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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/X036065/1
Title: Investigating electrochemically induced uranium redox cycling
Principal Investigator: Neill, Dr T
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) National Nuclear Laboratory Nuclear Decomissioning Authority
Nuclear Waste Services
Department: Earth Atmospheric and Env Sciences
Organisation: University of Manchester, The
Scheme: EPSRC Fellowship
Starts: 01 June 2024 Ends: 31 May 2027 Value (£): 463,431
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Energy - Nuclear
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
12 Mar 2024 Energy & Engineering Postdoc Fellowship Interview Panel 12 and 13 March 2024 Announced
05 Sep 2023 Engineering Prioritisation Panel Meeting 5 6 7 September 2023 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Energy security and supply is of utmost importance in today's society and it is abundantly clear that nuclear fission will play an increasing critical role in delivering the net zero carbon agenda by 2050. A significant challenge for nuclear fission in the UK is its nuclear legacy, resulting from over 60 years of civil nuclear power generation and nuclear weapons production. This nuclear 'clean-up', including the decommissioning of legacy nuclear facilities and the long-term disposal of radioactive wastes, will cost upwards of £230bn and is a multi-generational project. To be able to progress safely, securely and efficiently with nuclear decommissioning and waste disposal, it is crucial to understand the underpinning chemistry of radionuclides within radioactive wastes. This project aims to deliver a step-change in fundamental understanding of uranium chemistry - a key component of radioactive waste management. Understanding uranium behaviour, e.g. uranium solubility and mobility, in engineered and natural environments is key to the safe decommissioning of legacy nuclear facilities and the long-term disposal of radioactive wastes. These systems are dynamic, with changes in chemistry likely to occur over the lifetimes of legacy nuclear and disposal facilities. It is therefore essential to understand how these changes in chemistry will impact on uranium behaviour in nuclear decommissioning and disposal scenarios including in deep geological disposal conditions. This fellowship will combine electrochemistry and advanced X-ray spectroscopies to investigate industrially and environmentally relevant reactions of uranium for the first time.

Uranium behaviour is controlled by its oxidation state and the presence of complexing ligands, chemical species which are present in groundwaters and other solutions that come into contact with uranium-containing systems. These ligands can strongly bind uranium and stabilise solid- or solution-phase uranium species, significantly altering its behaviour. Changes in reduction/oxidation (redox) conditions can therefore have a significant impact on the behaviour of uranium and the chemical processes underlying these changes are not fully understood. These underlying chemical processes, or 'redox pathways', can control the eventual fate of uranium and the presence of different complexing ligands may significantly alter these redox pathways. Therefore, it is important to understand these fundamental processes to gain a holistic understanding of uranium chemistry and behaviour in dynamic systems where changes in redox and solution conditions may be expected. This fundamental understanding can then inform radioactive waste handling strategies and nuclear decommissioning approaches, promoting the safest and most efficient approaches to dealing with the nuclear legacy.

In this fellowship, an electrochemical cell will be used to control the redox potential in experimental systems to change the oxidation state of uranium. Using a range of techniques, the changes in chemical bonding environment and oxidation state will be monitored during these reactions. The goal here is to produce controlled reactions whereby the changes in uranium chemistry at the molecular level can be probed during these key redox pathways, creating a step-change in the understanding of uranium redox chemistry in the presence of key complexing ligands. This analysis will be done using a multi-technique approach, measuring concentrations of uranium in solution and the chemical form of uranium in both the solid and solution phases. X-ray spectroscopy will be a key technique for analysing the chemical speciation, shedding new light on crucial reaction pathways occurring in these highly relevant systems.

Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.man.ac.uk