EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Nuclear Energy Futures

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Materials

Abstract

The EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Nuclear Energy Futures aims to train a new generation of international leaders, at PhD level, in nuclear energy technology. It is made up of Imperial College London (lead), Bristol University, Cambridge University, Open University and Bangor University. These institutions are some of the UK's leading institutions for research and teaching in nuclear power. The CDTs key focus is around nuclear fission i.e. that is the method of producing energy by splitting the atom, which currently accounts for 11% of the world's electricity and 20% of the UK's electricity, whilst producing very low levels of carbon emissions (at levels the same as renewable energy, such as wind). The CDT whilst focused on fission energy technologies will also have PhD projects related to fusion nuclear energy and projects needed or related to nuclear energy such as seismic studies, robotics, data analytics, environmental studies, policy and law. The CDT's major focus is related to the New Nuclear Build activities at Hinkley Point, Somerset and the Anglesey site in north Wales, where EDF Energy and Horizon, respectively, are building new fission power plants that will produce around 3.2 and 2.7 GWe of nuclear power (about 13% of the UK current electricity demand). The CDT will provide the skills needed for research related to these plants and potential future industry leaders, for nuclear decommissioning of current plants (due to come off-line in the next decade) and to lead the UK in new and innovative technologies for nuclear waste disposal and new reactor technologies such as small modular reactors (SMRs). The need for new talented PhD level people is very high as many of the UK's current technical experts were recruited in the 1970s and 80s and many are near retirement and skills sector studies have shown many more are needed for the new build projects. The CDT will champion teaching innovation and will produce a series of bespoke courses that can be delivered via on-line media by the very best experts in the field from across the CDT covering areas such as the nuclear fuel cycle; waste and decommissioning; small modular reactors; policy, economics and regulation; thermal hydraulics and reactor physics as well as leading on responsible research and innovation in the sector. The CDT is supported by a wide range of nuclear companies and stakeholders. These include those involved in the new build process in the UK such as EDF Energy, Hitachi-GE, Horizon and Rolls-Royce, the latter of which are developing a UK advanced modular reactor design. International nuclear stakeholders from countries such as the USA, UAE, Australia and France will support the student development and the CDT programme. The students in the CDT will cover a very broad training in all aspects of nuclear power and importantly for this sector will engage in both media training activities and public outreach to make nuclear power more open to the public, government and scientists and engineers outside of the discipline.

Planned Impact

It cannot be overstated how important reducing CO2 emissions are in both electricity production for homes and industry but also in reducing road pollution by replacing petrol/diesel cars with electric cars in the next 20 years. These ambitions will require a large growth in electricity production from low carbon sources that are both reliable and secure and must include nuclear power in this energy mix. Such a future will empower the vision of a prosperous, secure nation with clean energy. To do this the UK needs more than 100 PhD level people per year to enter the nuclear industry. This CDT will impact this vision by producing 70, or more, both highly and broadly trained scientists and engineers, in nuclear power technologies, capable of leading the UK new build and decommissioning programmes for future decades. These students will have experience of international nuclear facilities e.g. ANSTO, ICN Pitesti, Oak Ridge, Mol, as well as a UK wide perspective that covers aspects of nuclear from its history, economics, policy, safety and regulation together with the technical understanding of reactor physics, thermal hydraulics, materials, fuel cycle, waste and decommissioning and new reactor designs. These individuals will have the skill set to lead the industry forward and make the UK competitive in a global new build market worth an estimated £1.2tn. Equally important is reducing the costs of future UK projects e.g. Wylfa, Sizewell C by 30%, to allow the industry and new build programme to grow, which will be worth £75bn domestically and employ tens of thousands per project.

We will deliver a series of bespoke training courses, including on-line e-learning courses, in Nuclear Fuel Cycle, Waste and Decommissioning; Policy and Regulation; Nuclear Safety Management; Materials for Reactor Systems, Innovation in Nuclear Technology; Reactor Operation and Design and Responsible Research. These courses can be used more widely than just the CDT educating students inther CDTs with a need for nuclear skills, other university courses related to nuclear energy and possibly for industry as continual professional development courses and will impact the proposed Level 8 Apprenticeship schemes the nuclear industry are pursuing to fill the high level skills gap.

The CDT will deliver world-class research in a broad field of nuclear disciplines and disseminate this work through outreach to the public and media, international conferences, published journal articles and conference proceedings. It will produce patents where appropriate and deliver impact through start-up companies, aided by Imperial Innovations, who have a track record of turning research ideas into real solutions. By working and listening to industry, and through the close relationships supervisory staff have with industrial counterparts, we can deliver projects that directly impact on the business of the sponsors and their research strategies. There is already a track record of this in the current CDT in both fission and fusion fields. For example there is a student (Richard Pearson) helping Tokamak Energy engage with new technologies as part of his PhD in the ICO CDT and as a result Tokamak Energy are offering the new CDT up to 5 studentships.

Another impact we expect is an increasing number of female students in the CDT who will impact the industry as future leaders to help the nuclear sector reach its target of 40% by 2030.
The last major impact of the CDT will be in its broadening scope from the previous CDT. The nuclear industry needs to embrace innovation in areas such as big data analytics and robotics to help it meet its cost reduction targets and the CDT will help the industry engage with these areas e.g. through the Bristol robotics hub or Big Data Institute at Imperial.

All this will be delivered at a remarkable value to both government and the industry with direct funding from industry matching the levels of investment from EPSRC.

Publications

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