Future-forming interdisciplinary research

Safer nuclear fuels for a sustainable world: Fully Funded PhD studentship (3 year) in Engineering Department


This project will employ advanced atomistic simulation methods to develop safer nuclear fuels. Concomitantly, the project will consider how non-technical considerations, particularly public acceptance, may shape the future of nuclear technology.

The Leverhulme Centre for Material Social Futures Research 

Lancaster University’s Leverhulme Doctoral Training Centre in Material Social Futures is a major new strategic collaborative partnership between two of the university’s recently formed research Institutes – the Material Science Institute and the Institute for Social Futures. Based in the Department of Engineering you will be part of a growing team of PhDs working to create more sustainable and socially beneficial futures. You will be trained to engage in diverse aspects of materials discovery and the analysis of social and economic structures to achieve these ends. In short, the goal of PhDs in Material Social Futures will be to help produce futures that people want and the world needs.

Lancaster University is one of the top 10 universities in the UK. Housed in a brand new, award winning building, the Engineering Department is rated in the top 10 in the UK with 100% of our research impact being world-leading and internationally excellent (REF2014). The project will benefit from full access to the state-of-the-art facilities in the new Engineering building and unique active laboratory facility as well as Lancaster’s library, its Special Collections and archives and the Institute for Social Futures.


  • Funding:Annual tax-free stipend of £14,777 (which will increment yearly)
  • Hours:Full Time
  • Eligibility:UK and EU Students
  • Closing Date:April 27th, for October 1st start


Meeting the ever-increasing global energy demand will require both innovative technological and social developments; new forms of energy might offer more sustainable paths; consumption itself might be shaped. As an established technology, nuclear power is currently responsible for 20% of global electricity production and has an important role to play in the future energy landscape. However, the recent incident at Fukushima has highlighted the need not only for improvements in the underlying technology but in reshaping debates about what role nuclear and other fuels will have – their balance, even their continued use. Technologically, the development of advanced accident tolerant fuels (ATFs) offers the hope of greater structural integrity for such fuels when exposed to extreme conditions, such as those present during an incident. Essentially, higher thermal conductivities and specific heats coupled with lower thermal expansion ensure that ATFS are significantly less likely to meltdown than previous fuels. A major obstacle to their deployment, however, is a lack of understanding of how these fuels will evolve during operational use. At the same time, even as technological developments may enhance reactor safety in some respects, the relationship between nuclear and alternative fuel sources, and indeed larger debates about energy consumption, play into public perceptions about and narratives to do with  how the future of energy production may be shaped. Ultimately, these narratives are part and parcel of the context of nuclear fuel developments. The PhD into the future of nuclear fuels will therefore be undertaken alongside and in collaboration with a PhD on  “Narrative and Nuclear Materials”. The combination is intended to develop a multidimensional understanding of a nuclear future.

The project

During operation nuclear fuels undergo extreme compositional changes with as much as 5% of the initial uranium being replaced with fission products. The fission products encompass a wide range of chemistries, from across the periodic table. Incorporation of the fission products has a dramatic impact on the fuel’s properties and may have a deleterious impact on performance and importantly their accident tolerance.


Particularly important from a safety perspective are the noble gasses xenon and krypton. These fission gasses form bubbles causing swelling that exerts pressure on the fuel cladding. This can lead to clad failure and escape of radioactive material. Understanding of the fission gas behaviour in existing oxide fuels is extensive; however, there is very little similar work available for the accident tolerant fuels. Therefore, you will use state-of-the-art atomistic simulation techniques to study fission gas behaviour in the leading ATFs UN and U3Si2.


Accident tolerant fuels may offer a technical solution to the safety issues exposed at Fukushima, but will the public be reassured by this new technology? What does it say about the industry that its latest technological innovation immediately raises the specter of incidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima by referencing accidents in the title? This project will take a holistic view of ATFs, developing the technologies while exploring how narrative and semantics inform public willingness to embrace a nuclear future.

 Further Details

  • Cover full payment of academic fees (at the standard RCUK rate);
  • A Maintenance Stipend (£14,777 pa);
  • Access to a Research Training Support Grant (RTSG) for reimbursement of research-related expenses including – but not limited to – conference attendance, training courses and equipment of at least £800 pa.;
  • Access to a range of training and development provided by the Material Social Futures PhD Programme, the Engineering Department, the Faculty of Science and Technology, the Institute for Social Futures and Lancaster University;
  • The Material Social Futures PhD programme will offer internships (including international placements) in the second and/or third year of training.



You should have or expect to obtain soon at least a 2:1 in Physics, Chemistry, Engineering or a related discipline. You should have excellent technical abilities and the desire to work in a multidisciplinary environment.


Application details

Please apply online via the University Postgraduate Admissions Portal at http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/study/postgraduate/how-to-apply-for-postgraduate-study/ with:

  • A CV (2 pages maximum)
  • Cover letter
  • University grade transcripts (where available)

You should clearly state on your application that you are applying for a funded PhD opportunity on “Safer nuclear fuels for a sustainable world”.

Contact Us

We very much welcome informal queries about this opportunity, which should be directed to Dr. Samuel Murphy (samuel.murphy@lancaster.ac.uk).

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