Microbial Induced Corrosion and Spent Nuclear Fuel: Mechanisms and Mitigations

   Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

  , ,  Applications accepted all year round  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Microbial induced corrosion (MIC) is a significant concern to many industries, including in the nuclear sector, where biodegradation of plant infrastructure can lead to challenges in the safe management of spent nuclear fuel (SNF). Of particular concern is the potential impact of MIC in SNF storage ponds, where microbial metabolism could degrade the integrity of the stainless-steel-clad fuel pins, the structural materials containing these fuels , and more widely impact on the integrity of the pond environment. Recent work between the University of Manchester, Sellafield Limited and the National Nuclear Laboratory has shown that SNF ponds are able to support a wide variety of microorganisms, and these can cause algal blooms if their proliferation is not controlled. This project aims to build on this work, by assessing whether microbial metabolism can extend from the planktonic free-living communities characterised to date to biofilms growing on surfaces within the ponds. A key focus will be understanding the potential for biofilms to cause MIC of the stainless-steel fuel cladding in Sellafield SNF pond environs, including identifying any causative organisms and exploring methodologies that could be used to prevent their proliferation and associated biocorrosion. To facilitate this work, authentic samples will be collected from SNF pond facilities at Sellafield, and any associated biofilms will be characterised using state of the art culturing and DNA sequencing techniques. These will inform laboratory studies that will quantify the impact of MIC on steel surfaces under pond-relevant conditions and inform mitigation approaches if required.

This Industry funded PhD project will be based in the Dept of Earth & Environmental Sciences at The University of Manchester with co-supervision at Sellafield Limited. The successful candidate will join a large (30+) group of researchers in the Dept focused on geomicrobiology and radioactive waste management. The student will benefit from the excellent facilities within the Williamson Research Laboratories for Molecular Environmental Science and the newly commissioned NNUF RADER labs, with additional infrastructure in the Corrosion Science facilities in the Department of Materials Science.


Applicants should have, or expect to achieve, at least a 2.1 honours degree or a master’s (or international equivalent) in a relevant science or engineering related discipline. The successful candidate should have a strong background in Microbial, Chemical, Material or Environmental Sciences (e.g. BSc / Masters in Chemistry, Environmental Chemistry, Geochemistry or similar) or Environmental Engineering. Please contact the main supervisor Prof. Jon Lloyd () for additional information.

Before you apply

We strongly recommend that you contact the supervisor(s) for this project before you apply.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

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).


Biological Sciences (4) Engineering (12) Geology (18) Materials Science (24)

Funding Notes

The EPSRC funded Studentship will cover full tuition fees at the Home student rate and a maintenance grant for 4 years, starting at the UKRI minimum of £19,237 pa. for 2024-2025. The Studentship also comes with access to additional funding in the form of a research training support grant which is available to fund conference attendance, fieldwork, internships etc.


L Foster, C Boothman, S Harrison, P Jenkinson, JK Pittman and JR Lloyd (2023) Identification of algal rich microbial blooms in the Sellafield Pile Fuel Storage Pond and the application of ultrasonic treatment to control the formation of blooms. Front. Microbiol. 14 DOI 10.3389/fmicb.2023.1261801
F Barton, S Shaw, K Morris, J Graham and JR Lloyd (2022) Impact and control of fouling in radioactive environments. Progress in Nuclear Energy 148 (2022) 104215
S Ruiz-Lopez, L Foster, C Boothman, N Cole, K Morris and JR Lloyd (2020). Identification of a Stable Hydrogen-Driven Microbiome in a Highly Radioactive Storage Facility on the Sellafield Site Frontiers in microbiology 11, 2915 https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2020.587556
L Foster, C Boothman, S Ruiz-Lopez, G Boshoff, P Jenkinson, D. Sigee., JK Pittman, K Morris. and JR Lloyd (2020). Microbial bloom formation in a high pH spent nuclear fuel pond. The Science of the Total Environment. Jun;720:137515. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.137515

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