UTGARD Laboratory

UTGARD laboratory logo

Our Mission

UTGARD laboratory is a unique facility within the UK higher education landscape focussing on accelerating UK spent nuclear fuel research within the key areas of disposal, reprocessing and future fuels.

About the Lab

UTGARD laboratory is a ~120 m2 process chemistry laboratory within the School of Engineering. Rated to the highest level of university open-source radiation protection, UTGARD allows for the handling of a wide variety of radioactive isotopes, including (but not limited to): β/γ active fission products, uranium, thorium and low level alpha tracers.

The laboratory is separated into two distinct phases:

UTGARD Phase I is equipped with a range of instruments for the provision of thermodynamic and kinetic data to underpin both fundamental and application driven research (including scale up) in recycle and waste management. Specifically, behavioural studies of α/β/γ active materials under a range of conditions relevant to the back end of the fuel cycle – including wet/dry interim storage, geological disposal and new reprocessing routes, can be carried out using the laboratory suite of equipment.

UTGARD Phase II is a new university facility for simulated spent nuclear fuel (SIMFUEL) fabrication and characterisation. UTGARD Phase II enables research into the development of new, advanced sintering routes for the fabrication of SIMFUELs with porosities, fission product loadings, and defect microstructures that better simulate those of real spent nuclear fuel. UTGARD Phase II specifically focuses on oxide SIMFUELs – although, with an eye to future fuel cycles, including MOX, ATF’s and ThO2 based fuels.

Research Achievements

Operating for close to 9 years, the laboratory has supported major UK/European consortium programs on:

  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Council (EPSRC) funded programs on storage and disposition of plutonium - TRANSCEND (Transformative Science and Engineering for Nuclear Decommissioning) and DISTINCTIVE (Decommissioning, Immobilisation and Storage soluTIons for NuClear wasTe InVEntories)
  • UK HMG and National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) funded programs on advanced nuclear fuel production and recycle - ATLANTIC (Accident ToLerANT fuels In recycling), NIP (The Nuclear Innovation Program) and AFCP (The Advanced Fuel Cycle Program)
  • EURATOM/Horizon funded programs on safety in the European grouped actinide extraction process – SACSESS (Safety of ACtinide Separation ProceSSes, GENIORS (GEN IV Integrated Oxide fuels Recycling Strategies
  • A UK HMG and National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) funded program on advanced nuclear technologies – ANSIC (Advanced Nuclear Skills Innovation Campus)
  • EPSRC funded Centres for Doctoral Training and nuclear skills development – NGN (Next Generation Nuclear), GREEN (Growing skills for Reliable Economic Energy from Nuclear) and SATURN (Skills And Training Underpinning a Renaissance in Nuclear)

With regards to the latter, UTGARD has hosted over 10 PhD researchers and their associated projects through these centres, producing future generational experts in areas from nuclear decommissioning to fuel manufacture.

Most recently, UTGARD, in association with the National Nuclear Laboratory, has become part of the Uranics Innovation Centre (UIC), an industrial and academic partnership to support the development of front-end fuels capabilities in the UK: https://www.nnl.co.uk/2024/01/nnl-announces-9-35-million-investment-from-the-nuclear-fuel-fund-for-innovation-centre-and-design-of-test-facility/

With the opening of UTGARD II in 2020, and through funding from the National Nuclear User Facility (NNUF), UTGARD received over 20 expressions of interest and hosted 9 projects from 7 different universities over a 3 year period, with projects covering a range of research areas including the creation of simulated spent nuclear fuel pellets for hyperspectral imaging, the generation of accident tolerant fuels (silicides and nitrides) and novel sintering routes to next generation nuclear waste forms.

UTGARD laboratory is also open to organisations outside of the higher education sector, offering either larger collaborative projects or simple short consultancy opportunities.


  • 2015 – UTGARD Laboratory funded by a £1 million grant from the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in association with the National Nuclear User Facility (NNUF)
  • 2016 – Laboratory opened to internal and external users, including the first NNUF collaboration with Cambridge University.
  • 2019 – UTGARD Phase II funded by ~£700,000 grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) as part of the National Nuclear User Facility (NNUF)
  • 2020 – UTGARD Phase II open to internal and external users
  • 2021 – First external NNUF user in January
  • 2024 – Completion of the NNUF program with over 9 external projects successfully delivered in the laboratory

Facility Access

UTGARD facility is open for research. We welcome external users and are able to accommodate them either in person or remotely, by working with Lancaster University School of Engineering scientists and technical team.

In the first instance please do reach out to the UTGARD staff team to discuss your requirements.

Opportunities for funded PhDs within the laboratory via the SATURN CDT are also available - visit their website for more details.


UTGARD Lab Equipment

In our labs, you'll have access to state-of-the-art equipment designed with nuclear engineers in mind:


As part of the creation of this new NNUF facility, UTGARD Laboratory is now supported by a full time research officer, Dr Richard Wilbraham. Richard is an experienced Radiation Protection Supervisor and has been a part of many multi-partner nuclear research projects, including the national nuclear innovation program, SACSESS (and its follow-on project GENIORS) and the spent nuclear fuel consortium.


Colin Boxall

Professor Colin Boxall

The Lloyd's Register Foundation Chair

Centre for Global Eco-innovation , Doctorate Centre in Nuclear Engineering, Energy Lancaster, Energy Lancaster Nuclear, Nuclear

Richard Wilbraham

Dr Richard Wilbraham

Experimental Officer