MBase: The Molecular Basis of Advanced Nuclear Fuel Separations

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Engineering


Over 95% of used nuclear fuel is uranium and plutonium, which can be recovered and reused. However, because used fuel is intensely radioactive, this requires very complex processes. These processes can also be adapted to the separation of high hazard materials from the residual radioactive wastes, to simplify radioactive waste management. However, industrial reprocessing of used fuel primarily relies on a 50 year old solvent extraction process (Purex), which was originally developed for much simpler fuels. As a result, modern fuels can prove difficult to reprocess. We will therefore explore two different approaches to nuclear fuel separation in parallel, one based on the established Purex technology and the other on a much more recent development, ion selective membranes (ISMs). ISMs are porous, chemically reactive membranes which can bind metals from solutions then release them again, depending on conditions, thus allowing highly selective separations.In the solvent extraction system, we will focus on a common problem in solvent extraction, third phase formation, and on separation of a group of long lived, high hazard waste isotopes (the fission product technetium and the minor actinides). With the ISMs, we will first prove their utility in uranium/plutonium separation, then extend these studies to the minor actinides. Throughout, we will work with the elements of interest, rather than analogues or low activity models and in realistic radiation environments. In both strands of the project, we will explore the underlying physical and chemical processes then, building on this understanding, we will develop a series of quantitative models, building from phase behaviour to unit operations and finally to process flowsheet models. We wil use the resulting models to explore different options for fuel reprocessing, based on scenarios defined with our industrial partners.


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Description A method to deposit metal layers with structured nanoporosity onto insulator surfaces

The use of nanoporous metal coated membranes for the electrochemically controlled separation of metal ions
Exploitation Route Use of nanoporous metal modified membranes in proton exchange membrane fuel cells
Sectors Chemicals,Energy,Environment

Description This project developed a novel technology for the deposition of nanoporous metal layers onto insulating supports - specifically onto ion-selective nafion membranes. These membranes were successfully employed in a membrane-based separation of 4+ ions from 3+ ions in a feed solution that passed over one side of the membrane. This allowed for the selective extraction of the 4+ ions into a receiving solution on the opposite side of the membrane. The means by which this was achieved was as follows. The nanoporous metal may be electrochemically controlled so as to change the valence state of ions in solution directly adjacent to the membrane surface. As valence state of the ions determines whether they can enter and traverse the ion-selective membrane, electrochemically switching the ions between the 3+ and 4+ state either prevents or allows their passage across the membrane. Both the nanoporous metal layer technology and the use of membrane-based separations have been used subsequently: 1) The nanoporous metal technology has been used in the development of a water borne tritium sensor for deployment on nuclear licensed sites. In collaboration with Hybrid Instruments Ltd we have, through a series of follow-on awards from InnovateUK, NERC and Sellafield (TRIBECA, TSB/NDA Award No 131756, £123k, 2015; NANODOT2, NE/N017293/1, £100k, 2016; TRIBECA2, InnovateUK Award No 72669-502256, £79k, 2017; NANODOT+, NE/R007195/1, £54k, 2018, "Measurement of Waterborne Tritium", Sellafield Gamechangers GC-164, £76k, 2020) continued to develop the sensor. In particular Sellafield Ltd and the UK's Low Level Waste Repository are very interested in the device. The former have funded further development of the controlling electronics through their Game Changer scheme, whilst the latter was supporting Lancaster and Hybrid in negotiations with the NDA to fund deployment at Drigg. These negotiations were interrupted by the CoVID-19 pandemic, but will be resumed later this summer, 2021. 2) The membrane-based separations technique was incorporated into a Rotating Diffusion Cell device which is now being used to measure rates of interfacial transfer of ions within the context of advanced nuclear reprocessing flowsheets. These are currently under development as part of the UK's BEIS funded Advanced Fuel Cycle Programme.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Energy,Environment
Impact Types Economic

