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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/S032797/1
Title: Electrokinetic Separation for Enhanced Decontamination of Soils and Groundwater Systems
Principal Investigator: Harbottle, Dr D
Other Investigators:
Hunter, Dr T
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Nuclear Decomissioning Authority SNC Lavalin / Atkins
Department: Chemical and Process Engineering
Organisation: University of Leeds
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 May 2019 Ends: 30 April 2022 Value (£): 378,287
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Assess/Remediate Contamination Energy - Nuclear
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Energy
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
13 Mar 2019 UK ROK Phase 2 Prioritisation March 2019 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Safely managing the legacy of first generation nuclear power, reducing nuclear risks and hazards, has in recent years become a priority for the nuclear industry both in the UK and Republic of Korea (ROK) as downscaling continues in the interim to 'new nuclear'. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA, UK) estimate the total cost of decommissioning first generation nuclear power to be £121 B over the next 120 years, with significant costs associated to the management of spent fuel and legacy wastes. However, substantial effort is also directed towards remediating sites prior to their next planned use.

Remediating soils and groundwater is extremely challenging due to the low-levels of radionuclide contaminants encountered in the environment and their strong association with clays, rendering simple washing of contaminated soils inadequate. The challenge to successfully remediate is pointedly highlighted by the vast quantities of soils which have now been removed and stored at interim facilities following the incident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Substantial disturbance to the ecosystem is discouraged and methods to remediate soils and groundwater in-situ are highly favored.

The proposed research will consider in-situ remediation by chemical-enhanced electrokinetic separation to desorb Cs and Sr from difficult clay types. Chemical treatment using non-ionic, biodegradable polymers will be explored as a method to expand clay interlayers and recover ions which have become 'trapped' in clay particles. Once desorbed the mobile ions should be recovered to prevent their migration. Our partners at KAIST, ROK will design novel adsorbents to isolate ions at the cathode via electrochemical separation and by adsorption using 2D fabricated composite membranes that are impermeable to the selected ions to deliver rapid sorption kinetics and high adsorption capacity.

The research will advance understanding on appropriate methods to desorb ions from different lay types and successfully capture mobile ions, locally concentrating the contaminants and reducing the volume of waste for ultimate disposal. As decommissioning programs advance, remediation of soils and groundwater systems will come into focus. Installing in-situ technologies which can achieve high decontamination levels, require minimal engineering support, and do not cause long-term damage to the local ecosystem are highly desired and have the potential to accelerate remediation timescales and reduce the full lifetime costs of decommissioning legacy nuclear sites.

Finally, the UK-ROK international collaboration and industry partnership has an opportunity to enhance public confidence in the nuclear sector, engaging with future engineers and the general public who will witness a nuclear sector moving away from 'care and maintenance' to actively returning legacy sites to their desired end-state, all at the same time as growing 'new nuclear' and moving waste to its ultimate destination in a geological disposal facility.

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Organisation Website: http://www.leeds.ac.uk