National Nuclear User Facility Phase 2: Management Grant

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Materials

Abstract

Sustaining the UK's nuclear capability and expertise requires a long term commitment to both appropriate facilities and a trained workforce to operate in (and help shape) the regulatory environment. Phase 2 of the NNUF project will support the installation and use of major new national nuclear facilities focussed on research challenges not covered by current investment, world-leading equipment for research on radioactive samples in universities with special nuclear expertise and the expansion of facilities at national laboratories to add new national capabilities for analysing radioactive materials. A particular focus of the management grant will be to encourage wide usage of these new facilities by UK researchers by establishing and operating an access scheme. The research undertaken on NNUF(2) facilities will support plant life extension programmes, future decommissioning and waste storage needs and the new build strategies, including the UK Advanced Modular Reactor programme.

Planned Impact

Phase 2 of the National Nuclear User Facility will be the biggest investment in systems and facilities for radioactive materials research and development for a generation. The impact associated with it will, and indeed has to, be significant, diverse and wide-ranging. Effective management of this investment, in terms of monitoring and guiding progress, administering research support fund to ensure the facilities are very widely used, organising steering panel meetings and coordinating reporting to BEIS via EPSRC, will be critical to generating this impact.

NNUF(2) will offer career-changing opportunities for research students, postdoctoral researchers and early-career academics in the UK. In some cases, this will lead to permanent appointments at HEIs or national laboratories, all benefiting the future of the nuclear workforce.

Many of the new NNUF facilities will improve the international competitiveness of the UK with respect to nuclear energy research, specifically in the area of radioactive materials. They will provide a mechanism to upskill the existing UK nuclear community and to attract new researchers into a sector that urgently needs to reduce its age profile. New projects using new facilities on vital areas like the challenges of the civil-separated plutonium stockpile, accident-tolerant fuel development, robotics for waste disposal and decommissioning will develop new skills in the UK of international market value.

Publications

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Description The award is to provide management oversight of the 15 NNUF(2) projects funded in 2019, and the 10 further awards funded in 2021. This involves regular meetings with the project PIs, and the generation and dissemination of 6-weekly reports on the progress first with installation of new facilities and then with the usage of these facilities by external researchers to generate new understanding of nuclear materials and engineering. In addition, the management team have set up and run a funded access scheme to incentivise UK researchers to use NNUF facilities, including a quarterly application round to select suitable, high impact projects. As a management project it does not have specific technical outcomes. However, a reporting structure and process and an access scheme have been set up from scratch, reports delivered to BEIS and EPSRC, and so far 70 new access projects selected and funded. For the UK to be an intelligent customer for civil nuclear new build in the UK, we need to train a new cohort of scientists and engineers familiar with the problems that arise with the design, operation and waste disposal in this sector. Much of the most challenging work is necessarily on radioactive materials where the availability of key research infrastructure was severely limited. The impact of the NNUF access scheme is to encourage this training on real nuclear engineering projects.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Energy
Impact Types Economic