Research into the safe disposal of nuclear waste receives £1.5 million boost

Dr. Claire Corkhill has been awarded £1.5 million from an EPSRC Early Career Research Fellowship to support her research in the disposal of nuclear waste.

Dr. Claire Corkhill’s research will investigate the durability of spent nuclear fuel by building the first ever model of the structure and chemistry of this radioactive waste material and assess its long-term stability under simulated geological disposal conditions by using novel imaging techniques.

Over 60 years of using nuclear energy the UK has generated a legacy of nuclear waste with a volume capable of filling Wembley Stadium (450,000m3). The disposal solution for this waste must be long-lived as it will remain radioactive for more than 100,000 years.

The UK Government has opted for a geological disposal solution, the proposed facility will be 40 times deeper than the London Underground and is planned to isolate the waste from future populations.

The potential for radioactive elements released into the environment are extremely low, but over the long time scales there is a concern that groundwater may begin slowly dissolve radioactive waste and Dr Corkhill’s research will address this.

Dr. Corkhill summarises: “Ultimately, we aim to enhance our understanding of the safety of the long-term management of nuclear waste in the UK and worldwide, and hope to increase public confidence of geological disposal concepts. This funding will significantly influence the realisation of these objectives."

We welcome this substantial and timely investment in the future leadership of nuclear engineering. The Department is proud to host this research which will play a pivotal role in supporting the safety case for radioactive waste disposal.

PROFESSOR NEIL HYATT / HEAD OF DEPARTMENT OF MATERIALS SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING

The research is timely as the UK Government is currently undertaking a site selection process for the proposed facility.

The work proposed strongly complements scoping research on active materials currently being carried out and addresses a clear need identified in our future work programme.

DR. CRISTIANO PADOVANI / RADIOACTIVE WASTE MANAGEMENT LIMITED

The research will take place in the state-of-the-art, radioactive materials characterisation facility in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering – The MIDAS Collaboratory, funded in part by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change. Part of the funding will also be used, in collaboration with Dr. Susan Molyneux-Hodgson from the Department of Social Sciences, to explore socio-technical aspects of nuclear waste disposal.