Engineers publish new research on meltdown materials

30 January 2020

Engineers at the UK's University of Sheffield have developed materials that they say could be used to help decommission the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear power plants. In the new research published today, they report their development of small batches of low radioactivity materials that can be used to simulate lava-like fuel containing materials (LFCMs). LFCMs are a mixture of highly radioactive molten nuclear fuel and building materials that fuse together during a nuclear meltdown.

Dr Claire Corkhill (Image: University of Sheffield)

The simulated materials, produced by Dr Claire Corkhill and her team from the university's Department of Materials Science and Engineering, in collaboration with scientists in Ukraine, can simulate the LFCMs that are obstructing decommissioning efforts at the nuclear accident sites. Published in the journal Nature Materials Degradation, the development is the first time a close approximation of a real LFCM has ever been achieved.

Corkhill said: "Understanding the mechanical, thermal and chemical properties of the materials created in a nuclear meltdown is critical to help retrieve them, for example, if we don’t know how hard they are, how can we create the radiation-resistant robots required to cut them out?" She added: "Thanks to this research, we now have a much lower radioactivity simulant meltdown material to investigate, which is safe for our collaborators in Ukraine and Japan to research without the need for radiation shielding. Ultimately this will help advance the decommissioning operations at Chernobyl and also at Fukushima too."

The research is described as a starting point, but the research team hopes to advance this work quite rapidly. Corkhill said: "Since the clean-up of Chernobyl is anticipated to take around 100 years, and Fukushima at least 50 years, anything we can do to speed up the process will be beneficial to Ukraine and Japan, in both financial and safety terms."

The research paper is titled Synthesis, characterisation and corrosion behaviour of simulant Chernobyl nuclear meltdown materials.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News