Professor Claire Corkhill
PhD Mineralogy and biogeochemistry, MEarthSci Geology (Honours)
Department of Materials Science and Engineering
Chair in Nuclear Material Degradation and EPSRC Early Career Research Fellow and Reader
+44 114 222 3632
Full contact details
Department of Materials Science and Engineering
Sir Robert Hadfield Building
Claire holds a Chair in nuclear material degradation, working in the Immobilisation Science Laboratory at the University of Sheffield. With a PhD in Geology and research experience in mineral and material dissolution, her research focuses on understanding the long-term evolution of radioactive waste material in disposal environments.
As a member of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, she provides independent advice to, and scrutiny of, the UK government's radioactive waste management and disposal policies and practices.
- Research interests
The UK has a significant inventory of nuclear waste (650,000 cubic metres - enough to fill 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, which is carefully designed to reduce the likelihood of radioactive substances escaping to the environment. It uses a multi-barrier concept, where several layers of containment made from a number of different materials prevent groundwater reaching the waste, preventing the 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:
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.
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 radionuclide interactions:
High-resolution spectroscopic determination of radionuclide – cement interactions. Through the 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.
Plutonium wasteform degradation:
Upon the completion of nuclear fuel reprocessing in the UK, there will be approximately 135 teHM (tonnes-equivalent-heavy-metal) of separated PuO2, stored as a zero value asset at the Sellafield site. One option currently under consideration for the long-term management of this material is disposal in a geological disposal facility. Claire’s team are developing titanate ceramic wasteforms and “disposal-MOX” materials as plutonium immobilisation matrices, and are evaluating their degradation by radiation and aqueous media relevant to disposal scenarios.
- Critical Analysis of Spent Fuel Structure in Radionuclide Release (EPSRC ECR Fellowship)
- Long-term Evolution of Candidate Plutonium Wasteforms (Radioactive Waste Management Limited)
- PLEIADES (Platform for Long-term Experimental Investigation of Alteration in Disposal Environments and Storage) Facility: Part of the UK National Nuclear User Facility (EPSRC)
- HADES (High Active Decommissioning Engineering and Science) Facility Part of the UK National Nuclear User Facility (EPSRC)
- Transcend: Transformative Science and Engineering for Decommissioning Research (EPSRC/ Radioactive Waste Management Limited)
- ATLANTIC: Accident ToLerANT fuels In reCylcing (EPSRC)
- Project GLAD: Glass Leaching Assessment for Durability (US Department of Energy, Office of River Protection)
- PREDIS: The pre-disposal management of radioactive waste (EU H2020)
- Isolation of 14C species from spent ion exchange resins and their stabilisation, a joint UK-Korea project (EPSRC)
- Next Generation Nuclear and GREEN Centres for Doctoral Training (EPSRC)
- Surface interfacial analysis of simulant high level nuclear waste glass dissolved in synthetic cement solutions. npj Materials Degradation, 6(1).
- Investigating the mechanical behaviour of Fukushima MCCI using synchrotron Xray tomography and digital volume correlation. npj Materials Degradation, 6(1).
- Phase evolution in the CaZrTi2O7–Dy2Ti2O7 system : a potential host phase for minor actinide immobilization. Inorganic Chemistry, 61(15), 5744-5756.
- Benefits of using multiple Raman laser wavelengths for characterizing defects in a UO2 matrix. Journal of Raman Spectroscopy. View this article in WRRO
- Chemical characterisation of degraded nuclear fuel analogues simulating the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. npj Materials Degradation, 6(1).
- Spectroscopic evaluation of UVI–cement mineral interactions: ettringite and hydrotalcite. Journal of Synchrotron Radiation, 29(1).
- HERMES – a GUI-based software tool for pre-processing of X-ray absorption spectroscopy data from laboratory Rowland circle spectrometers. Journal of Synchrotron Radiation, 29(1), 276-279. View this article in WRRO
- Fenton and Fenton-like wet oxidation for degradation and destruction of organic radioactive wastes. npj Materials Degradation, 5(1).
- Forty years of durability assessment of nuclear waste glass by standard methods. npj Materials Degradation, 5(1).
- Applying laboratory methods for durability assessment of vitrified material to archaeological samples. npj Materials Degradation, 5(1). View this article in WRRO
- Chemical state mapping of simulant Chernobyl lava-like fuel containing material using micro-focused synchrotron X-ray spectroscopy. Journal of Synchrotron Radiation, 28(6). View this article in WRRO
- ‘Among his fellows cast’ : a histotaphonomic investigation into the impact of the Black Death in England. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 39. View this article in WRRO
- Bending bad—testing caramel wafer bars (#TestATunnocks). Physics Education, 56(5), 055002-055002.
