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Fully-funded PhD Studentship in Material Social Futures: Safer nuclear fuels for a sustainable world - October 2019 start

Project Description

The Leverhulme Centre for Material Social Futures Research
Lancaster University’s Leverhulme Doctoral Training Centre in Material Social Futures is a major new strategic collaborative partnership between two of the university’s recently formed research Institutes – the Material Science Institute and the Institute for Social Futures. Based in the Department of Engineering you will be part of a growing team of PhDs working to create more sustainable and socially beneficial futures. You will be trained to engage in diverse aspects of materials discovery and the analysis of social and economic structures to achieve these ends. In short, the goal of PhDs in Material Social Futures will be to help produce futures that people want and the world needs.

Lancaster University is one of the top 10 universities in the UK. Housed in a brand new, award winning building, the Engineering Department is rated in the top 10 in the UK with 100% of our research impact being world-leading and internationally excellent (REF2014). The project will benefit from full access to the state-of-the-art facilities of in the new Engineering Department and unique active laboratory.

An expanding global population, burgeoning middle class and a technological revolution is fuelling an ever-increasing demand for energy. Meeting this demand will require a multifaceted approach encompassing innovative technological and societal developments. Under most probable scenarios nuclear power has an important role to play in the future global energy landscape. Nuclear power is an established technology already responsible for 20% of electricity production, however, recent events at Fukushima have highlighted the need for improvements in the underlying technology. The industry has responded with the development of accident tolerant fuels (ATFs).

ATFs are designed to maintain their structural integrity when exposed to the extreme conditions present during an incident. Their higher thermal conductivities and specific heats coupled with lower thermal expansion ensure they are significantly less likely to meltdown during an incident. The major obstacle to their deployment in reactor is our lack of understanding of how these new fuels evolve during operation, with the crucial technological question being: Do ATFs maintain their accident tolerance during operation? It is this important question that you will seek to address.

While technological developments, such as ATFs, may enhance reactor safety, incidents such as Fukushima play a key role in informing the public narrative surrounding nuclear technologies more generally. Ultimately, this narrative will determine how willing the public are to embrace these technologies and consequently nuclear energy cannot be discussed in purely technical terms. You will therefore, work closely with the related project “Narrative and Nuclear Materials” to develop a multidimensional understanding of a nuclear future.

This project
During operation nuclear fuels undergo extreme compositional changes with as much as 5% of the initial uranium being replaced with fission products. The fission products encompass a wide range of chemistries, including alkali and transition metals, halogens and the noble gasses. Incorporation of the fission products has a dramatic impact on the fuel’s properties and may have a deleterious impact on performance.

Particularly important from a safety perspective are the noble gasses xenon and krypton. Insoluble in the fuel matrix these fission gasses form bubbles causing swelling that exerts pressure on the fuel cladding. This can lead to clad failure and release of radioactive material into the coolant. Understanding of the fission gas behaviour in existing oxide fuels is extensive, however, there is little similar work available for the ATFs. Therefore, this project will use atomistic simulation techniques to study fission gas behaviour in UN and U3Si2 accident tolerant fuels. With the ultimate goal of developing a fission gas release model specifically for ATFs.

Accident tolerant fuels may offer a technical solution to the safety issues exposed at Fukushima, but how will the public respond? What does it say about the industry that its latest technological innovation immediately raise the spectre of the events such as Chernobyl and Fukushima by referencing accidents in the title? This project will take an holistic view of ATFs, developing the technologies while exploring how narrative and semantics inform public willingness to embrace a nuclear future.

Candidates should have or expect to obtain soon an undergraduate degree at 2.1 minimum in physics, chemistry, materials science/engineering or similar.

Funding Notes

• Full payment of fees (standard RCUK rate);
• A maintenance stipend (£14,777 pa);
• Access to a Research Training Support Grant (RTSG) for reimbursement of research-related expenses including conference attendance, training courses and equipment of at least £800 p.a.;
• Access to a range of training and development provided by the Material Social Futures PhD Programme, the Department of Languages and Cultures, the Engineering Department, the Faculty of Science and Technology, the Institute for Social Futures and Lancaster University;
• The Material Social Futures PhD programme will offer internships in the second and/or third year of training.

Related Subjects

How good is research at Lancaster University in General Engineering?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 24.98

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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