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Nuclear Waste Management: Research Challenges for the Future

Management of the UK’s nuclear waste presents a major challenge to current and future generations of scientists and technologists, and to existing infrastructure and institutional arrangements. Young researchers entering the field now and over the next four decades will need to build and communicate an integrated understanding of the multi-scale processes involved in the processing, packaging, disposal and regulation of a wide variety of materials designated as nuclear waste. The context of this work is evolving rapidly – the Radioactive Waste Management Directorate of the NDA (Nuclear Decommissioning Authority) has now published its R&D strategy, and CoRWM (the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management) has issued its reports to the UK government on R&D and on the geological disposal programme.

This conference addressed key questions for the next generation of nuclear waste researchers. What are the emerging research priorities, and what progress is being made? How are those in historically distinct disciplines to work together to address new challenges? What skills are required for research and delivery of a geological disposal programme, and how can funding and implementation bodies be configured to encourage talented scientists to build long-term careers in this area?

The dual focus – on cutting edge research and the need to build communities to meet new skills needs – attracted a diverse audience, especially those in the early stages of their careers, not only from universities and research institutes, but also from industry, government, regulators and other institutions. The Mineralogical and Geological societies encouraged members of other learned societies and professional bodies to be involved in shaping the conference programme, and to make it truly multi-disciplinary.

The speakers were supported through generous contributions by the Geological Society and the Mineralogical, and by the Applied Mineralogy Group, the Geochemistry Group, the Environmental Mineralogy Group and the Mineral Physics Group.

Characterization of wastes

  • radiochemical and material characterization of nuclear wastes, unpackaged and encapsulated

Stabilization of high level wastes (glasses, ceramics)

  • vitrification, ceramics, novel mineral matrices
  • alteration and secondary phases
  • dissolution of radionuclides from spent fuel and wasteforms
  • radiolysis effects
Hallimond Lecturer: Rod Ewing (University of Michigan)

Long-term behaviour of engineered barriers (containers, buffers, backfills) in geological conditions

  • biogeochemical conditions in the EBS
  • stability of clay buffers
  • cementitious backfills and grouts
  • thermal, hydraulic, mechanical and chemical (THMC) interactions
Keynote speaker: Andy Felmy, Pacific Northwest National Labs, USA

Retention, retardation and reactive transport of radionuclides

  • sorption processes on mineral surfaces and rock matrix, co-precipitation
  • petrographic and mineralogic fabric of transport pathways
  • biogeochemical effects on speciation and transport
  • nanoparticle stability and mobility in the geosphere
  • laboratory and field experiments, upscaling of processes and parameters
Keynote speakers: Francis Livens, Manchester, B. Kienzler, Karlsruhe

Total system performance, models and uncertainties

  • performance models of engineered barriers
  • long-term evolution of near field conditions
  • models of radionuclide transport and retention
  • long-term geosphere scenarios
  • natural analogues of long-term retention in the geosphere
Keynote speaker: Scott Painter, Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico


  • panel-led discussion on skills, research communities, research priorities and career options.
Panel members: Graham Fairhall (National Nuclear Laboratory), Sarah Vines (Nuclear Decommissioning Authority); others to be added to this group.