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Fully-funded PhD Studentship in Ruthenium: Nuclear’s Volatile Problem


Department of Engineering

Monday, August 10, 2020 Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Ruthenium is a fission product possessed of two relatively long lived stable isotopes: Ru-103 (half life = 39.8 days) and Ru-106 (half life = 1 year). Both isotopes are present in UK spent fuel and so have had to be accounted for during the reprocessing or disposal of that fuel. At a number of stages during the processing of spent fuel, ruthenium can be exposed to high nitric acid, high temperature conditions that may lead to its transfer into the gas phase as ruthenium tetroxide. Two such stages are the dissolution of spent fuel into concentrated nitric acid at the start of reprocessing, and the vitrification of ruthenium into a glass waste form after reprocessing has occurred.
Volatilisation is to be avoided as the resultant gas phase ruthenium may then redeposit within metal pipework elsewhere in the plant which will then have to be decontaminated. However, ruthenium volatilisation occurs at unexpectedly low temperatures. Whilst RuO2 is not seen to volatilise below 900oC, gaseous ruthenium oxides have been seen to evolve from solutions of Ru in nitric acid at temperatures as low as 150oC – making the management of ruthenium difficult during reprocessing and vitrification.
Thus, given its volatile nature and high specific radioactivity ruthenium presents a strong challenge to the nuclear industry in effectively managing its abatement. Key challenges are to fully understand the highly complex solution/solid state chemistries that obtain not only under conditions relevant to dissolvers, evaporators and vitrification plants, but also in the decontamination methods used in its clean up. Using a combination of chemical, analytical and engineering approaches, we shall seek to address these challenges in this PhD. The specific objectives of the PhD will be to:
1) Develop gravimetric, mass spectroscopic, electrochemical and spectroscopic analytical methods that will improve the understanding of ruthenium speciation in high nitric acid environments and oxidation state interconversion during oxidative / thermal treatment of same.
2) Using these methods, to establish the kinetics of interconversion between ruthenium species, most especially Ru(III) to Ru(IV) and Ru(VIII) and Ru(IV) to Ru(VIII), and the resultant product distributions of these processes.
3) To establish the influence that Ru(III) complexation may have on these interconversions and the role that RuO2 may have in supporting or inhibiting volatilisation.
4) Establish the mechanism by which other fission product metal ions such as Ce(IV) may oxidise and thus potentially volatilise ruthenium.
5) Investigate the role that key NOx species such as NO and HNO2 may have on oxidising Ru(III) directly or inhibiting the putative Ce(IV)-driven oxidation of Ru(III).
This studentship is offered as part of the “Growing skills for Reliable Economic Energy from Nuclear” (GREEN) Centre for Doctoral Training (https://www.nuclear-energy-cdt.manchester.ac.uk/), a collaboration between the Universities of Lancaster, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield. GREEN aims to develop and deliver the research and skills required to address key challenges in the field of nuclear energy across the entire fuel cycle.

Deadline for applications: 10th August 2020
Interview date: On or shortly after 17th August 2020

Studying within the Engineering Department at Lancaster
Through its Engineering Department, Lancaster hosts one of the UK’s strongest university nuclear centres with internationally recognised capabilities in: nuclear process chemistry; actinide (electro-)chemistry, radiation detection & safe guards. With a nuclear research portfolio of >£12M, they receive funding from, inter alia, IAEA, the UK research councils (EPSRC, NERC), InnovateUK, UK Government’s Office of Nuclear Development, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the EU and numerous industrial bodies including Sellafield Sites Ltd, the UK National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) and Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd. This work is also with a number of SMEs also, including Createc Ltd., REACT Engineering Ltd., Centronic, JCS Ltd.
Internationally, Lancaster has extensive links with the US and collaborate widely in Europe. Lancaster is host to UTGARD Lab (Uranium / Thorium Beta-Gamma Activity R&D Laboratory). Funded by the UK Government, UTGARD Lab is a process chemistry and materials preparation laboratory for work on beta/gamma active fission products, U, Th and low level alpha tracers. UTGARD is a national facility for the study of nuclear process chemistry and spent nuclear fuel simulants, offered to external users on an open access basis through the UK National Nuclear Users’ Facility (NNUF).

Funding Notes

Applicants should have a First or Upper Second Class UK honours degree, or equivalent, in a relevant subject such as chemical engineering, nuclear engineering, materials science, chemistry, radiochemistry or related disciplines.

Supported by the EPSRC and Sellafield Ltd this studentship, funded through the GREEN Centre for Doctoral Training, is available to start from 1st October 2020. For UK/EU applicants the studentship is fully funded for 4 years, covering fees and a maintenance grant (£15,285) (all tax free).

For further information contact:
Professor Colin Boxall (Email: , Tel: +44 (0) 781 405 5964). Please include a CV with your enquiry.

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