UK-Japan partnership to develop new tech for nuclear waste disposal

New research that will develop technologies to detect and process radioactive waste has been awarded funding by the UK in partnership with the Japanese government.

The research will support work to decommission Sellafield Nuclear Plant in the UK and remove radioactive debris from the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan.

Developing new technologies

Two projects have been awarded a share of £1 million, delivered by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), to address challenges in:

  • radioactive waste treatment, packaging, and storage
  • remote handling, robotic, and autonomous systems in decommissioning
  • environmental behaviour of radionuclide release and management of risk and degraded infrastructure

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

International Science Partnership Fund

This is the first UKRI award through the International Science Partnerships Fund (ISPF) which was launched by Science Minister George Freeman in Japan in December.

The ISPF supports collaborations between UK researchers and innovators and their peers from around the world.

It aims to address global challenges, build knowledge and develop the technologies of tomorrow on the major themes of our time: planet, health, tech and talent.

Bringing together research expertise

George Freeman MP, UK Minister of State at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology 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.

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.

Funded projects

The research projects are being led by academics at the universities of Strathclyde and Sheffield.

Detection, safeguarding, retrieval, disposal

Dr 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
  • National Nuclear Laboratory
  • Osaka University
  • Japan Atomic Energy Agency
  • Nippon Nuclear Fuel Development Co. Ltd

The project will develop new inspection technologies using hyperspectral imaging along with other sensor technologies, signal processing and data fusion.

Geopolymer binders

Dr Brant Walkley, from the University of Sheffield, 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.

Supporting research collaboration

Professor Christopher Smith, International Champion at UKRI, said:

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.

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.

This programme builds on a long-standing relationship between EPSRC and the Japanese research community and government.

Top image:  Credit: Maxian, E+ via Getty Images

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