TRANSCEND: Transformative Science and Engineering for Nuclear Decommissioning

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Chemical and Process Engineering

Abstract

UK government is committed to nuclear energy having an important role in delivering a secure, low-carbon and affordable energy future, with their aspirations for new build power stations and life extension of the existing fleet described in policy documents. Successful delivery of this policy recognises the need for research and development, skills development and international collaboration as key enablers. A central component is the need to demonstrate our ability to safely manage and dispose of civil nuclear waste. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is responsible for the delivery of policy aims with respect to legacy waste, with Radioactive Waste Management charged with the delivery of a geological disposal facility and waste management solutions. EPSRC strategy is to maintain investment in nuclear fission research, recognising nuclear power as having an important role in the future low-carbon energy mix, with a strategic focus being research underpinning the decommissioning, immobilisation and management of nuclear waste. Central components of all these strategies are "a joined-up approach to nuclear R&D across government, industry and academia which...benefit(s) the UK economy" and, of benefit to UK industry, that establishes it "as a global leader in waste management and decommissioning" (see Case for Support).

The successful delivery of decommissioning, immobilisation and management of nuclear waste solutions also impacts on public acceptance of any new build programme. In relation to any geological disposal facility, there is a need to demonstrate an ability to safely manage and dispose of waste from legacy operations, with studies of public attitudes showing that acceptance of such a facility is directly linked to having viable routes for the safe clean-up and disposal of any waste.

These strategies rely on further research and development being delivered over the next 10-20 years. The work of the consortium is part of the response to this need, providing support to an internationally leading group of researchers in this key area. The work will contribute to the health of nuclear fission research, and through developments within specific disciplines, to areas beyond nuclear. It addresses key societal challenges in relation to productive and resilient nation outcomes through the development of next generation technologies and by ensuring effective and affordable solutions for waste treatment. It will also contribute to the building of public confidence in waste management solutions, and assist the acceptance of nuclear power, as well as contributing to UK economic success by maintaining our position as a world leader in waste management research, and in assisting industry to maintain its world leading position.

The consortium comprises key industry partners and leading academic researchers from 11 research intensive universities with significant expertise in nuclear research and development. The research proposed is multi-disciplinary and covers fundamental and applied topics, including 40 research projects clustered into 4 technical themes. The consortium is made up of established researchers from a diverse range of backgrounds, who are all leaders in their field, with a track-record of innovation and problem solving in the nuclear area. It also comprises many early career researchers who, as well as having relevant nuclear-related expertise, are included to provide them with invaluable experience of a large consortium project, and to further develop their profile and influence, as they mature into leaders in the field. The consortium builds upon and consolidates the work of the previous EPSRC-funded project DISTINCTIVE (Decommissioning, Immobilisation and Storage Solutions for Nuclear Waste Inventories, EP/L014041/1), bringing together researchers from a larger group of universities and increasing the multi-disciplinary nature of the group to extend and develop the academic skills base within the UK.

Planned Impact

Aside from academia, beneficiaries include site licence companies and their supply chains, government and associated bodies, policy makers and regulators, and the public. All will benefit through: the generation of increased knowledge of underlying science and engineering, and the creation of novel technologies and techniques, to address challenges in waste management, leading to more cost effective and safer routes to nuclear waste disposal; through the training and development of researchers, and potential industry employees, with the requisite skills, knowledge, expertise and appreciation of industry's challenges to support the sector; through the exploitation of research results leading to reductions in the cost of nuclear decommissioning, and strengthening of the competitiveness of the UK civil nuclear sector; and through the consortium's influence in informing national energy, environmental and industrial policies, regulatory regimes, and the public, and its contribution to delivering a low cost, clean and secure energy supply. The consortium's activities will therefore lead to social, environmental, safety, health and security benefits. Economic benefits will ensue through reductions in the financial burden of waste clean-up to UK taxpayers.

To achieve and maximise these impacts, we will pursue activities in five areas:

Relationships and networks - Establishing new, and building on existing, relationships and networks through: a project kick-off meeting for researchers and industry partners; two industry roadshows to promote the consortium, especially with potential new partners; annual research meetings to facilitate the sharing of knowledge; theme meetings enabling in-depth technical discussions; challenge-led meetings to allow the wider consortium to focus on specific industry challenges; strengthening international relationships though existing links and by forging new ones; and forging links to ongoing research through joint or consecutive meetings on areas of mutual interest.

Communication and dissemination - To inform a broad and diverse audience we will engage in: conferences and exhibitions to present our research findings at scientific conferences, including organising special sessions, and relevant stakeholder events; publish papers in high impact scientific journals as well as more industry-orientated magazines and journals; create and maintain a dedicated website; publish an annual newsletter; and create and manage dedicated project accounts on social media for uploading videos and related content.

Public, media and government engagement - Undertaking activities to generate discussion amongst members of the public, and engage media and government bodies, through: attendance at science festivals to discuss our research aims and how outputs will contribute to the safe recovery, treatment and storage of waste; a public outreach activity regarding the social and ethical dimensions of waste management; a documentary and short videos highlighting the challenges arising from the safe management of radioactive waste and how our work aims to address these; providing media interviews and press releases where appropriate; and directly engaging with government through secondments between our researchers and BEIS.

Training and development - We will equip our researchers with the requisite skills to work within the nuclear sector by: providing them with the opportunity to have at least one placement in industry; providing industry mentors that they will meet with on a regular basis; and through summer schools to cover the development and writing of research proposals, and provide training in public, media, industry and government engagement.

Knowledge transfer and commercialisation - IP arising from our research will be appropriately protected and suitable commercialisation strategies developed for exploitation through existing institutional arrangements.

Publications

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