Nuclear Materials

University of Manchester

The Advanced Materials for Nuclear Energy core area encompasses two activity areas:

  • Nuclear fuels and waste streams in the nuclear fuel cycle
  • Structural materials for fission and fusion energy.

The major materials challenges are to improve efficiencies, maximise economy, and ensure safety and sustainability of nuclear fuel, for present as well as future reactor fleets, encompassing the entire lifecycle. This includes accident tolerant fuels, as well as materials for and from waste. In addition, innovative structural materials must be developed to mitigate present limitations for both fission and fusion reactors in operations in high temperature, radiation and corrosive environments.

These activities require development of economical manufacture routes for production, irradiation capability, in situ testing facilities and characterisation capabilities, application and development of sophisticated modelling tools across multiple spatial and time scales, as well as infrastructure and expertise for special handling of radioactive materials operated as shared UK resources.

R&D activities into nuclear fuels and their entire lifecycle will concentrate on:

  • novel, innovative and economic processes for fuel production;
  • optimising/tailoring safe and efficient in- service fuel/cladding performance;
  • maximising economics by creating materials from waste and developing technologies for process integration/intensification;
  • experimental benchmarking of nuclear graphite;
  • materials for securing reliable end-of-life fuel disposal.

R&D activities for in-core structural materials for fission and fusion energy will concentrate on:

  • cladding ‘self-healing’ coatings for accident tolerant advanced nuclear fuels;
  • “rapid response” for proof-of-concept for novel nuclear structural materials, e.g.
    • Ultra-high temperature, low-to-zero thermal expansion materials and
    • radiation resilient and radiation-activation resistant structural and functional materials,
  • new approaches to link mechanical properties and irradiation effects in engineered alloys.

The outcomes feed into a trajectory towards higher TRLs at NNL and ultimately to industrial partners, thus creating an innovation chain. Planned activities will exploit synergies between new and established nuclear and national centres, while establishing unique capability to design from the ‘atom to the component’ with a synthetic, production and irradiation portfolio, the latter intrinsic to performance assessment of materials and delivery of process integration proof of principle.

Henry Royce partners – the research will be carried out by the universities of Manchester, Sheffield, Oxford and Imperial College London, together with NNL and CCFE.

National Nuclear Laboratory

With an emerging civil new nuclear build programme including the stated ambition to build one of the first Small Modular Reactors in the world, and with a strong record of collaboration between universities and the nuclear industry, the UK is well-positioned to lead the adoption of new materials for nuclear fuel, reactor components and waste management. The pathway to adopting these new materials requires that they be tested in challenging environments including at high temperatures, within reactor coolant and within the high radiation fields present in the reactor core. The National Nuclear Laboratory provides unique world class facilities for the manufacture of experimental fuels and for materials characterisation following irradiation.

The NNL will equip a facility for the characterisation of irradiated materials with high activity, and for the preparation of small-samples for transfer to lower active facilities at NNL and those of other partner institutes. The NNL facility will provide access to a range of irradiated materials available through earlier UK nuclear research programmes, including the fast reactor programme.

The work carried out at NNL will lead to the development of new nuclear fuels with increased tolerance to accident conditions, reactor designs with improved efficiency and longer operational lives and waste immobilisation processes with optimum stability in geological disposal conditions.

Henry Royce partners – the research will bring together some of the UK’s leading academics, from the universities of Manchester, Cambridge, Leeds, Sheffield, Imperial College London and Oxford, who collaborate regularly to maintain the UK’s leading expertise in 2D materials. Other institutions that are not currently part of the Henry Royce Institute, include the universities of Nottingham and Warwick, the National Nuclear Laboratory, Culham Centre for Fusion Energy and the National Physical Laboratory, will also collaborate on the research.

Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE)

The Henry Royce Institute Advanced Materials for Nuclear Energy theme requires a range of facilities to handle and analyse nuclear material. The purpose of UKAEA’s Materials Research Facility at CCFE is to provide processing and analysis of material that is too radioactive for university premises but does not need to be handled at a nuclear licensed site (therefore reducing cost and time). MRF opened in early 2016 with major investment from the UK Government’s NNUF (National Nuclear User Facility) initiative. It has hot cells to receive and cut specimens, and prepare samples small enough (and therefore of low enough activity) to be analysed in universities’ own laboratories or in equipment at MRF. As well as universities, MRF is for use by industry and national laboratories for a range of applications as part of Royce and other programmes. These include examination of how irradiation affects the properties of steels and other materials needed for tomorrow’s more efficient nuclear power stations, and analysis of in-service components in today’s power stations to inform lifetime extension decisions. Initial equipment includes a Focused Ion Beam, Scanning Electron Microscope, nanoindenter and thermal desorption spectroscopy. An investment programme is planned for 2016-2019 part-funded by the Henry Royce Institute; including equipment for a range of mechanical and thermo-physical testing and improved sample preparation. The MRF will be one of several facilities used by universities in co-ordinated research programmes that will also exploit facilities at universities, NNL, Diamond Light Source, etc.

The Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) is the fusion research arm of UKAEA (UK Atomic Energy Authority), located at Culham Science Centre in Oxfordshire. See CCFE’s website for more information on the Materials Research Facility:

Henry Royce partners – research using the MRF will bring together some of the UK’s leading nuclear materials researchers from NNL and from the universities of Imperial College, Manchester, Oxford and Sheffield. Other organisations expected to use the MRF but not currently part of the Henry Royce Institute include Birmingham and Bristol universities, AWE and nuclear power companies.

Advanced materials for nuclear energy champion
Professor Melissa A. Denecke, Scientific Director of the Dalton Nuclear Institute, The University of Manchester

Advanced Materials for Nuclear (Irradiated) champions
Professor Andrew Sherry, Chief Scientist, National Nuclear Laboratory
Professor Jonathan Hyde, Chief Technologist, Reactor Operations Support, National Nuclear Laboratory.

UKAEA Materials Research Facility (MRF) champions
Steven Van Boxel, lead MRF scientist
Martin O’Brien, chair of UKAEA’s MRF Project Board

If you are interested in finding out more please get in touch.

Lead Institutions