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The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Research project: TRANSCEND – Transformative Science and Engineering for Nuclear Decommissioning

Currently Active: 
Yes

TRANSCEND is a multi-partner EPSRC-funded project that addresses key challenges in nuclear site decommissioning and waste management. Our contribution to this project is to develop new low-energy electricity-based remediation techniques (electrokinetic remediation, or EKR), which enable contaminated soils, concretes and other materials to be flexibly cleaned up, contained or stabilised on-site.

Decommissioning nuclear sites involves waste retrieval, decontamination, deconstruction and, where necessary, containment and/or cleaning up of the remaining structures, buildings and surrounding land. Critical to management of these processes is limiting radiation exposure for the workforce, restricting the spread of radionuclides in groundwater, surface water and airborne particulates, and minimising the volume of contaminated waste for disposal.

Even though a range of existing soil and water remediation and waste clean-up techniques are available to nuclear site managers, effective on-site  remediation remains a common technical challenge. This is particularly true at sites with complex or low permeability soils and geology (many techniques for dealing with radioactive contamination in the ground are much less effective in low permeability soils), and on working sites or sites with considerable surface and subsurface buildings, pipework etc. Our research aims to develop practical on-site remediation techniques that work in low-permeability soils and on working or complex nuclear sites. We’ve shown previously that electrokinetic remediation (where contaminants are moved in the ground by electrocuting them; literally, electro = electricity, kinetic = movement) can remediate plutonium contaminated soils (Agnew et al, 2011). Building on emerging sustainable remediation ideas, we use novel, low energy and in- and ex-situ electrokinetic technologies to:

(a)    manage and clean complex site materials (including low-permeability soils) at working (and legacy) nuclear sites,

(b)    limit the spread of active contaminants, and,

(c)     minimise waste volumes for subsequent disposal during decommissioning.

We at Southampton, and more broadly within TRANSCEND, are motivated not only by reducing the cost of nuclear decommissioning but also, ultimately, by returning contaminated sites to safe, natural public use as quickly and as safely as possible.

Funding dates:

October 2018 to September 2022

Funding provider:

EPSRC

Project website

Schematic of low-energy electrokinetic remediation (for containment – via focused in-situ formation of reactive iron-rich barriers) and previous on-site application (from Agnew et al., 2011).

Schematic of low-energy electrokinetic remediation (for containment – via focused in-situ formation of reactive iron-rich barriers) and previous on-site application (from Agnew et al., 2011).

Related research groups

Geochemistry
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