The UK has a significant inventory of nuclear waste (450,000 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:
1. Grain boundaries – the route to failure of nuclear waste forms in geological disposal? This project explores the role of ceramic microstructures in the dissolution kinetics of spent fuel analogues, through the development of innovative in-situ dissolution imaging techniques.
2. State-of-the-art determination of nuclear waste glass durability in sub-surface environments. In this project, the role of different geochemical conditions on the dissolution kinetics of a range of simulant UK HLW and ILW glass are investigated.
3. High resolution spectroscopic determination of radionuclide – cement interactions. Through application of sophisticated spatially-resolved synchrotron X-ray techniques, solid-state NMR and thermodynamic modelling, this project 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 in the Department of Sociological Sciences, 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.
Professional Activities and Recognition
- Dr. Clare Thorpe: Glass Leaching Assessment for Durability (GLAD) (PDRA; US Department of Energy)
- Colleen Mann: Dissolution of ILW glass in cementitous groundwater (PhD; Nuclear FiRST CDT)
- Adam Fisher: Dissolution of UK HLW glass using advanced kinetic techniques (PhD; NGN CDT & RWM Ltd.)
- Antonia Yorkshire: Cement-radionuclide interactions (PhD; NDA case award)
- Rita Vasconcelos: Cement-groundwater interactions (PhD; H2020 & RWM Ltd.)
- Joe Pawley: Effect of container surface finish on decontamination (PhD; NGN CDT & Sellafield Ltd.)
Impact and public engagement
- The Conversation: We still don’t know the health hazards of a nuclear accident
- The world’s first long duration experiment: understanding long-term nuclear waste performance film
- Interviewed by the BBC news (Long term cement study seeks nuclear waste solution).
- Interviewed by The Observer newspaper (Britain leads race to make nuclear waste safe for 100,000 years).
- Panellist at the American Association for the Advancement of Science “Cleaner Energy Solutions” session, “Nuclear Power: Digging Deep and Aiming High”, Washington DC, Feb 2016
- "Nuclear waste: How to solve a million year problem?” Public talk given in Washington DC, Feb 2016.
- University of Sheffield Wall of Women film.
- Featured in Inside Diamond and Diamond News magazines, and Diamond Snapshots.
- Sheffield Science and Engineering Festival: “Keeping the lights on with nuclear - but how?” workshop to Y8, 10 & 11
- Discovery Night, 2015.
- STEM Ambassador.
- Mentor for the Sheffield Engineering Leadership Academy.
- Girls in STEM: Chocolate testing demonstration / Materials Science education.
- "What to do with it all? A hands-on look at radioactive waste disposal in the UK". The Mobile University public lecture.
Full list available at Orcid
- 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
- Cassingham N. J., Corkhill C. L., Backhouse D. J., Hand R. J. and Hyatt N. C. The dissolution rates of simulated UK Magnox-Thorp blend nuclear waste glass as a function of pH, temperature and waste loading. Mineralogical Magazine, 79, 1529 (2015) available here
- 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