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Fully-funded PhD Studentship in The Safe Storage of Plutonium Oxide


Department of Engineering

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Prof C Boxall No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

The safe and secure storage of plutonium (Pu) materials is a matter of international concern with ~250 tonnes of separated Pu stockpiled worldwide. Over half of this, resulting from ~50 years civil nuclear fuel reprocessing, is in long term storage in the UK whilst the Government considers options for its final treatment and disposition. This Pu is stored as calcined PuO2 powder in nested, sealed steel storage cans. Under certain circumstances, gas generation may occur with consequent storage package pressurisation. In practice, this is rarely seen and empirically derived criteria are used to maintain safe storage conditions. Nonetheless, this is a potential scenario that must be avoided in practice – thus the fundamental mechanisms that could lead to pressurisation must be understood. 5 main routes have been suggested:
(i) Helium accumulation from alpha decay;
(ii) Decomposition of polymeric packing material;
(iii) Steam produced by H2O desorption from hygroscopic PuO2 due to self-heating;
(iv) Radiolysis of adsorbed water; and,
(v) Generation of H2 by chemical reaction of PuO2 with H2O.
The last 4 mechanisms are being studied as part of the work of the EPSRC TRANSCEND (TRANSformative SCience & Engineering for Nuclear Decommissiong) consortium (www.transcendconsortium.org). This project, a collaboration between the University of Lancaster, the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) and Sellafield Ltd, seeks to understand the role that the first of these mechanisms, helium from alpha decay, might play in pressurisation. Innovative sample preparation and thermal / gravimetric analysis methods for the study of this will first be developed at the university and then deployed on real samples at NNL. Data & knowledge generated will be transferred to Sellafield Ltd via the NNL and used in better underpinning of the Pu storage safety cases.
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.

Interview Details
Deadline for applications: 8th 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: [Email Address Removed], Tel: +44 (0) 781 405 5964). Please include a CV with your enquiry.


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