UK-Japan partnership funds nuclear research to support waste management at Sellafield and Fukushima sites

Article by Amanda Jasi

RESEARCH projects led by the universities of Strathclyde and Sheffield in the UK are receiving a share of almost £1m (US$1.2m) to develop technologies to detect and process radioactive waste. The research strives to support decommissioning of the UK’s Sellafield nuclear plant and radioactive debris removal at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident site.

The work is being supported by the UK-Japan civil nuclear research programme, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which is part of national funding body UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. It was created to support research that would accelerate and advance nuclear science, including decommissioning of Sellafield and Fukushima.

Paul Murray, reader of electronic and electrical engineering at the University of Strathclyde, UK will lead research to improve the detection, safeguarding, retrieval, and disposal of radioactive debris. The research will focus on developing new inspection technologies using hyperspectral imaging along with other sensor technologies, signal processing, and data fusion.

Work will also involve researchers and industrialists from the UK and Japan, including Lancaster University, UK; National Nuclear Laboratory, the UK’s national laboratory for nuclear fission; Osaka University, Japan; the research organisation Japan Atomic Energy Agency; and Nippon Nuclear Fuel Development Co, a nuclear materials research facility.

At the University of Sheffield, Brant Walkley, a senior lecturer in the department of chemical and biological engineering, will lead a study to use calcinated clays as natural resources to engineer geopolymer binders. These will be used to safely cement solid radioactive fuel debris from molten core concrete comprising metallic alloys, oxides, and silicates, and slurries and sediments.  

The projects are set to start on 1 November, and end on 31 March 2026.

UKRI noted that the funding programme builds on a long-standing relationship between EPSRC and the Japanese research community and government.

Christopher Smith, international champion at UKRI, said: “International partnerships are crucial to ensuring we learn from each other and harness the extraordinary potential of research and innovation to overcome challenges and futureproof our safety and wellbeing in the UK and around the world.

“These new investments are an example of this.”

The UK funding for the joint civil nuclear research programme is the first UKRI award to come via the International Science Partnership Fund (ISPF), launched in Japan last December by George Freeman, UK minister of state for science, innovation, and technology. The ISPF is to support collaboration between UK researchers and innovators and their peers around the world, with the aim of addressing global challenges, building knowledge, and developing technologies focused around the themes of planet, health, tech, and talent.

Freeman said that “processing nuclear waste is an enormous challenge for human civilisation”. He added: “Bringing together the UK and Japan’s brightest minds, to focus our shared expertise in sensing, data, chemistry and more, cuts to the core of what this fund and our science superpower mission is all about – harnessing UK scientific leadership through deeper international collaboration for global good, to tackle the most pressing needs facing humanity.”

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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