Earth Sciences Division (ESD) Department of Energy (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL)

The Yucca Mountain Project: Heater Testing:
The Drift Scale Test

Water Saturation Ratio (relative to initial) After 768 Days of HeatingBerkeley Lab, in collaboration with other national laboratories, has performed the largest thermal test in the world, the Drift Scale Test (DST). The DST investigated the thermal-hydrological-chemical-mechanical coupled processes in a 50 x 60 x 80 m region in the ESF over a temperature range of 25°C to 200°C. In the DST testing methodology, based on experience from the SHT and previous thermal tests, was expanded and improved to meet the demands of the large-scale test. Nine full-scale heaters simulate waste packages emplaced in the potential repository. Two panels of wing heaters simulate the thermal environments of multiple drifts. Heating was initiated at 187 kW in December 1997, with a heating period of 4 years, and a cooling period of 4 years.

Monitoring in the nearly 100 boreholes drilled for thermal, hydrological, mechanical, and chemical measurements detected significant water movement and water-vapor condensation effects. A prominent heat-pipe signature in the temperature measurements provided evidence of thermal-hydrological coupling. Geophysical imaging techniques and permeability monitoring indicated significant redistribution of water caused by thermal effects. Substantial increases in gas-phase CO2 concentration occurred in large regions around the heaters. Chemical analysis of the water collected in boreholes indicated calcite and silicate mineral interaction with water.

Investigators tested conceptual models of coupled processes by comparing simulations of the DST with measured data on saturation distributions, CO2 concentrations, and water chemistry. These models also provide input to coupled-process seepage simulations.

Measurements of Mechanical Strain in the Drift-Scale Test. Results

  • Drift wall temperature reached ~190°?C after 2 years of heating (since December 1997 at 187 kW).
  • Most of the condensate accumulated below the wing heaters at early times.
  • Wetting and drying zones were identified by periodic air-injection tests and geophysical methods.
  • Gas-phase CO2 concentration increased strongly in the large region around the heaters.
  • Interactions of calcite and silicate minerals were indicated by chemical analyses of collected water.


  • Birkholzer, J.T., and Y.W. Tsang, "Modeling the Thermal-Hydrologic Processes in a Large-Scale Underground Heater Test in Partially Saturated Fractured Tuff," Water Resources Research, 36 (6), 1431-1447, 2000.
For more information, please contact:

Jens Birkholzer
Earth Sciences Division
Phone: 510-486-7134