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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/S032959/1
Title: Isolation of 14C species from spent ion exchange resins and their stabilisation
Principal Investigator: Corkhill, Professor C
Other Investigators:
Kinoshita, Dr H
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Lablogic Systems Limited Nuclear Decomissioning Authority Submarine Development Agency
Department: Materials Science and Engineering
Organisation: University of Sheffield
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 September 2019 Ends: 31 August 2022 Value (£): 386,164
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Energy - Nuclear
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
13 Mar 2019 UK ROK Phase 2 Prioritisation March 2019 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Organic ion exchange resins are utilised in many different areas of the civil nuclear fuel cycle, from uranium ore concentration and refinement and chemical control of coolant water composition in light water reactors and spent fuel storage ponds, to decontamination of radioactive element-containing effluents arising from fuel reprocessing and nuclear decommissioning operations. These materials are effective "sponges" for a wide range of radioactive elements, hence their widespread use. The UK has stockpiled approximately 600 m3 of spent (i.e., used) ion exchange resins (SIERs), which require disposal, and continues to produce between 2.5 to 13 m3 per year.

The disposal of SIERs is problematic; there are several key issues, which include:

1. The 14C inventory of the materials. This isotope has a half life of 5,730 years and is incorporated as 14CO32- and H14CO3-, which, if allowed to enter the environment are extremely mobile and biologically available. Release of 14C gas in a disposal environment provides a rapid 14C migration pathway to the biosphere;

2. The degradation of SIERs in a disposal environment through radioactive decay processes produces organic complexant molecules, which may facilitate rapid transport of radioactive elements from SIERs to the biosphere;

3. The degradation of SIERs in a storage environment may also yield chemically toxic gases such as benzene, phenol and ammonia, which make storage extremely problematic.

These issues require the SIERs to be treated so as to meet waste acceptance criteria for disposal. This is typically achieved by destruction using thermal or chemical processes. In this proposal, we aim to develop a promising chemical treatment route for the destruction of SIERs, known as wet oxidation.

Wet oxidation has been successfully trialled elsewhere for the destruction of non-radioactive surrogates for SIERs, however, the specific methods previously utilised do not give rise to by-product residues that are amenable to immobilisation in a material suitable for disposal in the UK. We propose two novel approaches to wet oxidation processes that will not only generate by-products more suitable for immobilisation, but that also have a greater destruction efficiency than those previously trialled. Furthermore, we will develop and optimise tailored cement, ceramic and glass waste forms for the immobilisation of SIER degradation. We will provide a robust scientific underpinning of the chemical speciation and local distribution of radionuclides in SIERs and the immobilisation matrices we develop, and understand their behaviour in disposal environments, to support the safe and timely disposal of SIER wastes.

A significant novelty of this research is the verification of our new treatment and immobilisation methods for SIERs using real radioactive materials. After optimisation of the processes described above using inactive SIERs, we will apply them to real radioactive SIER from the UK decommissioning programme. If successful, this work will be a significant step towards demonstrating an effective treatment option for the resin, allowing early site termination of a significant hazard.

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