Dr Claire Corkhill

MEarthSci Geology (Honours)
Reader and EPSRC Early Career Research Fellow

Telephone: +44 (0) 114 222 3632
Email: c.corkhill@sheffield.ac.uk
Twitter: @clairecorkhill

Address: Department of Materials Science and Engineering
Sir Robert Hadfield Building, Mappin Street, Sheffield, S1 3JD

Dr Claire Corkhill

Claire Corkhill is an EPSRC Early Career Research Fellow Nuclear Materials Corrosion, as part of the Department’s world-leading NucleUS Immobilisation Science Laboratory research group. Previously, she was a post-doctoral research associate in the Departments of Materials Science and Engineering and Civil and Structural Engineering at the University of Sheffield. Claire obtained an MEarthSci in Geology and a PhD in Mineralogy and Geochemistry at the University of Manchester, working on the dissolution of toxic metal-bearing minerals.

Research interests

The UK has a significant inventory of nuclear waste (650,000 cubic metres, enough to fill 1 Wembley Stadium), that will be radioactive for over 100,000 years. For this reason, it is necessary to dispose of the waste safely in a final disposal facility, several hundreds of meters below the ground. This facility is carefully designed to reduce the likelihood of radioactive substances escaping to the environment; it will use a multi-barrier concept where several layers of containment, made from a number of different materials, are used to prevent groundwater reaching the waste – preventing leaching of radioactive substances into the host rock. This concept is called the Engineered Barrier.

Claire’s research focuses on understanding and improving the safety functions of this Engineered Barrier. She is interested in understanding how quickly the waste is likely to dissolve if it comes into contact with groundwater, and also how the backfill material helps to prevent the release and transport of radioactive substances to the host rock. Understanding these processes is critical to developing a safe disposal facility, and will also help the design of new, improved materials for the Engineered Barrier. Claire is currently working in four major areas, which are as follows:

Grain boundaries1. Effect of defect chemistry and microstructure on the corrosion of UO2 fuel and Pu-containing materials. Claire’s research team are exploring the role of ceramic and glass/ceramic microstructures on the dissolution kinetics and mechanisms of UO2 and Pu-containing materials, through the study of surface chemistry and the application of in-situ dissolution imaging techniques. One recent focus has been to understand the secondary phase formation on fuel debris from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, in support of fuel retrieval operations.

Glass2. State-of-the-art determination of nuclear waste glass durability in sub-surface environments. The role of different geochemical conditions on the dissolution kinetics of a range of simulant nuclear waste glasses are investigated, in particular, hyper-alkaline conditions.

Cement radionculide interactions3. High resolution spectroscopic determination of radionuclide – cement interactions. Through application of sophisticated spatially-resolved synchrotron X-ray techniques, solid-state NMR and thermodynamic modelling, Claire’s team is developing kinetic models of radionuclide-cement interactions in geological disposal environments. Claire is leading the world’s first long-duration x-ray synchrotron experiment in collaboration with Diamond Light Source, to understand the long-term behaviour of cement over thousands of years.

4. Sociology of nuclear waste final disposal. In close collaboration with Dr. Susan Molyneux-Hodgson of the Nuclear Societies Group at the University of Exeter, this research focuses on the interlinked areas of publics and policies. We aim to contribute to current understanding of the science and policy behind the safety case for the final nuclear waste disposal facility.

Current projects

  • Critical Analysis of Spent Fuel Structure in Radionuclide Release (EPSRC ECR Fellowship)
  • CHIMP: Characterisation, Imaging and MaPping of fuel debris for safe retrieval from Fukushima (EPSRC / MEXT)
  • Simulated Used Nuclear Fuel Dissolution as a Function of Fuel Chemistry and Near Field Conditions (EPSRC / US Department of Energy)
  • DisCo: Modern Spent Fuel Dissolution and Chemistry in Failed Container Conditions (H2020)
  • JUNO: A Network for Japan – UK Nuclear Opportunities (EPSRC)Functional Engineered Barriers: Alternative cement backfill for final disposal of nuclear waste in the subsurface (University of Sheffield Vice Chancellor’s Fellowship)
  • Project GLAD: Glass Leaching Assessment for Durability (US Department of Energy, Office of River Protection)
  • CEBAMA: Cement BAsed MAterials for final disposal of nuclear waste (H2020)
  • Nuclear FiRST DTC and NGN: Next Generation Nuclear Doctoral Training Centre (EPSRC)

