Joint UK-Japanese research on waste and decommissioning

12 September 2023

Two research projects are to receive funding totalling GBP1 million (USD1.2 million) from UK and Japanese research councils to develop technologies to detect and process radioactive waste. The research will support work to decommission the UK's Sellafield plant and remove radioactive debris from the Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan.

The UK's Sellafield site (Image: Sellafield Ltd)

The funding will be delivered by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). This is the first UKRI award through the International Science Partnerships Fund (ISPF) which was launched by UK Minister of State at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, George Freeman, in Japan in December. The ISPF supports collaborations between UK researchers and innovators and their peers from around the world to address global challenges, build knowledge and develop the technologies of tomorrow on the major themes of our time: planet, health, tech and talent.

The UK-Japan Civil Nuclear Research programme is a partnership between UKRI and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT).

Paul Murray from the University of Strathclyde will lead research to improve the detection, safeguarding, retrieval and disposal of radioactive debris. The project brings together a team of researchers and industrialists from the UK and Japan, including: Lancaster University, the UK's National Nuclear Laboratory, Osaka University, Japan Atomic Energy Agency and Nippon Nuclear Fuel Development Company. The project will explore the use of hyperspectral imaging along with other sensor technologies, signal processing and data fusion for the effective characterisation of nuclear fuel-debris.

Murray said: "We anticipate that the proposed research will lead to new and highly valuable inspection technology which can support nuclear decommissioning in Japan, the UK and around the world."

Brant Walkley, Senior Lecturer at the University of Sheffield's Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, will lead a study to use calcined clays as natural resources to engineer 'geopolymer binders'. The binders will safely cement solid radioactive fuel debris from molten core concrete comprising metallic alloys, oxides, and silicates, and slurries and sediments.

"It is excellent news that UKRI and MEXT have chosen to fund this research that will tackle immediate‚Äč and significant challenges with processing and safe disposal of radioactive waste from the Sellafield and Fukushima sites," Walkley said.

"After I launched the International Science Partnerships Fund in Japan, last year, it is only fitting that our first UKRI award from the fund, is in partnership with Japan too," Freeman said. "Processing nuclear waste is an enormous challenge for human civilisation. Bringing together the UK and Japan's brightest minds, to focus our shared expertise in sensing, data, chemistry and more, cuts to the core of what this fund and our science superpower mission is all about - harnessing UK scientific leadership through deeper international collaboration for global good, to tackle the most pressing needs facing humanity."

"International partnerships are crucial to ensuring we learn from each other and harness the extraordinary potential of research and innovation to overcome challenges and future proof our safety and wellbeing in the UK and around the world," said Christopher Smith, International Champion at UKRI. "These new investments are an example of this.

"Experts from across the UK and Japan will work together to find innovative solutions to safely detect and dispose of radioactive nuclear debris to protect and safeguard local environments now and for future generations."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News