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Modelling the behaviour of compacted bentonite at high temperatures – Optimisation of geological disposal facilities


Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering

, Prof David Potts Monday, May 31, 2021 Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)
London United Kingdom Energy Technologies Environmental Engineering

About the Project

Compacted bentonite clay is part of engineered barrier systems (EBS) developed for nuclear waste storage in geological disposal facilities (GDF). No such facilities have yet been constructed but Governments around the world, including the UK, are committed to delivering GDFs as the most efficient and sustainable long-term solution for managing the existing and newly-produced nuclear waste. These will be substantial environmental projects, comprising the construction of vaults / access tunnels and EBS emplacement up to 1km below the ground surface, in competent ground conditions. The GDF underground footprint is envisaged to take an area of 10km2 on average, under the current constraint of the bentonite clay being exposed to a maximum temperature of 100 deg C from the nuclear waste canister. Placed as a buffer between the canister and the host rock, bentonite will be subjected to hydration from the host rock and to high temperature from the canister. The objective of the EBS design is for the hydration to promote the swelling of bentonite and sealing of construction voids, thus preventing and retarding the possible escape of radionuclides into the natural host environment. 

Aim and scope of the work

One of the key GDF design parameters is the thermal constraint on the buffer, as allowing higher temperatures to develop would enable a more adaptable GDF design that could make savings on its footprint and reduce disposal time between the interim and the long-term waste storage. The project aims to contribute guidance on the feasible geometries of depositional canister vaults and their spacing, to maintain the safety of the natural environment. This will be achieved through predictive advanced numerical analyses of EBS solutions subjected to temperatures above 100 deg C (up to 200 deg C), utilising the unique experimental data from the pan-European HotBENT field experiment, made available through collaboration with the UK’s radioactive waste management organisation RWM Ltd. A representative from RWM Ltd. will act as industrial co-supervisor on the project. 

Person specification

The successful candidate will be expected to hold a minimum of an MEng degree (UK 1st or 2.1) or equivalent in Civil Engineering. An MSc or industrial experience in Geotechnical Engineering will be an advantage. Good understanding of soil mechanics and having general programming skills would be ideal. 

How to apply

Interested candidates should contact Prof. Lidija Zdravkovic in the first instance () for details of the project and application process. Applications are open until 31st May 2021, however, candidates are encouraged to apply as soon as possible.


Funding Notes

Full 4-year funding, covering a stipend and home (UK) fees is available for UK citizens and those with permanent right to remain in the UK. The research project, to commence in October 2021, is funded by the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Nuclear Energy Futures at Imperial College and RWM Ltd., and includes a budget for research consumables and travel.

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