Professional Activities and Recognition

  • Recipient of the Royal Society of Chemistry Bill Newton Award for Outstanding Contributions to Radiochemistry, 2018.
  • Recipient of the Geological Society William Smith Fund for Excellence in Applied Geoscience, 2014.
  • Member of the EPSRC Peer Review Associate College
  • Member of the Swiss Light Source Panel Review Committee
  • Associate Editor for the Nature Research journal npj Materials Degradation
  • Associate Editor for the Mineralogical Magazine Journal
  • Membership of: Mineralogical Society of Great Britain and Ireland, American Ceramic Society, Society of Glass Technology

Research team

  • Dr. Sam Walling: Project GLAD
  • Dr. Theo Cordara: DisCo and ECR Fellowship
  • Dr. Clemence Gausse: Project CHIMP
  • Dr. Ritesh Mohun: Defect chemistry of UO2 fuels
  • Dr Seb Lawson: Atomic structure of UO2 fuels
  • Adam Fisher: Dissolution of UK HLW glass using advanced kinetic techniques (PhD candidate)
  • Antonia Yorkshire: Cement-radionuclide interactions (PhD candidate)
  • Rita Vasconcelos: Cement-groundwater interactions (PhD candidate)
  • Joe Pawley: Effect of container surface finish on decontamination (PhD candidate)
  • Hannah Smith: Effect of UO2 microstructure on dissolution kinetics (PhD candidate)
  • Max Cole: Atomic Structure of UO2 grain boundries (PhD candidate)

Selected media and public engagementDr Claire Corkhill publications

Selected publications

Full list available at Orcid

  • Kim M., Corkhill C. L., Hyatt N. C. and Heo J. Development, characterisation and dissolution of calcium-aluminoborate glass wasteforms to immobilise rare-earth oxides. Scientific Reports, 8, 5320 (2018) Full text available here
  • Vasconcelos R. G. W., Beaudoin N., Hamilton A., Hyatt N. C., Provis J. L., and Corkhill C. L. Characterisation of a high pH cement backfill for the geological disposal of nuclear waste: The Nirex Reference Vault Backfill. Applied Geochemistry, 89, 180 – 189 (2018) Full text available here
  • Chong S., Peterson J. A., Riley B. J., Tabada D., Wall D., Corkhill C. L. and McCloy J. S. Glass-bonded iodosodalite waste form for immobilisation of 129I. Journal of Nuclear Materials, 504, 109 – 121 (2018) Full text available here
  • Corkhill C. L., Crean D. E., Bailey D. J., Makepeace C., Stennett M. C., Tappero R., Grolimund D. and Hyatt N. C. Multi-scale investigation of uranium attenuation by arsenic at an abandoned uranium mine, South Terras. Nature Materials Degradation, 1, 19 (2017) Full text available here
  • Corkhill C. L., Bailey D. J., Tocino F. Y., Stennett M. C., Miller J. A., Provis J. L., Travis K. P. and Hyatt N. C. Role of microstructure and surface defects on the dissolution kinetics of CeO2, a UO2 fuel analogue. Applied Materials and Interfaces IN PRESS (2016) DOI: 10.1021/acsami.5b11323
  • Zhang H., Corkhill C. L., Heath P. G., Hand R. J. and Hyatt N. C. Effect of ZnO and CaO on the structure and chemical durability of alkali borosilicate glass immobilising simulated UK mixed HLW. Journal of Nuclear Materials, 462, 321 (2015) available here
  • Crean D. E., Corkhill C. L., Nicholls T., Tappero R., Collins J. M. and Hyatt N. C. Expanding the nuclear forensic toolkit: chemical profiling of uranium ore concentrate particles by synchrotron X-ray microanalysis. RSC Advances, 5, 87908 (2015)
  • Myllykylä E., Lavonen T., Stennett M. C., Corkhill C. L., Ollila K. and Hyatt N. C. Solution composition and particle size effects on the dissolution and solubility of a ThO2 analogue for UO2 nuclear fuel. Radiochimica Acta, 103, 565 (2015)
  • Gardner L. J., Bernal S. A., Walling S. A., Corkhill C. L., Provis J. L. and Hyatt N. C. Characterisation of magnesium potassium phosphate cements blended with fly ash and ground granulated blast furnace slag. Cement and Concrete Research, 74, 78 (2015) available here
  • Corkhill C. L., Myllykylä E., Bailey D. J., Thornber S. M., Qi J., Maldonado P., Stennett M. C., Hamilton A. and Hyatt N. C. The contribution of energetically reactive surface features to the dissolution of CeO2 and ThO2 analogues for spent nuclear fuel. ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, 6, 12279 (2014)
  • Corkhill C. L., Bridge J. W., Chen X. C., Hillel P., Thornton S. J., Romero-Gonzalez M. E, Banwart S. A and Hyatt N. C. Real-time gamma imaging of technetium transport through natural and engineered porous materials for radioactive waste disposal. Environmental Science and Technology, 47, 13857 (2013) Front cover image. Available here