UK and Japan to co-operate on radioactive waste management

15 September 2023

Two projects have been awarded a share of £1m ($1.25m) by the UK Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research & Innovation (UKRI). The funding is to address challenges in:

  • radioactive waste treatment, packaging, and storage
  • remote handling, robotic, and autonomous systems in decommissioning
  • environmental behaviour of radionuclide release and management of risk and degraded infrastructure.

The research will support work to decommission the Sellafield Nuclear Plant in the UK and remove radioactive debris from the Fukushima Daiichi NPP which suffered a triple core meltdown in following the 2011 earthquake and Tsunami.

The UK-Japan Civil Nuclear Research programme is a partnership between UKRI and the Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science & Technology. This is the first UKRI award through the International Science Partnerships Fund (ISPF) which was launched by Science Minister George Freeman in Japan in December.

“After I launched the International Science Partnerships Fund in Japan, last year, it is only fitting that our first UKRI award from the Fund, is in partnership with Japan too,” said Freeman. “Bringing together the UK and Japan’s brightest minds, to focus our shared expertise in sensing, data, chemistry and more, cuts to the core of what this Fund and our science superpower mission is all about – harnessing UK scientific leadership through deeper international collaboration for global good, to tackle the most pressing needs facing humanity.”

Dr Paul Murray from the University of Strathclyde will lead research to improve the detection, safeguarding, retrieval and disposal of radioactive debris. The project will develop new inspection technologies using hyperspectral imaging along with other sensor technologies, signal processing and data fusion. The project brings together a team of researchers and industrialists from the UK and Japan, including:

  • Lancaster University
  • National Nuclear Laboratory
  • Osaka University
  • Japan Atomic Energy Agency
  • Nippon Nuclear Fuel Development Co Ltd

Dr Brant Walkley, from the University of Sheffield, will lead a study to use calcined clays as natural resources to engineer ‘geopolymer binders’. The binders will safely cement solid radioactive fuel debris from molten core concrete comprising metallic alloys, oxides, and silicates, and slurries and sediments.

Professor Christopher Smith, International Champion at UKRI, said: “International partnerships are crucial to ensuring we learn from each other and harness the extraordinary potential of research and innovation to overcome challenges and future proof our safety and wellbeing in the UK and around the world. These new investments are an example of this.”

Image: Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria, UK

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