- Characterisation and Durability of a Vitrified Wasteform for Simulated Chrompik III Waste. Journal of Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Waste Technology(JNFCWT), 19(3), 339-352.
- Synthesis of Ca1-xCexZrTi2-2xAl2xO7 zirconolite ceramics for plutonium disposition. Journal of Nuclear Materials, 556, 153198-153198.
- Review of zirconolite crystal chemistry and aqueous durability. Advances in Applied Ceramics.
- Early age hydration and application of blended magnesium potassium phosphate cements for reduced corrosion of reactive metals. Cement and Concrete Research, 143, 106375-106375.
- A preliminary investigation of the molten salt mediated synthesis of Gd
2TiO 5‘stuffed’ pyrochlore. MRS Advances, 6(4-5), 149-153.
- Synthesis and characterisation of HIP Ca0.80Ce0.20ZrTi1.60Cr0.40O7 zirconolite and observations of the ceramic–canister interface. MRS Advances, 1-7.
- Thermal treatment of nuclear fuel-containing Magnox sludge radioactive waste. Journal of Nuclear Materials.
- Temperature transformation of blended magnesium potassium phosphate cement binders. Cement and Concrete Research, 141, 106332-106332.
- Investigating the microstructure and mechanical behaviour of simulant “lava-like” fuel containing materials from the Chernobyl reactor unit 4 meltdown. Materials & Design, 201.
- Thermal treatment of Cs-exchanged chabazite by hot isostatic pressing to support decommissioning of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Journal of Hazardous Materials. View this article in WRRO
- Characterisation and disposability assessment of multi-waste stream in-container vitrified products for higher activity radioactive waste. Journal of Hazardous Materials, 401. View this article in WRRO
- Assessment of positrons for defect studies in CeO
2materials. MRS Advances.
- Synthesis, structure and characterisation of the thorium zirconolite CaZr1‐xThxTi2O7 system. Journal of the American Ceramic Society. View this article in WRRO
- Characterization of Cebama low-pH reference concrete and assessment of its alteration with representative waters in radioactive waste repositories. Applied Geochemistry, 121, 104703-104703.
- Research group
- Dr Clare Thorpe: EPSRC and David Clarke Postdoctoral Research Fellow
- Dr Sarah Pepper: PLEIADES Experimental Officer
- Dr Amber Mason: RWM plutonium wasteform evolution
- Dr Lewis Blackburn: RWM plutonium wasteform evolution
- Dr Chris-Dixon Wilkins: TRANSCEND
- Dr Ramya Ravikumar: Project GLAD
- Dr Ritesh Mohun: Defect chemistry of UO2 fuels
- Dr Josh Radford: SIMfuel synthesis and characterisation
- Hannah Smith: Doped UO2 fuels (PhD candidate, NGN CDT)
- Max Cole: UO2 grain boundaries (PhD candidate)
- Dan Parkes: Characterisation and long-term behaviour of vitrified ILW (PhD candidate, NDA)
- Jenny Ayling: Role of groundwater composition on glass dissolution (PhD candidate, NNL)
- Rachel Crawford: Effect of canister corrosion products on glass dissolution (PhD candidate, GREEN CDT)
- Ishy Aldean: Dissolution of plutonium wasteforms (PhD candidate, GREEN CDT)
- Latham Haigh: Radiation effects on plutonium wasteform dissolution (PhD candidate, GREEN CDT)
- Dr Daniel Bailey
- Dr Laura Gardner
- Dr Luke Townsend
- Dr Sam Walling
- Professional activities
- Member, HM Treasury Energy Working Group of the Green Taxonomy
- Materials Theme Lead of the RWM Research Support Office
- Member, HM Government Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM)
- 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
Selected media appearances:
- BBC Ideas documentary, The Nuclear Dilemma
- Channel 5 documentary, “Russia vs The World”, on 1000 years of Russian history, including the Chernobyl accident
- Online documentary: We should be talking about nuclear waste
- ITV This Morning: The truth behind the hit TV series Chernobyl
- BBC World Service Science in Action: New evidence of nuclear reactor explosion
- The Conversation: Nuclear waste is piling up - government's need to stop dithering and take action
- Women in Engineering
We interviewed Claire when she was a Vice Chancellor's Research Fellow for the Wall of Women. Here's Claire's video:
The Wall of Women profiles were taken over a 4/5 year time period and are a snapshot of what our engineers were doing at that time.