EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Nuclear Energy: Building UK Civil Nuclear Skills for Global Markets.

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Materials


A thriving nuclear industry is crucial to the UKs energy security and to clean up the legacy of over 50 years of nuclear power. The research performed in the ICO (Imperial Cambridge Open universities, pronounced ECO!) CDT will enable current reactors to be used longer, enable new reactors to be built and operated more safely, support the clean up and decommissioning of the UKs contaminated nuclear sites and place the UK at the forefront of international programmes for future reactors for civil and marine power. It will also provide a highly skilled and trained cohort of nuclear PhDs with a global vision and international outlook entirely appropriate for the UK nuclear industry, academia, regulators and government.

Key areas where ICO CDT will significantly improve our current understanding include in civil, structural, mechanical and chemical engineering as well as earth science and materials science. Specifically, in metallurgy we will perform world-leading research into steels in reactor and storage applications, Zr alloy cladding, welding, creep/fatigue and surface treatments for enhanced integrity. Other materials topics to be covered include developing improved and more durable ceramic, glass, glass composite and cement wasteforms; reactor life extension and structural integrity; and corrosion of metallic waste containers during storage and disposal. In engineering we will provide step change understanding of modelling of a number of areas including in: Reactor Physics (radionuclide transport, neutron transport in reactor systems, simulating radiation-fluid-solid interactions in reactors and finite element methods for transient kinetics of severe accident scenarios); Reactor Thermal Hydraulics (assessment of critical heat flux for reactors, buoyancy-driven natural circulation coolant flows for nuclear safety, simulated dynamics and heat transfer characteristics of severe accidents in nuclear reactors); and Materials and Structural Integrity (residual stress prediction, fuel performance, combined crystal plasticity and discrete dislocation modelling of failure in Zr cladding alloys, sensor materials and wasteforms). In earth science and engineering we will extend modelling of severe accidents to enable events arising from accidents such as those at Chernobyl and Fukushima to be predicted; and examine near field (waste and in repository materials) and far field (geology of rocks surrounding the repository) issues including radionuclide sorption and transport of relevance to the UKs geological repository (especially in geomechanics and rock fracture).

In addition, we will make key advances in development of next generation fission reactors such as examining flow behaviour of molten salts, new fuel materials, ultra high temperature non-oxide and MAX phase ceramics for fuels and cladding, thoria fuels and materials issues including disposal of wastes from Small Modular Reactors. We will examine areas of symbiosis in research for next generation fission and fusion reactors.

A key aspect of the ICO CDT will be the global outlook given to the students and the training in dealing with the media, a key issue in a sensitive topic such as nuclear where a sensible and science-based debate is crucial.

Planned Impact

The number of PhD level nuclear graduates in the UK remains small and despite the creation of a Nuclear EngD programme in 2008 it is considerably lower than the industry's need. The Imperial Cambridge Open Centre for Doctoral Training (ICO CDT) will deliver high impact research of enormous value to a range of companies while at the same time producing nuclear researchers trained to be internationally excellent and global thinking who can eventually assume leadership positions in industry, regulatory bodies, academia or Government. The aim of the ICO CDT is to train a cohort of PhDs of international quality prepared to operate in the global nuclear business and technology arena, and to deliver high-impact research. The ICO CDT will build on current industrial links including with larger companies such as EdF, EdF Energy, Horizon, AWE, Rolls-Royce, Westinghouse and Atkins and SME's such as Tokamak Solutions. We will look to develop new and improved links with other companies including in civil construction such as Laing O'Rourke, mining companies who may build any UK repository and component manufacturing companies through the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (NAMRC). In addition, involvement of SME's down the supply chain in envisaged. Successful outcomes of the student research projects will ensure the UK is able to build the reactors to retain its nuclear capability providing baseload electricity to UK industry and domestic markets ensuring UK plc stays open for business! These projects will also enable the UKs nuclear industry to remain at the forefront of the global nuclear renaissance and to contribute key technologies in areas which offer potentially lucrative international opportunities including in Small Modular Reactors, lifetime extensive, decommissioning and clean up, and waste disposal technology.

In particular, we will aim at increasing our already strong international collaborations with e.g. universities and research centres in the USA (MIT, Florida, Berkeley, Michigan universities, Idaho National Lab, PNNL, SRNL), France (Limoges U, Ecole Centrale Paris, CEA, Areva), China (Tsinghua) and India (Bhabha ARC). All of these international links will benefit the UK by providing potential leaders with vision and knowledge of world leading research. In addition, we plan to be inclusive of other UK universities with a nuclear interest, involving non ICO academics in mentoring students, serving on the Management Board, in joint PhD projects and in Summer Schools, Workshops and other events.

Other beneficiaries will include the regulators such as the Office of Nuclear Regulation and the Environment Agency and various policy making Government departments including DECC, the FCO and BIS who are in dire need of nuclear-trained employees. Having the DECC and FCO Chief Scientific Advisor's (Dave Mackay and Robin Grimes) on the Advisory Board will help in this respect.

A key aspect of the research training will be that of communicating nuclear topics to the public and media and making sure that the nuclear debate is sensible and underpinned by sound science. All students will receive media training and as a result the wider public will benefit from improved communication and understanding of nuclear issues.


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