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EPSRC funded project to investigate the measurement of challenging nuclear waste

A project to characterise and safeguard difficult-to-measure irradiated nuclear fuel created during the UK’s nuclear energy programme is due to start in the autumn.


Professor Malcolm Joyce from Lancaster University’s School of Engineering has been awarded a £2m, four-year, EPSRC research grant to lead the research.

According to the University, the project will also equip the UK with the knowledge to deal with a variety of accident and other unusual scenarios, including how to quantify the debris following the Chernobyl disaster.

The modelling tools, analysis techniques, and nuclear data validation work planned are expected to benefit from and stimulate improvements in sister fields, including the diagnostics being developed in support of fusion reactor development.

“At the end of its life, fuel from nuclear reactors is either stored or reprocessed,” Joyce said in a statement. “If stored, some of it may have water inside. Similarly, where fuel arises in disordered forms from processing operations and accidents, water can be present also. This is important because water can influence fuel stability, which might change how it is stored and the associated safety case.”

In 2021, the level of neutron radiation emitted by fuel materials from the 1986 Chernobyl accident was found to be increasing, with the concern being that a fall in water content due to drying might lead to an uncontrolled and unexpected release of energy.

“In this project, rather than measuring the neutron emission, we shall approach this problem with high-energy capture gamma-ray spectroscopy [HECGRS] because gamma rays have a characteristic signature which neutrons do not. In addition, because one of the few ways to measure fusion power aside from the neutron emission is also to study the gamma-ray emission which arises for different reasons,” said Joyce. “In this project, we shall bring together these opportunities to determine whether fission and fusion energy might both benefit from… HECGRS.”

Joyce’s project – titled Capture gamma-ray Assessment in Nuclear Energy (C-GANE) – is due to start in October, 2023. Representatives from the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy and National Nuclear Laboratory will contribute to the effort.