News Release

UK and Japan partnership to develop new technologies for nuclear waste disposal

Grant and Award Announcement

UK Research and Innovation

New research that will develop technologies to detect and process radioactive waste has been awarded funding by the UK in partnership with the Japanese government.

The research will support work to decommission Sellafield Nuclear Plant in the UK and remove radioactive debris from the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan. 

Two projects have been awarded a share of £1 million, delivered by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, to address challenges in: 

  • radioactive waste treatment, packaging, and storage; 
  • remote handling, robotic, and autonomous systems in decommissioning; 
  • environmental behaviour of radionuclide release and management of risk and degraded infrastructure.

The UK-Japan Civil Nuclear Research programme is a partnership between UK Research and Innovation and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). 

This is the first UKRI award through the International Science Partnerships Fund (ISPF) which was launched by Science Minister George Freeman in Japan in December.

The ISPF supports collaborations between UK researchers and innovators and their peers from around the world to address global challenges, build knowledge and develop the technologies of tomorrow on the major themes of our time: planet, health, tech and talent.

George Freeman MP, UK Minister of State at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology said:

“After I launched the International Science Partnerships Fund in Japan, last year, it is only fitting that our first UKRI award from the Fund, is in partnership with Japan too.

“Processing nuclear waste is an enormous challenge for human civilisation. Bringing together the UK and Japan’s brightest minds, to focus our shared expertise in sensing, data, chemistry and more, cuts to the core of what this Fund and our science superpower mission is all about – harnessing UK scientific leadership through deeper international collaboration for global good, to tackle the most pressing needs facing humanity.”

The research projects are being led by academics at the universities of Strathclyde and Sheffield. 

Dr Paul Murray from the University of Strathclyde will lead research to improve the detection, safeguarding, retrieval and disposal of radioactive debris.  Bringing together a team of researchers and industrialists from the UK and Japan, including: Lancaster University, the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), Osaka University, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) and Nippon Nuclear Fuel Development, the project will develop new inspection technologies using hyperspectral imaging (HSI) along with other sensor technologies, signal processing and data fusion.

Dr Brant Walkley, from the University of Sheffield, will lead a study to use calcined clays as natural resources to engineer ‘geopolymer binders’. The binders will safely cement solid radioactive fuel debris from molten core concrete comprising metallic alloys, oxides, and silicates, and slurries and sediments.

Professor Christopher Smith, International Champion at UKRI, said:

“International partnerships are crucial to ensuring we learn from each other and harness the extraordinary potential of research and innovation to overcome challenges and future proof our safety and wellbeing in the UK and around the world. These new investments are an example of this.

“Experts from across the UK and Japan will work together to find innovative solutions to safely detect and dispose of radioactive nuclear debris to protect and safeguard local environments now and for future generations.”

This programme builds on a long-standing relationship between EPSRC and the Japanese research community and government.

Further information: 

A list of UKRI’s current ISPF programmes is here.

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the main funding body for engineering and physical sciences research in the UK. Our portfolio covers a vast range of fields from digital technologies to clean energy, manufacturing to mathematics, advanced materials to chemistry. 

EPSRC invests in world-leading research and skills, advancing knowledge and delivering a sustainable, resilient and prosperous UK. We support new ideas and transformative technologies which are the foundations of innovation, improving our economy, environment and society. Working in partnership and co-investing with industry, we deliver against national and global priorities.

International Science Partnerships Fund

The £119m International Science Partnerships Fund is designed to enable potential and foster prosperity. It puts research and innovation at the heart of our international relationships, supporting UK researchers and innovators to work with peers around the world on the major themes of our time.  It's managed by the Department for Science, Innovation Technology. Delivered by a consortium of the UK’s leading research and innovation bodies. For more information visit: 

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