RWM launches new venture to lead UK repository research

05 August 2020

The University of Manchester and the University of Sheffield will support the delivery of independent evidence-based research to underpin the development of a UK Geological Disposal Facility following a GBP2.5 million (USD3.3 million) grant secured from Radioactive Waste Management (RWM).

A researcher at the Dalton Institute (Image: University of Manchester)

Radioactive Waste Management yesterday announced the launch of the Research Support Office (RWM RSO) to "harness the UK's vast array of research capabilities in geo-disposal science and technology". It said the RSO will provide RWM with "world-class, independent, and robust evidence" to guide its work around safety and design in support of the delivery of a UK Geological Disposal Facility (GDF).

The RSO will focus its research on nine themes covering: advanced manufacturing; applied mathematics; applied social science; environmental science; geoscience; materials science; public communication of science; radiochemistry; and training. This includes experimental and modelling research in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects, as well as the coordination of applied social science research to explore the societal and socio-economic aspects of geological disposal, including how public trust and confidence can be developed and sustained with potential host communities.

Central to the RSO's role will be the coordination of needs-driven research. University researchers from across the UK will be able to bid to undertake research within the nine defined themes. Funding supported by RWM is expected to be around GBP20 million over a period of up to 10 years and, where appropriate, leveraging support for geological disposal related research from research councils is also part of the RWM RSO funding vision.

The partnership will also support the development of the next generation of researchers and build an "enduring community" of subject matter experts for geological disposal. "Having this knowledge and expertise coordinated across the UK's academic institutions will allow RWM and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority group, regulators, and supply chain to tap into the latest academic expertise, research, and thinking," RWM said.

The RWM RSO will be based at the University of Manchester's Dalton Nuclear Institute and headed by Professor Katherine Morris, BNFL Research Chair in Environmental Radioactivity at the University of Manchester. Research will be led by academics with the collective range of skills in geological disposal science and technology to deliver strategic research in radioactive waste management. The RWM RSO will look to further extend the expertise of this team by appointing discipline leads in applied mathematics, environmental science, public communication of science and additional key representatives from other UK universities through dedicated calls over the coming months.

Lucy Bailey, RWM's Head of Research Support Office, said: "Through the RSO we will harness the best research expertise across the UK to build the knowledge and understanding required to underpin the safety case to deliver a GDF that deals permanently with the UK's higher-activity waste."

The RSO will begin fulfilling its objectives with a series of online events taking place 16-18 September. Open to all UK-based researchers and stakeholders, the events will be a combination of knowledge sharing and collaborative research sandpits to define immediate research priorities.

A GDF comprises a network of highly-engineered underground vaults and tunnels built to permanently dispose of higher activity radioactive waste so that no harmful levels of radiation ever reach the surface environment. Countries such as Finland, Sweden, France, Canada and the USA are also pursuing this option.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News