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Reference Number EP/W02702X/1
Title Inert Atmosphere Automated Synthesis for the Investigation of Nuclear Waste relevant species (DIGINERT)
Status Started
Energy Categories Nuclear Fission and Fusion (Nuclear Fission, Nuclear supporting technologies) 100%;
Research Types Basic and strategic applied research 100%
Science and Technology Fields PHYSICAL SCIENCES AND MATHEMATICS (Chemistry) 100%
UKERC Cross Cutting Characterisation Not Cross-cutting 80%;
Sociological economical and environmental impact of energy (Technology acceptance) 10%;
Other (Energy technology information dissemination) 10%;
Principal Investigator Dr NL Bell

University of Glasgow
Award Type Standard
Funding Source EPSRC
Start Date 01 January 2023
End Date 31 December 2027
Duration 60 months
Total Grant Value £1,151,120
Industrial Sectors No relevance to Underpinning Sectors
Region Scotland
Programme NC : Physical Sciences
Investigators Principal Investigator Dr NL Bell , Chemistry, University of Glasgow (100.000%)
  Industrial Collaborator Project Contact , Sellafield Ltd (0.000%)
Web Site
Abstract Managing the UKs nuclear legacy is projected to cost £124B over the next century, a large portion of which derives from handling and disposal of highly radioactive actinide wastes, such as plutonium and uranium. Manual handling and chemical manipulation of these radioactive materials presents a hazardous task for the industry and requires extremely costly risk mitigation measures to be implemented. The risk is increased further by the potential of many actinide species to ignite on contact with air, meaning technologies must be used to prevent their exposure to oxygen and moisture.Recently, automation tools have increasingly been incorporated into a chemist's workflow, improving safety and throughput while decreasing time and labor costs. However, one reagent is constant in these systems, air. The impact this reactive gas has on the chemistry cannot be understated and a wealth of undiscovered science is made available by providing dry environments which allow experiments to be conducted under inert or different atmospheres. Importantly, the incorporation of remotely operable automation tools for actinide handling could dramatically increase the safety of researchers and decrease costs in the nuclear industry, all while allowing us to narrow the sizeable knowledge gap which currently exists for the behavior of these difficult to probe materials.In this Fellowship I will develop the first comprehensive automation technology for chemical manipulations in the absence of air and moisture and will collaborate with Sellafield nuclear site to develop safe tools for the remote automation of key inert operations. This work builds upon my track record in actinide science and automation of inorganic chemistry but also pushes further towards building tools which meet industrial needs.This project has three key steps: Build, Secure & Validate.I will first build a suite of technologies which allow automation of full reactions while excluding air and water allowing for a wide range of chemistry to be undertaken under different gas conditions. Firstly a low-cost remotely operable gas & vacuum distribution system will be developed which allows multiple reactors to be systematically purged of air and water along with a range of digitally controllable air-tight reactors for the safe storage and transportation of highly reactive species. I will also develop an integrated gas-liquid handing system increasing both safety and throughput of reactions under inert conditions. By designing the system with anaerobic handling in mind I will increase the speed at which we are able to investigate different reactions under inert conditions.Next, I will develop new strategies to ensure safe automation. I will collaborate with experts in sensor design to build feedback into the technology as an early detection system for potential hazards including pressure increases, elevated temperature and radiation leaks. I will also develop new risk assessment technologies which canflag potential hazards and suggest mitigation steps in advance.The technology developed herein will be validated on the synthesis of uranium compounds as models of nuclear waste materials behavior. Uranium imido complexes which can act as soluble analogues of the actinide oxo species present in nuclear wastes and allow us to deeply probe the behavior of these species. Utilizing my inert atmosphere technologies model complexes will be synthesized and subsequently reacted with a range of relevant contaminants (eg H2) using the technology described above. Finally, throughout this project I will collaborate closely with scientists as Sellafield. Together we will design experiments to meet their key challenges and demonstrate the utility of my technology for the industry. I will also build upon this Fellowship opportunity to deepen my ties within industry and work towards having my technologies implemented & handling radioactive materials at an appropriate UK site
Publications (none)
Final Report (none)
Added to Database 10/05/23