UK and Japan partner on nuclear waste projects

A new partnership between Japan and the UK will see research teams from the two countries collaborating on technology to improve nuclear waste disposal.

Sellafield nuclear site
Sellafield nuclear site - UKRI

Sellafield in the UK and the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan are two of the most high profile nuclear sites in the world, with both requiring extensive decommissioning in the coming decades. In light of this, the two countries have established the UK-Japan Civil Nuclear Research programme, a partnership between UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

“Processing nuclear waste is an enormous challenge for human civilisation,” said George Freeman, UK minister of state at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.

“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.”

Two projects, led by the universities of Strathclyde and Sheffield, will share in £1m of UKRI funding, delivered through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Strathclyde’s Dr Paul Murray will lead research to improve the detection, safeguarding, retrieval and disposal of radioactive debris. This project brings together researchers and industrialists from across the UK and Japan, including Lancaster University, National Nuclear Laboratory, Osaka University, Japan Atomic Energy Agency and Nippon Nuclear Fuel Development Co. Ltd. It will seek to develop new inspection technologies using hyperspectral imaging along with other sensor technologies, signal processing and data fusion

“We anticipate that the proposed research will lead to new and highly valuable inspection technology which can support nuclear decommissioning in Japan, the UK and around the world,” said Dr Murray.

Dr Brant Walkley, from Sheffield University, 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, plus slurries and sediments.

According to Professor Christopher Smith, international champion at UKRI, the new programmes  build on a long-standing relationship between EPSRC and the Japanese research community and government.

“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,” said Prof Smith.  

“Experts from across the UK and Japan will work together to find innovative solutions to safely detect and dispose of radioactive nuclear debris to protect and safeguard local environments now and for future generations.”