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Capability Development for Probing AGR Fuel Cladding Performance

   Department of Materials

About the Project

Spent fuel from our Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors (AGR) is stored in pH-moderated water ponds. Corrosion-related failures of stainless steel fuel cladding have been reported in the past, but an understanding of the underlying mechanism is still at large, due the complicated nature of replicating real test scenarios and environments. This PhD project is centred on developing capability for better understanding the performance of AGR fuel cladding, when subjected to the effects of strain and changes in exposure environment, such as pH and electro-chemical potential.

The overarching goal is to provide a new methodology and confidence in assessing AGR fuel cladding, that can further be transferred to hot cell working conditions. The project aims to provide (i) a new approach for developing capability for in-situ straining, corrosion, and stress corrosion testing of AGR fuel cladding, (ii) transferable knowledge/skills for probing AGR cladding in a hot-cell set-up, and (iii) to assess Raman spectroscopy as a potential tool for fuel cladding inspection. Finite Element (FE) modelling will be carried out to support methodology development. The student will be trained in materials engineering, metallurgy, chemistry, with a focus on corrosion science & engineering.

The project is based at NNL’s Workington Laboratory (Cumbria) as part of the Centre for Innovative Nuclear Decommissioning (CINDe), providing access to a unique set-up to mimic handling materials under hot cell conditions. The Ph.D. student will
be embedded within a combined industry/academic team at NNL’s Workington Labs, with a focus on innovative projects addressing complex challenges. Direct access to the University of Manchester’s Dalton Cumbrian Facility (DCF; west Lakes) and characterisation techniques within the Department of Materials (at Manchester) will form part of the project, with the student also expected to carry out research at these sites.

Studying within the CINDe: This is a partnership between the Universities of Manchester, Liverpool, Lancaster and Cumbria with Sellafield Ltd and the National Nuclear Laboratory. Its mission is to innovate and deliver future engineering leaders, supporting the UK’s nuclear decommissioning programme in west Cumbria. The centre is located at the National Nuclear Laboratory’s state-of-the-art facilities
in Workington, Cumbria, which is on the edge of the Lake District National Park. The nature of this PhD research programme means that we must comply with the Government’s protective security procedures. This means that all students will be subject to a base line standard security check.

Academic background of candidates 

Applicants should have a 1st or 2.1 UK honours degree, or equivalent, in a relevant subject such as mechanical or nuclear engineering, materials science, chemistry, physics or related disciplines.

At the University of Manchester, we pride ourselves on our commitment to fairness, inclusion and respect in everything we do. We welcome applications from people of all backgrounds and identities, and encourage you to bring your whole self to work and study. We will ensure that your application is given full consideration without regard to your race, religion, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, nationality, disability, age, marital or pregnancy status, or socioeconomic background. All PhD places will be awarded on the basis of merit.

Contact for further Information

Prof. Dirk Engelberg –

Funding Notes

This is a 4 year EPSRC iCASE studentship with National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL). Funding will cover fees and stipend (£16,062 in 2022-23, with a £2,000 per annum stipend top up).
Open to Home students only
We expect the programme to commence in October 2022, although alternate start dates of January 2023 and April 2023 may also be available.


[1] Clark RN, Chan CM, Walters WS, Engelberg D, Williams G. Intergranular and Pitting Corrosion in Sensitized and Unsensitized 20Cr-25Ni-Nb Austenitic Stainless Steel. Corrosion. 2021.
[2] Clark RN, Chan CM, Martin TL, Walters WS, Engelberg D, Burrows R et al. The Effect of Sodium Hydroxide on Niobium Carbide Precipitates in Thermally Sensitised 20Cr-25Ni-Nb Austenitic Stainless Steel. Corrosion Science, Manuscript 108596, 2020.

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