University consortium to tackle UK nuclear waste treatment

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Leeds University is to lead a consortium of 10 universities in a research programme addressing Britain’s nuclear waste and how to deal with it.

The £8m project, funded by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and scheduled to start in February, brings together the nuclear industry, the government’s nuclear advisors and academic researchers.

More than 40 doctoral and post-doctoral researchers will work over the next four years on issues including how best to handle different types of spent fuels, packaging and storing waste, and dealing with nuclear sludges in ponds and silos at nuclear power stations.

In a statement, consortium leader Prof Simon Biggs, director of Leeds University’s Institute of Particle Science and Engineering said: ‘The project is primarily focused on developing new technologies and providing confidence in the safe storage and disposal of legacy waste. The UK is a technology leader in this field and the core aim of this project is to maintain and further develop that skill base.

‘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.’

The National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and Sellafield Limited will be partners in the project, alongside the Universities of Leeds, Birmingham, Bristol, Imperial, Lancaster, Loughborough, Manchester, Sheffield, Strathclyde and UCL.

Much of the UK’s legacy waste is kept at the Sellafield site in Cumbria.

Sellafield Limited’s research alliance manager Neil Smart said: ‘Today, Sellafield faces a challenge where there is no blueprint; emptying and demolishing some of the most difficult and complex nuclear buildings in the world – the decommissioning of historic reactors, reprocessing facilities and associated legacy ponds and silos.

‘This massive challenge is however an opportunity to demonstrate that Sellafield is still at the forefront of the UK’s nuclear industry.’

The project will be formally called Decommissioning, Immobilisation and Storage solutions for Nuclear waste Inventories (DISTINCTIVE).

EPSRC will provide a £4.9m grant to the new project, with additional funding and support coming from the Universities and the industry partners.

Research will be organised under four themes: AGR, Magnox and Exotic Spent Fuel; Plutonium oxide and Fuel Residues; Legacy Ponds and Silos Wastes; Infrastructure characterisation, restoration and preservation.