Projects at Lancaster

These projects are run by Lancaster University. Application information can be found in their how to apply section. Please contact the relevant person below before applying. Click on the titles below to see contact details and more information.

  • Advanced position sensitive neutron detection

    The focus of this research is on the development of novel position sensitive neutron detectors (PSND) that are cheaper, more compact and have greater resolution than what is currently available. Neutron detection has applications in homeland security, defense, medical imaging, fundamental research, industrial monitoring and energy.


    Position sensitive detector systems typically achieve greater spatial resolution by reducing the active area of the sensor whilst increasing the number of sensors in the detector array. With existing detector technology this results in an increase in the size, cost and complexity of the associated digital acquisition electronics. Furthermore, due to the requirement for improved medical imaging systems, almost all position sensitive radiation detector research is directed towards the detection and localisation of electromagnetic radiation for systems such as MRI, PET and SPECT.


    The objective of this PhD is to design and test a PSND by combining detectors with varying form and composition to induce pulse shape features that can be used to infer the location of the particle interaction. The industrial partner listed on this project is leading developments of novel plastic scintillation materials with pulse shape discrimination (PSD) properties. This new material could permit low volume, low cost detector fabrication with an infinite degree of freedom of form and composition, properties that influence characteristics of the signals derived from these detectors, a key part of this research. Consequently, this work will draw on a diverse range of disciplines from engineering, physics and chemistry, with the opportunity to work closely with our industry partner.



    Contact: Dr Michael Aspinall

  • Extraction of Uranium from Seawater by Sorption on Biomass (ExUS)

    The overall aim of this project, the Extraction of Uranium from Seawater (ExUS), is the development of an environmentally friendly process for the absorption of uranium from seawater using low cost absorbants.


    As such, the project will focus on identifying efficient but low cost absorbents such as waste biomass (e.g. fruit peels, coffee grounds, tea bag residues, potato peels, brewer’s spent grains, etc.), that can be used once over with effective adsorption of uranium from seawater. To minimise the environmental impact of the process, we will focus on those absorbants and absorption processes that require no modification to seawater chemistry.


    Thermodynamic modelling will be employed to predict the mechanism of uranium adsorption onto specific active groups within candidate absorbents and how uranium redox state may change during the process. This will serve as a base to choose the absorbent and to guide the optimisation of the uranium adsorption in natural seawater conditions.


    Based on these findings, uranium absorption experiments will be conducted on both synthetic and natural seawater using both static batch and continuous feed absorption vessels. Absorption from solution will be monitored by a combination of electrochemical and spectroscopic techniques such as fluorimetry and ICP-MS. The solid biomass substrate will be similarly characterized – so allowing for the best absorbent to be readily identified and comprehensively characterised.


    This project will form part of a larger research programme that aims to utilise uranium more effectively, so supporting the development of a sustainable nuclear fuel cycle. 


    Contact: Prof Claude Degueldre

  • The Oxidation of Uranium Oxide Spent Fuel at Low Temperatures

    The expected remaining lifetime of the UK’s Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors (AGRs) will result in the generation of ~6000t of Spent Nuclear Fuel. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s (NDA’s) preferred option for this spent fuel is pre-disposal interim storage – currently in ponds at Sellafield – prior to final disposal by consignment to a geologic disposal repository in or around 2075. AGR fuel pins consist of annular UO2 pellets sealed inside steel cladding tubes. Whilst in-reactor, some of the cladding is rendered susceptible to in-pond corrosion, leading to through-wall cladding failure. This may result in pond water contamination by the spent fuel (which now contains fission products and actinides as well as UO2) and inter-granular corrosion of the pellets themselves with loss of pellet integrity. Consequently, a transition to dry storage has been proposed – including the drying of wet stored spent fuel. Both actions may carry further unknown risks that need to be understood before implementation.


    Using novel spent fuel simulants (SIMFUELs), we will seek to develop a molecular level understanding of the oxidation behaviour of the UO2 matrix in spent AGR fuel at low temperatures <200oC and under conditions relevant to wet and dry storage. Sited within Lancaster’s new state-of-the-art nuclear chemistry / chemical engineering facility (UTGARD Lab, funded by the Dept of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy), this project will use coupled electrochemical, thermogravimetric and spectroscopic methods to elucidate the products, kinetics and thus mechanisms of the oxidation processes that obtain in both the gas an solution phase. Industrial supervision will be provided by subject matter experts from the UK National Nuclear Laboratory.



    Contact: Prof Colin Boxall 

  • Autonomous submarine radiometrics for off-shore radioactive particle surveillance

    This project is focussed on the research and preliminary testing of an automated means by which surveillance of the near-to-shore seabed can be performed in order to assure and inform monitoring records concerning insoluble radioactive particulate contamination of the sea.  


    Radioactive contamination has been detected at sea on a minority occasions, often associated with finely-divided waste materials from spent fuel operations that was transported to the sea with effluents a long time ago.  Historically the sites affected in this way have been Sellafield and Dounreay.  Whilst technology exists for monitoring the sea shore (with platforms such as Groundhog), and automated means for the seabed near to the shore is complicated by the dynamics of the ocean and the heterogeneity of the sea bed.


    In this PhD the objective is to design and test a system with which to measure g radioactivity on the sea bed (particularly low-energy 241Am lines) and to carry out this function across an area of the ocean floor autonomously, near to the shore, populating an inventory of these data over a period of days to months with sufficient spatial resolution. The project is a collaboration led by Lancaster University (Engineering) with Manchester University (Electrical and Electronic Engineering) with the support of experts from the Environment Agency.  It is anticipated that a significant proportion of the research activity will involve in-shore testing at laboratory-based wave tank facilities, culminating in off-shore testing in the third year.


    Contact: Prof Malcolm Joyce 

  • Experimental/theoretical study of the corrosion of uranium nitride

    Accident Tolerant Fuels (ATFs) are the next generation of nuclear fuels, designed to maintain their integrity
    when exposed to the extreme conditions present during an incident, thereby preventing release of radioactive
    material to the environment. Uranium nitride is a leading ATF candidate due to its high thermal conductivity high
    specific heat capacity and low thermal expansion that suppress overheating and swelling in the event of a loss
    of coolant accident (LOCA). However, a significant obstacle to adoption of UN fuels in light water reactors
    (LWRs) is its extremely low oxidation resistance. Corrosion of fuel exposed to high-temperature pressurised
    water or steam, following a breach of the fuel cladding, would lead to release of fuel debris and fission products
    to the coolant system. Therefore, a strategy for increasing the oxidation resistance of UN, either through coating
    or doping is essential.

    The aim of this project is to develop a mechanistic understanding of the corrosion of UN under reactor
    conditions, enabling the establishment of doping strategies to reduce the reactivity of the fuel’s surface making
    it safe for operation in LWRs. The project will employ a combination of state-of-the-art quantum mechanical
    simulations, supported by electrochemical and Raman spectroscopic studies of UN thin films, to understand
    how water interacts with the surface and how the introduction of defects and dopants, such as Cr and Si, will
    modify the surface chemistry and whether this can inhibit oxidation.


    Contact: Dr Samuel Murphy

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