Subsurface radioactive gas transport and release studies using the UTEX model



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Underground nuclear explosions (UNEs) produce anthropogenic isotopes that provide the only definitive means by which to determine whether a nuclear explosion has taken place. Verification of a suspected test under the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) includes both on-site and atmospheric sampling of specific noble gas radioisotopes for analysis of origin. It is well-established that the processes of subsurface transport can affect the rate at which such gases will reach the surface. However, the relative abundance of anthropogenic isotopes reaching the surface following transport is currently assumed to rely solely on their direct fission yield, decay rate, and their production from precursor decay, making no account for the influence of transport processes on isotopic ratios. The Underground Transport of Environmental Xenon (UTEX) model has been developed to examine the possible effects of subsurface transport on radioxenon isotopic ratios as well as to consider a number of on-site inspection-related applications. In this work, background on the UTEX model's development, evolution and vetting is presented. This is followed by the characterization and analysis of a number of applications of the model for consideration of CTBT-relevant scenarios. Specifically, the UTEX model's capability to analyze CTBT on-site inspection concept of operations is demonstrated. This is accomplished through an examination of generalized UNE source terms, geological stratigraphy, UNE impact on local geology, natural soil-gas radionuclide backgrounds, atmospheric infiltration, and sampling methodology. It is shown that the processes driving noble gas transport through geological media can significantly skew the ratios of key radioxenon isotopes that are used to help verify whether or not a well-contained underground test has taken place. This result emphasizes the need for a broader understanding of radionuclide signatures used for CTBT verification purposes and the mechanisms that can alter them.