results of the model simulations of a burial pit assumed to be filled with water indicate that water near the bottom of the burial pit would migrate laterally in the shallow, weathered till for 5 to 6 meters before moving downward into the unweathered till, and water near the top of the pit would move laterally less than 20 meters before moving downward into the unweathered till. These results indicate that subsurface migration of radionuclides in groundwater to points of discharge to land surface is unlikely as long as the water level does not rise into the reworked cover material. (Author 's abstract)


USGS Water-Resources Investigations Report: 86-4351