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New research to focus on challenges of nuclear decommissioning

21 January 2014

A new research programme that will include input from ten UK universities is to focus on some of the key challenges of the UK's nuclear legacy.

A multi-million pound four-year research programme will combine the expertise of the nuclear industry with 10 universities to focus on some of the key challenges of the UK's nuclear legacy and help build the next generation of nuclear experts.

The National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and Sellafield Limited are collaborating, along with the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the consortium of UK universities on 30 separate projects which focus on four themes:

- AGR, Magnox and Exotic Spent Fuel
- Plutonium oxide and Fuel Residues
- Legacy Ponds and Silos Wastes
- Infrastructure characterisation, restoration and preservation

The programme, with an overall value of £8-9 million, is underpinned by a £4.9 million grant from the EPSRC, and will be carried out under the acronym DISTINCTIVE(Decommissioning, Immobilisation and Storage soluTIons for NuClear wasTe InVEntories), and follows an earlier successful programme known as DIAMOND. This grant will be supplemented by additional financial and in-kind support from NNL, NDA, Sellafield Ltd and the universities.

Starting in February 2014, the work will include technology development, building fundamental knowledge and developing the next generation of subject matter experts. Those working on the projects will include a mixture of PhDs and Post-Doctoral Research Assistants (PDRAs). Each project will have an industrial supervisor from either NNL or Sellafield Limited.

The consortium of universities is led by Leeds, and includes Birmingham, Bristol, Imperial, Lancaster, Loughborough, Manchester, Sheffield, Strathclyde and UCL.

NNL's Chief Science and Technology Officer, Graham Fairhall, said: "This is great news and we are grateful to EPSRC for their substantial support. Having ten of the UK's leading universities working collaboratively with industry in this important area makes this a very significant programme.

"We are pleased to be involved in a number of ways, including supervision of more than half of the projects and making the world-leading facilities in our Central Laboratory on the Sellafield site available to support several strands of the work." 

The NDA's Head of Research and Development Melanie Brownridge said: "Our industry benefits hugely when high-level academic research is focused at some of the challenges we face in decommissioning our nuclear legacy.

"We welcome this collaboration and look forward to seeing the progress that these important projects will deliver. Equally valuable will be the development of knowledge and expertise for the participants - we hope their skills with be with us for many years ahead."

Sellafield Ltd's Research Alliance Manager Neil Smart said: "Today Sellafield faces a challenge where there is no blueprint; emptying and demolishing some of the most difficult and complex nuclear buildings in the world - the decommissioning of historic reactors, reprocessing facilities and associated legacy ponds and Silos.

"This massive challenge is however an opportunity to demonstrate that Sellafield is still at the forefront of the UK's nuclear industry and we are delighted that the EPSRC is supporting appropriate academic research that will contribute to the scientific and technical underpinning of our mission. 

"We look forward to engaging in these projects and benefiting from the outcomes, not only in terms of the science and technology but also skilled people developed through these projects with the potential to enhance our workforce long into the future."

Principal Investigator for the DISTINCTIVE programme, Professor Simon Biggs of University of Leeds said: "This research consortium represents an important stage in reinforcing the industry-academia links that have begun to grow in recent years and provides key support to underpin an academic skill base in this crucial area for the UK.

"The world-leading team of experts provides both depth and breadth across the areas of current research needs and the strong support of our industry partners validates the research programme we will undertake. These are exciting times and we look forward to helping the industry move forwards on its mission to safely and cost effectively clean up the legacy from the UK's historic civil nuclear programme."


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