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NSIRC226 PhD Studentship – Development of laser-based decontamination techniques Coventry University

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Institution: National Structural Integrity Research Centre (NSIRC)

PhD Supervisor: Prof. Jonathan Lawrence; Dr Andrew Wilson

Application deadline: Applications accepted all year

Funding Availability: Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)


Decontamination is a vital step in decommissioning of nuclear facilities. Most radioactive contaminants are usually deposited in a thin oxide layer on the base metal surfaces, various decontamination techniques involving chemical, electrochemical and mechanical methods are applied to remove this surface oxide layer. There is a current need to develop alternative decontamination techniques, which are more effective and produce the secondary waste generated, as this will deliver safety, economic and speed benefits.

Project Outline

This project will develop laser-based decontamination techniques for the treatment of corroded steel infrastructure. Laser decontamination is a branch of laser cleaning, which was first studied in the 1970s. However, recent developments in laser technology indicate a step change in process performance is possible, as well as a reduction in system costs. As such, the technology is becoming of significant interest to the nuclear sector, but also could be applied to other, more price-sensitive, sectors.

Laser decontamination occurs by a combination of mechanisms, the relative importance of each depending on the fluence used and the properties of the workpiece surface. Interactions between laser beams and ‘clean’ surfaces are relatively well understood, but little work has been undertaken to determine how dirt, oxide layers, paints etc influence the process dynamics. Two laser-based decontamination technologies will be investigated and assessed (i) nanosecond laser surface ablation and (ii) picosecond laser surface ablation. A key focus of this project is to provide a tool set for the remote, non-contact decontamination of strontium and caesium containing corrosion products of aged plant.

TWI will work together with Site Licensed Companies (Magnox & Sellafield Ltd.) and Coventry University. Decontaminating trials will be carried out with short-pulsed Yb-fibre lasers in the nano-/pico- second regime. The lasers will be tested on contaminated steel surfaces (simulants), with the samples then subsequently characterised. A fundamental understanding of how short-pulsed laser sources interact with corroded surfaces will be developed to ensure broad applicability of the results both in and outside of the nuclear sector.

The project will also include the first the development of controlled contaminant analogues, by using stable caesium and strontium to infiltrate rust layers of pre-corroded steel plates. Microscopy, spectroscopy, X-ray characterisation, augmented by imaging techniques will be applied to investigate the mechanism governing the percolation and absorption of contaminants into the rust layer, and the potential incorporation into the underlying steel matrix. The aim of this portion of research is to produce engineering steel surfaces with controlled strontium and caesium containing rust layers, for probing decontamination technologies.

This project will deliver underpinning science of steel contamination and provide in parallel a strategy and tool set for implementing decontamination strategies.

About University/Department

Coventry University is an award winning, modern university with a tradition as a provider of high quality education and a focus on applied research. It is continually developing and is highly ranked, both nationally and internationally. With access to and additional support from Coventry University’s state-of-the-art Faculty of Engineering, Environment and Computing, AME is becoming a world-class facility for exploring and challenging tomorrow’s manufacturing and engineering technologies. AME is placed to be among the leaders of the fourth industrial revolution. The successful candidate will use all of this cutting-edge laser systems, and characterization instrumentation.


NSIRC is a state-of-the-art postgraduate engineering facility established and managed by structural integrity specialist TWI, working closely with lead academic partner Brunel University, the universities of Cambridge, Manchester, Loughborough, Leicester, Coventry and a number of leading industrial partners. NSIRC aims to deliver cutting edge research and highly qualified personnel to its key industrial partners.

Candidate Requirements

Candidates should have a degree at 2.1 minimum, or an equivalent overseas degree in mechanical engineering, materials science, physics or chemistry (physical/surface). Overseas applicants should also submit IELTS results (minimum 6.5) if applicable.

Funding Notes

Funding Notes

This project is funded by TWI and Coventry University. The studentship will provide successful Home/EU students with a minimum stipend of £16k/year and will cover the cost of tuition fees. Overseas applicants are welcome to apply, with total funding capped at £24k per year.

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