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Graphite Core Dismantling for Minimising Graphite Waste Volume

   Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering

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  Prof Abbie Jones, Dr Alex Theodosiou  Applications accepted all year round  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

This project is based at the National Nuclear Laboratory’s Workington facility within the CINDe PhD hub and is in collaboration with the University of Manchester. We are seeking a candidate with a 2.1 or 1st class degree in a STEM discipline.

This project is sponsored by NNL; as such NNL have offered an enhanced stipend over the 4 years. This also includes an additional travel allowance for travel to Manchester to undertake some experimental activities as and when required.

Over the last 15 years, researchers at the Nuclear Graphite Group at Manchester University and NNL have been at the forefront of scientific and technological developments on nuclear graphite decommissioning.

The objective of this project is to explore a novel dismantling and decommissioning technique called “Nibble and Vacuum” for retrieving the core graphite from the reactors. Although this technique has been previously proposed for graphite, the technology development is low, and is limited to basic concept studies. This dismantling method is turns the large volumes of graphite components into crushed graphite that can then be readily used for waste minimisation methods, such as bulk oxidation or Hot Isostatic Pressing (HIP). Significant work has been completed on the former by UoM so this work will focus on the latter, to enable industrial scale-up with the project partners at the National Nuclear laboratory. The research will include assessment and optimisation of “Nibble and Vac” and HIP as a decommissioning method for irradiated graphite using NNL’s unique radioactive facilities. Characterisation of the graphite and its properties will be undertaken before and after HIPing, using a range of state-of-the-art techniques housed at NNL and within the newly opened Henry Royce Institute for Advanced Materials Research (

The optimum achievable volume minimisation method will be established followed by leaching tests on the HIPed graphite to determine its efficiency as an immobilisation method.

With a legacy of ~100,000 tonnes of irradiated graphite in the UK and ~300,000 tonnes worldwide, an innovative decommissioning solution like this can have a significant impact on reducing the costs of managing this irradiated waste stream. Furthermore, this work can pave the way for the design and licensing of future High Temperature Reactors (HTRs) that also use graphite as the moderator.

The research is likely to use NNL, Royce and NNUF equipment including:

-          Optical Microscopy, Liquid Scintillation Counting, machining, HIP (potentially Sheffield)

-          Laser Raman, Plasma FIB, SEM, TEM (ROYCE) and HAXPS

-          FIB, XCT (NNUF)

Through this programme, you will gain valuable and career defining experience in nuclear graphite technology, materials and radiochemistry characterisation methods, nuclear engineering and safety case concepts. You will be expected to present results to the supervisors on a monthly basis and engage with the graphite teams at Manchester and NNL as well as present at international conferences and seminars. 

For more information on the research scope of the project please contact [Email Address Removed].

The online application form does not list individual project titles; when submitting an application, please select 'PhD Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering (48 months)' as the academic programme and then 'PhD Nuclear Engineering' as the academic plan. Please contact the admissions team at [Email Address Removed] with any queries you may have regarding the application process or funding.

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. We know that diversity strengthens our research community, leading to enhanced research creativity, productivity and quality, and societal and economic impact. We actively encourage applicants from diverse career paths and backgrounds and from all sections of the community, regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation and transgender status.

We also support applications from those returning from a career break or other roles. We consider offering flexible study arrangements (including part-time: 50%, 60% or 80%, depending on the project/funder).

All appointments are made on merit.

Funding Notes

This PhD is funded by an iCASE award through support from the EPSRC and Centre for Innovative Nuclear Decommissioning (CINDe). This is a 4-year studentship that will cover all tuition fees for the duration of the PhD and provide an enhanced tax-free stipend of £18,609 to cover living costs in 2021/22. The funding will also cover travel and related costs linked to the research project. Applicants should meet the eligibility criteria for UKRI-funded studentships.

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