9 January 2014 17:01

Lancaster University is part of a new national research programme looking at ways of dealing with Britain’s nuclear waste.

The £8 million project, funded by the government’s Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), includes ten universities and brings together the nuclear industry, the Government’s nuclear advisors and the country’s leading academic researchers.

From next month, more th­­an 40 doctoral and post-doctoral researchers will work over the next four years 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.

The project will be formally called Decommissioning, Immobilisation and Storage solutions for Nuclear waste Inventories (DISTINCTIVE). 

Professor Colin Boxall, Director of The Lloyd’s Register Foundation Centre for Nuclear Decommissioning at Lancaster University, will be leading DISTINCTIVE’s work on the safe storage of plutonium.

He said: “This project directly addresses key objectives of the UK Government’s recently published nuclear strategy. As we are also involved in the recently announced Next Generation Nuclear Centre for Doctoral Training (to train 80 PhD students over 5 years), this means that Lancaster’s nuclear activities are set to expand rapidly whilst having real, positive impact on an area of national importance.”

Professor Simon Biggs, Director of the University of Leeds’ Institute of Particle Science and Engineering will lead DISTINCTIVE.

He 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.

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.

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.”

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.