Competing effects of volume change and water uptake on the water retention behaviour of a compacted MX-80 bentonite/sand mixture
Bentonite-based materials have been studied as potential barriers for the geological disposal of radioactive waste. In this context, the hydro-mechanical behaviour of the engineered barrier is first characterized by free swelling conditions (as a consequence of the progressive filling of technological gaps) followed by constant volume conditions. This paper presents an experimental study conducted in order to characterize the water retention behaviour of a compacted MX-80 bentonite/sand mixture. The water retention properties upon wetting were investigated under both free swelling and constant volume conditions. In the high suction range, the water content was not influenced by the imposed volume constraints. On the contrary, swelling significantly affected the water retention behaviour at low suctions, and the quantity of water stored was higher under free swelling conditions than it was under prevented swelling. In this case, competing effects between bentonite swelling and water uptake did not lead to an increase of the degree of saturation upon wetting, as it was observed for samples wetted under constant volume conditions. The influence of the very strong hydro-mechanical coupling is further discussed.