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The Safe Disposal of Advanced Nuclear Fuels

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Sunday, September 15, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The UK government has proposed a preliminary policy to re-use the UK’s stockpile of plutonium as Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel formed of a blend of plutonium oxide and uranium oxide. This would see the vast majority of UK’s 138 tonnes of plutonium converted into fuel for use in new UK nuclear reactors.

In line with current government policy, this used MOX would not be reprocessed; rather, it would be sent to disposal within a geologic disposal facility. This spent MOX fuel is assumed to be a stable wasteform with reactivity largely comparable to more established and well-studied uranium oxide (UOX) spent fuels. As such spent MOX is expected to display high chemical stability when contacted by groundwater in a geologic disposal facility, with fuel dissolution and thus radionuclide release rates to the environment being very low.

However, these assumptions need validating. There has been some leach testing work done on MOX, which suggests that it is comparable to UOX fuel. However the work is limited in scope and quantity and has identified differences between the fuels that warrant further investigation to determine whether the long term behaviour can be expected to remain similar to or even better than that of UOX fuel

Thus, the aim of this fully funded PhD project will be to develop and characterise a realistic MOX spent fuel simulant and use it to investigate the dissolution behaviour of MOX spent fuel under conditions analogous to those found in a geologic disposal facility.

Key activities will involve:

• Production and characterisation of simulated unused MOX fuels to serve as baseline systems. This will involve blending UO2 and CeO2 (as a PuO2 surrogate) to form simulated unused fuel pellets.
• Production and characterisation of simulated used MOX fuels. This will involve blending UO2 and CeO2 with a range of non-active transition metal and lanthanide fission product surrogates to form simulated used fuel pellets.
• Solution phase electrochemical corrosion and leaching behaviour studies of both of these MOX simulants, aiming to obtain fuel dissolution rates as a function of key variables such as pH, salinity, O2 availability and temperature.
• Facilitated by collaboration with NNL, to assess how closely the simulants represent the physico-chemical and materials properties of real spent fuel.

The project is intellectually challenging and involves well-integrated elements of chemistry, engineering and materials science. The successful applicant will become familiar with techniques needed to tackle major problems in the nuclear industry and be part of a well-established team of nuclear researchers within Lancaster’s Engineering Department that seeks to address industrial problems while maintaining a strong science and technology base.
The appointee will interact with both Radioactive Waste Management Ltd and the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), the UK’s largest nuclear research facility for the conduct of radioactive experiments. There will be opportunities for periods of placement at the NNL’s Central Laboratory in Cumbria.

Entry requirements
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.

Funding Notes

Supported by Radioactive Waste Management Ltd through the EPSRC TRANSCEND Consortium (TRANSformative SCience & Engineering for Nuclear Decommissioning), this studentship is available to start 1st October 2019. For UK and EU applicants the studentship is fully funded for 4 years, covering fees and maintenance grant (£17,009) (all tax free).

For further information:
Professor Colin Boxall , Tel: +44 (0) 1524 593109 or +44 (0) 781 405 5964
Please include a CV.

To apply for a PhD at Lancaster University use the on-line application form available at:
View Website

You should address your background and suitability for this project in your statement.

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