Mathematical & Physical Sciences


Researchers grapple with nuclear legacy

9 January 2014

Sizewell A
Sizewell A, a decommissioned Magnox power station. Cleaning up the legacy of Britain's first-generation nuclear plants will be a key part of the project.
Photo credit: John Brodrick (CC-BY-SA)

A consortium of researchers at 10 universities, including Professor Nik Kaltsoyannis (UCL Chemistry), has won £5m in government funding to explore means of dealing with the UK’s nuclear waste. The DISTINCTIVE (Decommissioning, Immobilisation and Storage soluTIons for NuClear wasTe InVEntories) project, led by the University of Leeds and funded by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council, will bring together universities, the nuclear industry and government nuclear advisors.

Scientists will work over the next four years on issues including how best to handle different types of spent fuels, packaging and storing waste, and dealing with nuclear sludges in ponds and siloes at nuclear plants.

Nik Kaltsoyannis said: “The safe and secure management of plutonium is a matter of serious international concern, with approximately 250 tonnes of separated plutonium currently stockpiled worldwide. Nearly 50% of this material is in storage in the UK, in the form of plutonium dioxide, whilst the British Government develops its options for final treatment and disposition. At UCL, we will use state‑of‑the‑art computer modelling to enhance our understanding of plutonium dioxide itself, and also the interactions of plutonium dioxide surfaces with water and other small molecules – a key problem in developing final treatment and disposition strategies. Throughout the project we will work closely with experimentalists at the Universities of Manchester and Lancaster.”

The National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and Sellafield Limited will be partners in the project, alongside the Universities of Leeds, Birmingham, Bristol, Imperial, Lancaster, Loughborough, Manchester, Sheffield, Strathclyde and UCL.

Research will be organised under four themes: AGR, Magnox and Exotic Spent Fuel; Plutonium oxide and Fuel Residues; Legacy Ponds and Silos Wastes; Infrastructure characterisation, restoration and preservation. Each project will have an industrial supervisor from either NNL or Sellafield Limited.

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Science contact

Nik Kaltsoyannis
UCL Chemistry
020 7679 4670

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Oli Usher
UCL Faculty of Mathematical and Physical Sciences
020 7679 7964