Dr Claire Corkhill, a researcher at the University of Sheffield's Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE) in the UK, has been awarded GBP1.5m ($2.1m) to conduct innovative studies into the safe disposal of nuclear wastes in geological facilities. The funding comes from an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 'early career research fellowship'. The university estimates that more than 60 years of using nuclear energy the UK has generated a legacy of nuclear waste with a volume of 450,000 cubic metres.
"The disposal solution for this waste must be long-lived as it will remain radioactive for more than 100,000 years," the university said. The UK government has opted for a deep geological disposal solution. "The potential for radioactive elements released into the environment are extremely low, but over the long time scales there is a concern that groundwater may begin slowly dissolve radioactive waste and Dr Corkhill's research will address this," it added. "Dr Corkhill's research at the University of Sheffield will investigate the durability of spent nuclear fuel by building the first ever model of the structure and chemistry of this radioactive waste material and assessing its long-term stability under simulated geological disposal conditions by using novel imaging techniques."
The research is timely as the UK Government is currently undertaking a site selection process for the proposed facility. Dr Cristiano Padovani of Radioactive Waste Management Limited, said: "The work proposed strongly complements scoping research on active materials currently being carried out and addresses a clear need identified in our future work programme."
The research will take place in the state-of-the-art, radioactive materials characterisation facility in DMSE (the MIDAS Collaboratory), and will be funded in part by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change. Part of the funding will also be used, in collaboration with Dr Susan Molyneux-Hodgson from the Department of Social Sciences, to explore socio-technical aspects of nuclear waste disposal.