Engineered barriers are basic elements in the design of repositories for the isolation of high‐level radioactive waste. This paper presents the thermo‐hydro‐mechanical (THM) analysis of a clay barrier subjected to heating and hydration. The study focuses on an ongoing large‐scale heating test, at almost full scale, which is being carried out at the CIEMAT laboratory under well‐controlled boundary conditions. The test is intensely instrumented and it has provided the opportunity to study in detail the evolution of the main THM variables over a long period of time. Comprehensive laboratory tests carried out in the context of the FEBEX and NF‐PRO projects have allowed the identification of the model parameters to describe the THM behaviour of the compacted expansive clay. A conventional THM approach that assumes the swelling clay as a single porosity medium has been initially adopted to analyse the evolution of the test. The model was able to predict correctly the global THM behaviour of the clay barrier in the short term (i.e. for times shorter than three years), but some model limitations were detected concerning the prediction of the long‐term hydration rate. An additional analysis of the test has been carried out using a double structure model to describe the actual behaviour of expansive clays. The double structure model explicitly considers the two dominant pore levels that actually exist in the FEBEX bentonite and it is able to account for the evolution of the material fabric. The simulation of the experiment using this enhanced model provides a more satisfactory reproduction of the long‐term experimental results. It also contributes to a better understanding of the observed test behaviour and it provides a physically based explanation for the very slow hydration of the barrier.