To successfully deliver a renaissance in UK nuclear energy there is an urgent need for increased national and regional activity in nuclear research and expert training.
The South West Nuclear Hub plays a key strategic role in this national challenge by working closely with government, industry and academic centres of expertise to provide a high-profile regional focal point for academic and industrial collaboration and co-location.
The Hub benefits the nuclear industry by providing a source of skilled people, a unique research resource and a hotbed for innovation, increasing UK competitiveness in the global nuclear supply chain.
By bringing all these institutions together, we are able to provide a single front door, for the government and industry to access our skilled people and cutting-edge research infrastructure.
Global research themes
The South West Nuclear Hub structures its research under the following themes:
1. Nuclear Materials and Modelling
This theme aims to develop a fundamental understanding of the inter-relationship between material 'microstructure', nano- to micro-scale, for nuclear materials and their physical, chemical and mechanical properties under extreme environmental conditions , including neutron irradiation.
2. Systems Reliability
- Software Reliability
Theoretical research: bounds on failure probabilities for computation.
Practical application: risk analysis for critical software systems
- Organisational Safety
Theoretical research: modelling the dynamics of socio-technical systems in large organisations.
Practical application: early recognition of precursors to large industry accidents, enabling interventions to be put in place.
3. Structural Integrity
The investigation of the behaviour of materials and structures across multiple length scales, in both ‘normal’ and ‘aggressive’ environments.
Research covers a number of engineering topic areas including:
- advanced structural integrity;
- joining and forming;
- residual stress measurement;
- fracture mechanics.
4. Nuclear Hazards and Risks
Research seeks to directly influence decision-making in the nuclear industry on matters of:
- use of nuclear deterrents;
- nuclear proliferation and forensics;
- external hazards to nuclear installations and infrastructure from floods, climate and seismic and volcanic activity at a wide range of temporal and spatial scales;
- systems safety;
- radiological hazards associated with contaminated land.
6. Waste and Fuel Management
A core part of the nuclear decommissioning process concerns the safe disposal and management of used fuel and waste products. Research areas include:
- waste disposal and effluent management;
- nuclear material management;
- environmental remediation of radionuclides and microstructural analysis of crystalline solids;
- decommissioning/decontamination of reactors;
- new fuel development.
7. Structural Engineering
Structural Engineering addresses the understanding of the fundamentals of how structures behave to be able to develop more reliable methods of analysis and design. This area includes:
- Testing and modelling in the field of control;
- seismic analysis;
- structural dynamics and non-linear engineering;
- earthquake engineering.
Radioactive materials are highly controlled, and also difficult to detect by sight. Therefore there is a need to develop scanning and detection methods to be able to identify materials.
A very promising technique for scanning is cosmic ray tomography (CRT). This is because cosmic muons are highly penetrating and are naturally occurring. This means that it is impossible to screen against and it introduces no above-background radiation.
This can be applied to border-control situations where nuclear devices are suspected, or for measuring the contents of nuclear waste silos using cosmic rays to detect which materials are where in the silos.
Due to the hazardous nature of some nuclear materials, it is sometimes difficult and time-consuming for human workers to carry out certain tasks. It is therefore safer and more efficient to use robots. Challenges include:
- hardware and software aspects of robotics;
- control and actuation.
10. Digital Innovation