New research to develop technologies to detect and process radioactive waste has been awarded funding in partnership by the UK and Japanese governments.
The research, led by academics from the universities of Sheffield and Strathclyde, will support work to decommission the Sellafield Nuclear Plant in the UK, and the removal of radioactive debris from the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan.
Sheffield will lead one of two projects, which have been awarded a share of £1 million, delivered by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation.
The projects will address challenges in radioactive waste treatment, packaging, and storage; remote handling, robotic, and autonomous systems in decommissioning; and the environmental behaviour of radionuclide release, and management of risk and degraded infrastructure
Dr Brant Walkley, from Sheffield’s Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering, will lead a study to use calcined clays as natural resources to engineer ‘geopolymer binders’.
The binders will, it is claimed, safely cement solid radioactive fuel debris from molten core concrete comprising metallic alloys, oxides, and silicates, and slurries and sediments.
He said: “It is excellent news that UKRI and MEXT [Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science & Technology] have chosen to fund this research that will tackle immediate and significant challenges with processing and safe disposal of radioactive waste from the Sellafield and Fukushima sites …
“This research brings together global academic leaders from the University of Sheffield and Hokkaido University, as well leading UK industrialists from Sellafield Ltd and National Nuclear Laboratory.
“Working together we will use calcined clays as natural resources to produce robust, multifunctional, and highly effective geopolymer binders for long-term management and disposal of degraded fuels and contaminated wastes in Japan and UK nuclear sectors. This is a critical challenge that must be overcome to safely decommission both the Sellafield and Fukushima sites.”
The UK-Japan Civil Nuclear Research programme is a partnership between UK Research and Innovation and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT).
Science minister George Freeman said: “After I launched the International Science Partnerships Fund in Japan last year, it is only fitting that our first UKRI award from the Fund is in partnership with Japan too.
“Processing nuclear waste is an enormous challenge for human civilisation. Bringing together the UK and Japan’s brightest minds, to focus our shared expertise in sensing, data, chemistry and more, cuts to the core of what this fund and our science superpower mission is all about – harnessing UK scientific leadership through deeper international collaboration for global good, to tackle the most pressing needs facing humanity.”
Professor Christopher Smith, international champion at UKRI, added: “Experts from across the UK and Japan will work together to find innovative solutions to safely detect and dispose of radioactive nuclear debris to protect and safeguard local environments now and for future generations.”
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