Funded PhD research projects

Applications are invited from candidates interested in an RWM sponsored PhD project.

As an RWM RSO student you will be conducting world leading, high quality, and relevant research to underpin the RWM geological disposal programme.  Your PhD research will address gaps and uncertainties relevant to the design and development of a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF), potentially the most significant environmental infrastructure project in the UK. Throughout your research project you will be supported by the RWM RSO with professional networking opportunities, support to publish your work and opportunities to present at relevant conferences. If you want to undertake impactful research, consider one of the fully funded PhD projects below. More research projects will be added to this page regularly as funding becomes available. Sign up to our newsletter to be kept up to date.

PhD projects starting in 2021 mark the first cohort of RWM RSO research students. The RWM RSO will offer additional training and support, as well as access to a network of researchers working on all aspects of geological disposal.

If you are interested in one of the fully funded PhD projects below, please get in touch with the supervisor for more information on how to apply.

Modelling the behaviour of compacted bentonite at high temperatures

Title: Modelling the behaviour of compacted bentonite at high temperatures – Optimisation of geological disposal facilities

Description: Compacted bentonite clay is part of engineered barrier systems (EBS) developed for nuclear waste storage in geological disposal facilities (GDF). No such facilities have yet been constructed but Governments around the world, including the UK, are committed to delivering GDFs as the most efficient and sustainable long-term solution for managing the existing and newly-produced nuclear waste. These will be substantial environmental projects, comprising the construction of vaults / access tunnels and EBS emplacement up to 1km below the ground surface, in competent ground conditions. The GDF underground footprint is envisaged to take an area of 10km2 on average, under the current constraint of the bentonite clay being exposed to a maximum temperature of 100 deg C from the nuclear waste canister. Placed as a buffer between the canister and the host rock, bentonite will be subjected to hydration from the host rock and to high temperature from the canister. The objective of the EBS design is for the hydration to promote the swelling of bentonite and sealing of construction voids, thus preventing and retarding the possible escape of radionuclides into the natural host environment.

Institution: Imperial College London

This project is in collaboration with the Nuclear Energy Futures Centre for Doctoral Training. The successful applicant will be part of this exciting CDT, in addition to the Research Support Office community.

Supervisor(s): Prof Lidija Zdravkovic, Prof David Potts

Sponsor(s): EPSRC and Radioactive Waste Management Ltd

Understanding the consequences of steam formation for the sealing performance of barrier bentonites

Title: Understanding the consequences of steam formation for the sealing performance of barrier bentonites

Description: This project will investigate the effects of steam formation within partially saturated bentonite and its subsequent performance on the engineered barrier system. Maintaining and demonstrating an adequate Engineered Barrier System sealing performance will be of fundamental importance to safety assessments for the disposal of HHGWs. This PhD will specifically address two key questions: (i) whether the interaction between partially saturated bentonite and steam results in a marked reduction in the bentonite swelling capacity, and (ii) whether the bentonite permeability is increased as a consequence.

The PhD will answer these questions by conducting a series of experiments in bespoke testing apparatus at the British Geological Survey (BGS) to establish the swelling capacity and permeability of steam treated bentonites under a range of repository conditions. Laboratory experimentation will be conducted both within the Transport Properties Research Laboratories at the BGS and using the state-of-the-art facilities at the University of Bristol Interface Analysis Centre, at which the student will have membership.

Institution: British Geological Survey and University of Bristol

Supervisor(s): Dr Katherine Daniels and Prof Tom Scott

Sponsor(s): Radioactive Waste Management Ltd

Ventilation of Hydrogen in a Geological Disposal Facility

Title: Ventilation of Hydrogen in a Geological Disposal Facility

Description: The aim of this project is to predict the behaviour of slowly-released buoyant gasses in a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) and inform the design of ventilation for such facilities. Geological disposal involves isolating radioactive waste in a vault deep inside suitable bedrock to ensure that no harmful quantities of radioactivity ever reach the surface environment. A GDF will be a highly engineered structure consisting of multiple barriers designed to provide protection over hundreds of thousands of years.

Hydrogen gas – which is potentially flammable – can arise from the corrosion and degradation of certain types of radioactive waste. Ventilation of hydrogen is a significant engineering challenge for a GDF; new research is required to inform the design of the vaults themselves and size the mechanical ventilation for them. Passive safety in the event of a loss of power is a further consideration.

The release of dense and buoyant gases has been extensively studied, including several recently by the project supervisor (Dr Andrew Lawrie) on determining scaling laws for particular geometries. Here our focus will be to migrate existing understanding of special cases into the more general GDF context to predict the likely evolution of hydrogen concentrations. The key scientific challenge lies in estimating the rate of molecular mixing in a vault environment that will have thermal sources and may become density-stratified.

Laboratory experiments measuring vault circulation and release concentrations directly (primarily using non-invasive optical methods) will provide validation for Computational Fluid Dynamics models that will inform the design of GDF vaults and ventilation structures. A sensitivity analysis of the flow will guide suitable locations for a network of hydrogen leak sensors designed to solve the inverse problem of leak source-finding amongst the many individual radioactive waste packages that will be stored in the vault.

Candidate Requirements: Applicants must hold/achieve a minimum of a Masters degree (or international equivalent) in one of the following: Aerospace Engineering, Physical Sciences, Mechanical Engineering, Chemical/Process Engineering. Applicants without a Masters qualification may be considered on an exceptional basis, provided they hold a first-class undergraduate degree.

Some experience in programming in a compiled language relevant to the design of numerically intensive simulation is essential.

Institution: The University of Bristol

Supervisor(s): Dr Andrew Lawrie

Sponsor(s): Radioactive Waste Management Ltd