UK launches £8 million nuclear research programme

9 January 2014

Ten UK universities, the nuclear industry and the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) will collaborate in a new £8-9 million ($13-15 million) nuclear research programme, launching in February 2014.

The four-year programme known as DISTINCTIVE - Decommissioning, Immobilisation and Storage soluTIons for NuClear wasTe InVEntories - will focus on solutions for dealing with the UK's nuclear waste.

"Our industry benefits hugely when high-level academic research is focused at some of the challenges we face in decommissioning our nuclear legacy," said Melanie Brownridge, head of research and development, at the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which is responsible for decommissioning and clean-up of the UK's legacy nuclear facilities.

Industry will be represented in the DISTINCTIVE project by NDA, the UK National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), and Sellafield Ltd, operator of the Sellafield site in Cumbria, where much of the UK's nuclear waste is stored.

The consortium of ten universities will be led by Leeds, and includes Birmingham, Bristol, Imperial, Lancaster, Loughborough, Manchester, Sheffield, Strathclyde and University College London (UCL).

Thirty separate R&D projects

The collaborative research programme will involve 30 separate projects covering: spent nuclear fuel (AGR, magnox and exotic; plutonium oxide and fuel residues; legacy ponds and silos wastes; and infrastructure characterisation, restoration and preservation

Work will be focused on new technology development, but also building fundamental knowledge and developing the next generation of subject matter experts.

"The project is primarily focused on developing new technologies and providing confidence in the safe storage and disposal of legacy waste," said Professor Simon Biggs, Director of the University of Leeds' Institute of Particle Science and Engineering, who will lead the university consortium.

More than 40 doctoral and post-doctoral researchers will work on the programme. Each project will have an industrial supervisor from either NNL or Sellafield Limited.

"This will be a truly interdisciplinary effort. We have civil engineers, chemists, chemical engineers, robotics experts, radiochemists, mechanical engineers and material engineers all working together on thirty different projects," Biggs added.

Sellafield Limited said it looks forward to engaging in the projects and benefiting from the outcomes, not only in terms of the science and technology but also development of skilled people for its future workforce.

Funding underpinned by EPSRC

The DISTINCTIVE programme is underpinned by a £4.9 million ($8 million) grant from the EPSRC, which will be supplemented by additional financial and in-kind support from NNL, NDA, Sellafield Ltd and the ten UK universities.

"This is great news and we are grateful to EPSRC for their substantial support," said NNL's chief science and technology officer, Graham Fairhall. "Having 10 of the UK's leading universities working collaboratively with industry in this important area makes this a very significant programme."


Photo: Research facilities at the UK National Nuclear Lab (Source: NNL)



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