Articles | Volume 2
Conference Abstract
06 Sep 2023
Conference Abstract |  | 06 Sep 2023

Hydration and response of an experimental Sandwich shaft-sealing system at the Mont Terri rock laboratory

Matthias Hinze, Klaus Wieczorek, Katja Emmerich, Jürgen Hesser, Markus Furche, Hua Shao, David Jaeggi, Senecio Schefer, Thomas Nagel, Juan Carlos Mayor, Simon Norris, Kim Chang-Seok, Philipp Schädle, José Luis García-Siñeriz, Rainer Schuhmann, Franz Königer, Uwe Glaubach, Christopher Rölke, and Ralf Diedel

A necessary and important component for the closure of deep geological repositories (accessed by a shaft) is a shaft-sealing system that limits the fluid inflow from the adjacent rock to the repository in the early post-closure phase and delays the release of possibly contaminated fluids from the repository at a later stage. The Sandwich system developed at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Schuhmann et al., 2009) is a multicomponent barrier that can contribute to this sealing function and is considered as part of the German shaft-sealing concept (Kudla and Herold, 2021). Its functionality has been assessed in a large-scale in situ test (the SW-A experiment) carried out at the Mont Terri rock laboratory (MTRL) in cooperation with international partners as part of the Sandwich-HP project since July 2019. The in situ test was planned as part of an international pre-project (Emmerich et al., 2019) and is accompanied by a laboratory- and semi-technical-scale test program as well as by model simulations.

The setup of the SW-A experiment comprises two shafts of 1.18 m diameter and 10–12.6 m depth in the Sandy Facies of the Opalinus Clay at MTRL. Each shaft contains a Sandwich seal as well as a hydration system in order to realize fluid inflow from the bottom (Fig. 1a). The implemented Sandwich system is characterized by an alternating arrangement of four low-permeability sealing segments (DS) made of bentonite and five equipotential segments (ES) made of fine-grained quartz sand with higher hydraulic conductivity. Fluid entering an ES is supposed to be evenly distributed over the cross section and, thus, the interface of the adjacent DS, leading to a homogeneous hydration and swelling of the DS. Water bypassing a DS and high hydraulic loads can be absorbed and distributed by the next ES. In the experiment, the sealing systems and the surrounding rock are intensely monitored (e.g., geophysics, water content, relative humidity and temperature, pore pressure, stress, and displacement) in order to investigate the saturation process and assess the interaction of the sealing system and the host rock. Hydration of the system in Shaft 1 started in May 2021, and the monitoring system showed a relatively fast saturation of the lowermost ES and DS and a water bypass in August 2021 (Fig. 1b); this was accompanied by slower saturation of the upper ES and DS, swelling of the DS and a pore pressure increase in the surrounding rock. Hydration of Shaft 2 started in May 2023. Data and experience obtained to date will be presented.


Figure 1Overview of the SW-A experiment (a) and visualization of the water bypass of DS1 in Shaft 1 (b).


Code availability

Model code generated during the current study is available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

Data availability

Data sets generated during the current study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

Author contributions

KW, KE, JH, MF, DJ, SS, JCM, JLGS, RS, FK and RD designed and conducted the in situ experiment. KE, UG and CR carried out the accompanying laboratory tests. MH, KW, HS, TN, SN, KCS and PS performed the model simulations. MH prepared the manuscript with contributions from all co-authors.

Financial support

This research has been supported by the Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie (grant no. 02E11799).


Emmerich, K., Schuhmann,R., Königer, F., Bohac, P., Delavernhe, L., Wieczorek, K., Czaikowski, O., Hesser, J., Shao, H., Jaeggi, D., Bossart, P., Hansmann, J., Gruner, M., Hofmann, M., Aurich, J., Rölke, C., Popp, T., Diedel, R., Schellhorn, M., Häußer, S., Glaubach, U., Wilsnack, T., Kemper, G., García-Siñeriz, J.L., Villar, M., Gutiérrez-Álvarez, C., and Iglesias, R. J.: Joint project: Vertical hydraulic sealing system based on the sandwich principle – preproject (Sandwich-VP), Final report, KIT – Karlsruher Institut für Technologie & GRS – Gesellschaft für Anlagen- und Reaktorsicherheit gGmbH,, 2019. 

Kudla, W. and Herold, P.: Zusammenfassender Abschlussbericht für das Verbundvorhaben Schachtverschlüsse für Endlager für hochradioaktive Abfälle (ELSA – Phase 2): Konzeptentwicklung für Schachtverschlüsse und Test von Funktionselementen von Schachtverschlüssen, Technische Universität Bergakademie Freiberg und BGE TECHNOLOGY GmbH, (last access: 19 June 2023), 2021. 

Schuhmann, R., Emmerich, K., Kemper, G., and Königer, F.: Verschlusssystem mit Äquipotenzialsegmenten für die untertägige Entsorgung (UTD und ELA) gefährlicher Abfälle zur Sicherherstellung der homogenen Befeuchtung der Dichtelemente und zur Verbesserung der Langzeitstabilität: Schlussbericht, Technische Informationsbibliothek Hannover, Hannover, p. 117,, 2009. 

Short summary
The SW-A experiment is a large-scale in situ test at the Mont Terri rock laboratory that implements a vertical hydraulic shaft-sealing system in argillaceous host rock. The response of the system and the surrounding rock to hydration is examined. The experiment objectives are to demonstrate the feasibility of installation, to investigate the saturation process, to qualify measurement and monitoring techniques, and to assess the sealing effectiveness. Recent data and experience are presented.