Description ATLANTIC: Accident ToLerANT fuels In reCycling
Amount £2,545,629 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/S011935/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2018 
End 11/2022
Description InnovateUK/NDA Developing the Civil Nuclear Supply Chain Competition
Amount £123,000 (GBP)
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2015 
End 03/2016
Description NERC Innovation Follow-On Fund Competition
Amount £100,000 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/N017293/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2016 
End 03/2017
Description National Nuclear Innovation Programme: Advanced Fuel Recycle Programme
Amount £2,000,000 (GBP)
Organisation Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2017 
End 03/2019
Description PACIFIC (Providing a Nuclear Fuel Cycle in the UK for Implementing Carbon Reductions)
Amount £170,000 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/L018616/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2014 
End 02/2018
Description SACSESS (Safety of ACtinide Separation proceSSes)
Amount € 185,000 (EUR)
Funding ID FP7 EURATOM Fission-2012-2.3.1 Project Reference No 323282 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 04/2014 
End 09/2015
Description UTGARD Lab - Nuclear Research and Development: Advanced fuel recycle technologies Call
Amount £800,000 (GBP)
Organisation Department of Energy and Climate Change 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2015 
End 03/2016
Description NNL collaboration in the area of advanced nuclear reprocessing 
Organisation National Nuclear Laboratory
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Working with NNL Subject Matter Experts in the area of advanced nuclear fuel reprocessing through a series of PhD and PDRA positions
Collaborator Contribution Supporting Lancaster's work in advanced nuclear fuel reprocessing through a series of PhD and PDRA positions
Impact "The hydrolysis of Hydroxamic Acid Complexants in the Presence of Non-Oxidising Metal Ions 1: Ferric Ions", F.P.L.Andrieux, C.Boxall and R.J.Taylor, J.Sol.Chem, 36(10), 1201-1217 (2007). IF = 1.128 "The hydrolysis of Hydroxamic Acid Complexants in the Presence of Non-Oxidising Metal Ions 2: Neptunium (IV) Ions", F.P.L.Andrieux, C.Boxall, I.May and R.J.Taylor, J.Sol.Chem, 37(2), 215-232 (2008). IF = 1.128 "Oxidation-Reduction Reactions of Simple Hydroxamic Acids in the Presence of Plutonium (IV) Ions", M.J.Carrott, O.D.Fox, G.LeGurun, C.J.Jones, C.Mason, R.J.Taylor, F.Andrieux, C.Boxall, Radiochimica Acta, 96(6), 333-344 (2008). IF = 1.373 "Acetohydroxamatoiron (III) complexes: Thermodynamics of formation and temperature dependent speciation", F.P.L.Andrieux, C.Boxall and R.J.Taylor, J.Sol.Chem, 37(11), 1511-1527 (2008). IF = 1.128 "Some aspects of neptunium acetohydroxamic acid chemistry under acid conditions", M.J.Sarsfield, R.J.Taylor, C.Boxall, F.P.L.Andrieux, Radiochimica Acta, 97(4-5), 219-222 (2009). IF = 1.373 "Surface Decontamination by Photocatalysis", R.J.Wilbraham, C.Boxall, R.J.Taylor, Proceedings of ASME 12th International Conference on Environmental Remediation and Radioactive Waste Management,Vol. 2, 185-193 (2010). "A Preliminary Study of the Hydrolysis of Hydroxamic Acid Complexants in the Presence of Oxidising Metal Ions" F.P.L.Andrieux, C.Boxall, I.May, R.J.Taylor IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering, 9, Article 012081, 8 pages (2010). "Hydrolysis of Hydroxamic Acid Complexants in the Presence of Non-Oxidizing Metal Ions", S.Edwards, F.P.L.Andrieux, C.Boxall, R.J.Taylor, D.Woodhead, in "Materials Challenges in Current and Future Nuclear Technologies", K.R.Whittle, M.Bertolus, B.Uberuaga, R.W.Grimes (Eds), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge UK, Mat. Res. Soc. Symp. Proc., 1383, Article mrsf11-1383-a07-02, 6 pages (2012) DOI: 10.1557/opl.2012.210 "Surface Decontamination by Photocatalysis", R.J.Wilbraham, C.Boxall, R.J.Taylor, S.Woodbury in "Materials Challenges in Current and Future Nuclear Technologies", K.R.Whittle, M.Bertolus, B.Uberuaga, R.W.Grimes (Eds), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge UK, Mat. Res. Soc. Symp. Proc., 1383, Article mrsf11-1383-a07-07, 7 pages (2012) DOI: 10.1557/opl.2012.182 " Photocatalytically Driven Dissolution of Macroscopic Metal Surfaces. Part 1: Silver" R.J.Wilbraham, C.Boxall, R.J.Taylor, J.Photochem.Photobiol A: Chem., 249, 21-28 (2012) DOI: 10.1016/j.jphotochem.2012.09.003 IF = 2.416 "Neptunium (V) oxidation by nitrous acid in nitric acid" C.Gregson, C.Boxall, M.Carrott, S.Edwards, M.Sarsfield, R.Taylor, D.Woodhead, in "Atalante 2012 International Conference on Nuclear Chemistry for Sustainable Fuel Cycles", C.Poinsott (Ed), Elsevier, London UK, Procedia Chemistry, 7, 398-403 (2012). DOI: 10.1016/j.proche.2012.10.062 IF = 0.4 "The hydrolysis of Hydroxamic Acid Complexants in the Presence of Non-Oxidising Metal Ions 3: Ferric Ions at elevated temperatures", F.P.L.Andrieux, C.Boxall, H.Steele and R.J.Taylor, J.Sol.Chem, 43(3) 608-622 (2014). DOI 10.1007/s10953-014-0142-y IF = 1.128 "The Effect of Hydrogen Peroxide on the Dissolution of Electrodeposited Uranium Oxide Films on 316L Stainless Steel" " R.J.Wilbraham, C.Boxall, R.J.Taylor, S.Woodbury, J.Nuc.Mat., 464, 86-96 (2015). DOI 10.1016/j.jnucmat.2015.04.007 IF = 2.09 "A Study of Cerium Extraction by TBP and TODGA using a Rotating Diffusion Cell" M.A.Bromley, C.Boxall, Nukleonika, 60(4), 859-864 (2015). DOI: 10.1515/nuka-2015-0121 IF=0.477 "Simulation of Neptunium extraction in an Advanced PUREX process - model improvement", H.Chen, R.J.Taylor, M.Jobson, D.A.Woodhead, C.Boxall, A.J.Masters, S.Edwards, Solvent Extraction & Ion Exchange, 35(1), 1-18 (2017). DOI: 10.1080/07366299.2016.1273684 IF = 2.05 "The Effects of Nitric Acid on Extraction Properties of TODGA During Fission Product Management", M.A.Bromley, C.Boxall in "The Scientific Basis of Nuclear Waste Management", N.C.Hyatt, R.Ewing, Y.Inagaki, C.Jantzen (Eds), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge UK, MRS Advances., 2(10), 563-568 (2017) DOI: 10.1557/adv.2016.624 "Photocatalytically driven dissolution of macroscopic nickel surfaces", R.J.Wilbraham, C.Boxall, R.J.Taylor, Corrosion Science, 131, 137-146 (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.corsci.2017.11.018 IF = 5.3 "Neptunium(IV)-hydroxamate complexes: their speciation, and kinetics and mechanism of hydrolysis", S.Edwards, F.Andrieux, C.Boxall, M.Sarsfield, R. Taylor and D.Woodhead, Dalton Trans., 48, 673 - 687 (2019). DOI: 10.1039/c8dt02194e IF = 4.099. "Nitrous acid-driven reduction of vanadium as a neptunium analogue ", M.Chimes, C.Boxall, S.Edwards, M.Sarsfield, R.J.Taylor D.Woodhead, Prog.Nucl.Sci.Tech, 5, 37-40 (2018). DOI: 10.15669/pnst.5.37 "A Study of Cerium Extraction Kinetics by TODGA in Acidified and Non-Acidified Organic Solvent Phases in the Context of Fission Product Management", M.A.Bromley, C.Boxall, Prog.Nucl.Sci.Tech, 5, 70-73 (2018). DOI: 10.15669/pnst.5.70
Title Method for Formation of Porous Metal Coatings 
Description A method of forming a metal layer on an electrically insulating substrate comprises depositing a photocatalyst layer onto the substrate and depositing a mask layer comprising voids on the substrate, such as a layer of latex microparticles with voids between them, to give an open pore structure to the mask. An electroless plating solution is then provided on the photocatalyst layer, and the photocatalyst layer and electroless plating solution are illuminated with actinic radiation whereby deposition of metal from the electroless plating solution to form a metal layer on the photocatalyst layer is initiated whereby the metal deposits in the voids of the mask layer. The mask layer is subsequently removed to leave a porous metal layer on the substrate. The method allows for deposition of porous metal films with controlled thickness and excellent adhesion onto electrically insulating substrates. The method is suitable for providing metal layers with controlled, regular porosity. 
IP Reference US8946088 
Protection Patent granted
Year Protection Granted 2015
Licensed No
Impact Use in InnovateUK/NDA project award No 13175 TRIBECA (TRItium detection By ElectroChemically Assisted radiometrics) Use in NERC project award No NE/N017293/1 NANODOT2 (NANOmaterials for radiometric Detection Of TriTium)
Description UNTF - National Programme Presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact "Rapid Photochemical Reduction of U(VI) for the Development of New Mixed Metal Oxide Fuel Production Processes" M.Bromley, C.Boxall, M.Sarsfield, R.Taylor, The Universities' Nuclear Technology Forum, Lancaster University 10th - 11th July 2018
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description reprocessing seminar at Reading 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Invited Lecture "Interfacial Kinetic Studies of Advanced Spent Nuclear fuel Recycle Processes" C.Boxall. M.A.Bromley, R.J.Wilbraham, Department of Chemistry Seminar Series, University of Reading, Reading, UK, 8th May 2017
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017