£2M award for Lancaster University research into the measurement of challenging nuclear waste forms

nuclear power plant
A nuclear power plant

Professor Malcolm Joyce from the School of Engineering has won a £2M, four-year, EPSRC research grant into how to characterise and safeguard difficult-to-measure legacy irradiated nuclear fuel created as part of the UK’s nuclear energy programme.

The outcome will also equip the UK to deal with a variety of accident and other unusual scenarios - such as how to quantify the debris following the Chernobyl disaster.

The modelling tools, analysis techniques, and nuclear data validation work planned are expected to benefit from and in turn stimulate improvements in sister fields, an example being the diagnostics being developed in support of fusion reactor development.

Professor Joyce holds a Chair in Nuclear Engineering at Lancaster University, is a Chartered Engineer, and a Fellow of the Nuclear Institute.

He said: “At the end of its life, fuel from nuclear reactors is either stored or reprocessed. If stored, some of it may have water inside. Similarly, where fuel arises in disordered forms from processing operations and accidents, water can be present also. This is important because water can influence fuel stability, which might change how it is stored and the associated safety case.”

In 2021, the level of neutron radiation emitted by fuel materials from the 1986 Chernobyl accident was found to be increasing, with the concern being that a fall in water content due to drying might lead to an uncontrolled and unexpected release of energy.

“In this project, rather than measuring the neutron emission, we shall approach this problem with high-energy capture gamma-ray spectroscopy (HECGRS) because gamma rays have a characteristic signature which neutrons do not. In addition, because one of the few ways to measure fusion power aside from the neutron emission is also to study the gamma-ray emission which arises for different reasons.”

“In this project, we shall bring together these opportunities to determine whether fission and fusion energy might both benefit from advances HECGRS.”

The EPSRC award is entitled “Capture gamma-ray Assessment in Nuclear Energy (C-GANE)”.

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