Our researchers launch world’s first long duration synchrotron experiment

Researchers from the Department, in partnership with Diamond Light Source, have launched the world's first long duration synchrotron radiation experiment, to understand how cement materials used in nuclear waste disposal behave in the long-term.

The research, led by Dr. Claire Corkhill, comes as the UK Government are undertaking a ‘site selection’ process to find a suitable site for a geological disposal facility for nuclear waste. The site will need to be a highly engineered facility several hundreds of metres below ground that is designed to safely store the waste arising from nuclear power generation for 100,000 years.

Developing an understanding of the long-term behaviour of nuclear waste cements is vital in the geological disposal site selection process, as it will help give the public and regulators confidence in the materials designed to safely store nuclear waste.

When water is added to cement, the minerals within the cement powder slowly hydrate in a process that can take many years. It is very important to understand the rate at which hydration occurs so we can predict the behaviour of cements in the long term. The unique facilities at Diamond will enable us to follow this reaction in-situ for a period of months to years, longer than anyone has ever achieved.


Diamond Light Source is the UK’s national synchrotron science facility, funded as a joint venture by the UK Government through the Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC) in partnership with the Wellcome Trust. Access to the facilities at Diamond is helping researchers from the UK and around the world to study a range of fields, from health and medicine, to technology and materials, through to energy science and engineering.

Diamond’s unique long duration facility can be applied to 20 different experiments at any one time and is currently being used to study changes to Arctic sea ice, battery deterioration and the long-term behaviour of drugs under certain conditions. The Sheffield NucleUS group seek to understand the interaction of radionuclides with environmental materials on an atomic scale and to predict how the interaction could affect the engineering and environment of geological disposal facility over hundreds of thousands of years.

Dr Corkhill’s experiments will monitor changes in the cement materials by measuring high resolution diffraction patterns on the I11-1 beamline at Diamond, on a regular basis, for 2 years in the first instance. Her research, supported by a University of Sheffield Vice Chancellor’s Fellowship, focuses on different but integrated aspects of the materials science of nuclear waste geological disposal, and aims to ensure that the UK’s future geological disposal facility is built using the most state-of-the-art and cutting edge science available.

Further information

Dr Corkhill presented her research into radioactive waste containment at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Washington D.C on Sunday 14 February.

The NucleUS Immobilisation Science Laboratory group was set up in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in 2001 as one of four BNFL University Research Alliances, with a focus on radioactive waste research. Since then, the group has significantly grown to encompass 9 academic staff, 13 research staff and 41 PhD students, with research spanning radioactive waste materials, geological disposal, nuclear fuels and reactor materials, and nuclear waste policy. The group currently has a live grant portfolio in excess of £15M, with current grants spanning the next 5 years.

We are a key member of the University of Sheffield's Energy2050 research institute, which has a strategic vision to develop energy technology and train the next generation of energy leaders by 2050. The NucleUS Immobilisation Science Laboratory is the spearhead of Energy2050's nuclear energy research and we work closely with other parts of the University in our research, for example, the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre. The group is also part of the national training centre for nuclear PhDs. The group's strategic vision is closely aligned with that of Energy2050, thus we hope to be continuing our research in 2050 and beyond.

Diamond Light Source is funded by the UK Government through the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), and by the Wellcome Trust. Diamond generates extremely intense pin-point beams of synchrotron light. These are of exceptional quality, and range from X-rays to ultra-violet to infrared. Diamond’s X-rays are around 10 billion times brighter than the sun.

Diamond Light Source is used by over 8,000 academic and industrial researchers across a wide range of disciplines, including structural biology, health and medicine, solid-state physics, materials & magnetism, nanoscience, electronics, earth & environmental sciences, chemistry, cultural heritage, energy and engineering. Many everyday commodities that we take for granted, from food manufacturing to consumer products, from revolutionary drugs to surgical tools, from computers to mobile phones, have all been developed or improved using synchrotron light. For more information about Diamond visit www.diamond.ac.uk