The following work has been carried out in the framework of the studies conducted by IRSN in support of its safety evaluation of the geological disposal programme of high and intermediate level, long-lived radioactive waste. Such a disposal is planned to be hosted by the Callovian-Oxfordian indurate clay formation between two limestone formations in eastern Paris basin, France. Hypothetical faults may cross-cut this layered section, decreasing the clay containment ability by creating preferential pathways for radioactive solute towards limestones.
This study aims at characterising the fault architecture and the normal fault growth in clay/limestone layered sections. Structural analysis and displacement profiles have been carried out in normal faults crossing several decimetres to metre thick sedimentary alternations in the South-Eastern Basin (France) and petrophysical properties have been determined for each layer. The studied faults are simple fault planes or complex fault zones showing are significantly controlled by the layering. The analysis of the fault characteristics and the results obtained on numerical models enlighten several processes such as fault nucleation, fault restriction, and fault growth through layered section.
Some studied faults nucleated in the limestone layers, without using pre-existing fractures such as joints, and according to our numerical analysis, a strong stiffness, a low strength contrast between the limestone and the clay layer, and/or s a greater thickness of the clay layer are conditions which favour nucleation of faults in limestone. The range of mechanical properties leading to the fault nucleation in one layer type or another was investigated using a 3D modelling approach. After its nucleation, the fault propagates within a homogeneous medium with a constant displacement gradient until its vertical propagation is stopped by a restrictor.
The evidenced restrictors are limestone-clay interfaces or faults in clays, sub-parallel to the layering and formed during the same extension that produced the normal faults. Restriction caused perturbation in the displacement gradient distribution as well as modification of the displacement (Dmax) vs. length (R) relation. During the slip accumulation along the fault, the displacement gradients stay constant and low in the centre of the fault and its near-tip value gradually increases up to a threshold leading to the fault propagation across the restrictor. Fault restriction may be related to the contrasts of stiffness and strength between the layers. A modification of the fault surface shape enables the fault to propagate across the restrictor.
Displacement gradients characterising the throughgoing faults are specific of each lithology, with larger values in clay layers than those in the surrounding limestones, which indicate that clays discourage the vertical propagation of the faults. The displacement gradients in a clayey layer decrease with the Young’s modulus. Analytical solutions were developed to estimate the role of the gradient variations in the Dmax-R relation. The vertical fault propagation is consistent with “continuous” models without incidental linkage between independent fractures. The dips of the faults showing relatively low displacement changes with the lithology and are compatible either with frictional, hybrid or Mode I failure depending on the contrast of the mechanical properties and the fault nucleation depth. During the fault growth, its architecture can becomes complex and exhibits fault connections in the clayey layers and spreading in limestones depending on the layer thickness and on possible fault restrictions during the growth. After analysis of the scale effects, an application to the Callovian-Oxfordian of eastern France is finally presented.