New consortium to tackle UK’s nuclear legacy announced

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20 Jan 2014

The University of Manchester is part of a consortium of 10 universities to start an £8 million project looking at new ways of dealing with Britain’s historical nuclear waste.

Funded by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the project will bring together the nuclear industry, the Government’s nuclear advisors and the country’s leading academic researchers.

The National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and Sellafield Limited will be partners in the project, alongside the universities of Leeds, Birmingham, Bristol, Imperial, Lancaster, Loughborough, Manchester, Sheffield, Strathclyde and UCL.

Over the next four years, more than 40 doctoral and post-doctoral researchers will work on issues including how best to handle different types of spent fuels, packaging and storing waste, and dealing with nuclear sludges in ponds and silos at nuclear power stations.

Professor Simon Biggs, Director of the University of Leeds’ Institute of Particle Science and Engineering, who will lead the University consortium, said: “The project is primarily focused on developing new technologies and providing confidence in the safe storage and disposal of legacy waste. The UK is a technology leader in this field and the core aim of this project is to maintain and further develop that skill base.

He added: “This will be a truly interdisciplinary effort. We have civil engineers, chemists, chemical engineers, robotics experts, radiochemists, mechanical engineers and material engineers all working together on thirty different projects”

The University of Manchester team of researchers consists of Professor Simon Pimblott, Professor Barry Lennox, Dr Enrique Jimenez-Melero and Dr Carolyn Pearce from the Dalton Nuclear Institute. The Manchester research will focus on investigations on the properties and chemistry of plutonium dioxide, like that stored at the repository at Sellafield. This study will to be the first significant programme undertaken by a university using the active facilities at NNL’s Central Laboratory, and will involve with postdoctoral researchers from the universities of Manchester and Lancaster being seconded into the Central Laboratory full-time for four years.

Prof Simon Pimblott, Director of The University of Manchester’s Dalton Cumbrian Facility and Principal Investigator on the Manchester team, said: “This research project will enable significant advancements in the understanding of the science of plutonium storage and so help elucidate the challenges faced at the plutonium storage facilities on the Sellafield site’.

Much of the UK’s legacy waste is kept at the Sellafield site in Cumbria.

Sellafield Limited's Research Alliance Manager Neil Smart said: “Today, Sellafield faces a challenge where there is no blueprint; emptying and demolishing some of the most difficult and complex nuclear buildings in the world – the decommissioning of historic reactors, reprocessing facilities and associated legacy ponds and silos.”

“This massive challenge is however an opportunity to demonstrate that Sellafield is still at the forefront of the UK’s nuclear industry and we are delighted that the EPSRC is supporting appropriate academic research that will contribute to the scientific and technical underpinning of our mission.  We look forward to engaging in these projects and benefiting from the outcomes, not only in terms of the science and technology but also the skilled people developed through these projects with the potential to enhance our workforce long into the future.”

Graham Fairhall, Chief Science and Technology Officer at the NNL, which provides experts and technologies to government and the nuclear industry, also welcomed the project.

“Having 10 of the UK's leading universities working collaboratively with industry in this important area makes this a very significant programme,” he said. “We are pleased to be involved in a number of ways, including supervision of more than half of the projects and making the world-leading facilities in our central laboratory on the Sellafield site available to support several strands of the work.”

The NDA’s Head of Research and Development, Melanie Brownridge, said: “Our industry benefits hugely when high-level academic research is focused at some of the challenges we face in decommissioning our nuclear legacy. We welcome this collaboration and look forward to seeing the progress that these important projects will deliver. Equally valuable will be the development of knowledge and expertise for the participants – we hope their skills with be with us for many years ahead.”

The project will be formally called Decommissioning, Immobilisation and Storage solutions for Nuclear waste Inventories (DISTINCTIVE) - and follows an earlier programme, also led by Leeds and announced by the EPSRC in 2007, which was known as DIAMOND.

The EPSRC will provide a £4.9 million grant to the new project, with additional funding and support coming from the Universities and the industry partners.

Research will be organised under four themes: AGR, Magnox and Exotic Spent Fuel; Plutonium oxide and Fuel Residues; Legacy Ponds and Silos Wastes; Infrastructure characterisation, restoration and preservation. Each project will have an industrial supervisor from either NNL or Sellafield Limited.


Notes for editors

NNL provides the experts and technologies to ensure the UK nuclear industry operates safely and cost effectively today and for the future.  The company has also provided support and services to the UK and other Governments and to the European Union. NNL has over 10,000 person-years of nuclear industry experience across the whole nuclear fuel cycle.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is responsible for the decommissioning and clean-up of the UK’s earliest nuclear facilities. These include a number of research centres, fuel-related plants, 11 Magnox power stations and Sellafield, the country’s largest and most complex nuclear site. Funded by the Government, the NDA is also required to ensure that sufficient R&D is undertaken to deliver its mission safely and cost-effectively.

Sellafield Ltd. is the company responsible for safely delivering   decommissioning of the UK’s nuclear legacy as well as fuel recycling and the management of low, high and intermediate level nuclear waste activities on behalf of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.Under the ownership of Nuclear Management Partners (NMP), we are safely   delivering nuclear decommissioning, waste management and commercial operations and by continually raising our performance we will achieve the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s (NDA) vision to become the site and workforce of choice for potential new missions.

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