Projects Recruiting Researchers
Applications are invited from candidates interested in an NWS sponsored PhD project.
As an NWS RSO student you will be conducting world leading, high quality, and relevant research to underpin the NWS 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 NWS 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.
If you are interested in one of the fully funded PhD projects below, click on the title of the project to get further details. Please get in touch with the supervisor for more information on how to apply.
Advanced characterisation of hydroceramics
Title: Advanced characterisation of hydroceramics – Improving the safety case for deep geological disposal of radioactive waste
Nuclear energy provides almost a fifth of the UK’s electricity, generating waste that needs to be managed for safe, long term storage. While most radioactive waste comes from the generation of electricity, it is also a by-product of many medical and industrial processes, research and defense activities that make use of radioactive materials. In a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF), higheractivity waste is stored hundreds of metres deep underground and GDF is internationally recognised as the safest long-term solution for this type of waste. There is strong interest in understanding how the cement grout used to contain waste interacts with the backfill material (called Nirex reference vault backfill) used to stabilise waste containers in the GDF. This project investigates rare, aged samples (+10 years old) to determine how microstructural and physical characteristics of the Nirex reference vault backfill (NRVB): Portland cement grout interface will alter over time-scales applicable to deep geological disposal facilities. This project will use a combination of 2D X-ray diffraction and scattering, 3D/2D imaging and supporting analytical measurements to determine how the cements microstructure and porosity/permeability have developed over 10 years of hydrothermal ageing. Beamtime at Diamond Light Source, a national synchrotron facility, will be applied for to access a new small angle X-ray scattering technique called SAXS-Tensor Tomography for high resolution information on the microstructural changes. The results from this project will inform on further (future) work on radionuclide retention and reactive transport in NRVB, which requires a thorough understanding of porosity/permeability (and mineralogy) to support numerical/predictive models on radionuclide mobility. Funded by Nuclear Waste Services (NWS), this project will directly inform on
improving and developing the safety case for deep geological disposal of radioactive waste.
The successful candidate will be trained in and use techniques such as micro-(X-ray diffraction), electron probe micro-analysis, X-ray computed tomography and access national facilities such as Diamond Light Source, to determine how mineralogy, micro-strain, porosity and permeability of the NRVB:cement grout interface have altered over 10 years. The student will be based in the Faculty of Engineering, one of the largest and most successful engineering faculties in the UK, and the largest in Scotland. The student will be supervised by an interdisciplinary team, including Drs Andrea Hamilton, Pieter Bots and Kate Dobson in Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) and Dr Paul Edwards in the Physics Department.
We are looking for a highly motivated person to undertake multi-disciplinary research. Applicants should have an excellent undergraduate degree (MSc/MEng/BSc/BEng, 1st class/2:1 class or equivalent) in Physics/Chemistry/Chemical Engineering/Materials, Science, or related subjects, and be comfortable working in physics, chemistry and engineering laboratories. Any previous experience using Matlab or similar is advantageous.
WHAT WE OFFER: This is a fully funded 4 year PhD studentship, covering tuition fees and an annual tax-free stipend for 4 years at the standard UK research rate (£19, 435 in 2023). A generous allowance is available for instrument access/conference attendance. Start date is expected to be Spring-Summer 2023 but is negotiable. Application deadline 24th April 2023, but early application is strongly advised.
Available to students from the United Kingdom or who have settled status within the UK. Please contact Dr Hamilton (firstname.lastname@example.org) to apply.
Institution: University of Strathclyde
Supervisor(s): Dr Andrea Hamilton and Dr Katherine Dobson
Sponsor(s): Nuclear Waste Services
Environmental radiochemistry to support criticality safety of nuclear waste disposal
Title: Environmental radiochemistry to support criticality safety of nuclear waste disposal: investigating the co-mobility of actinides and neutron poisons
This project will involve fundamental, interdisciplinary research combining radiochemistry, environmental radioactivity and mineralogy with cutting edge techniques in a state of art facility. The research project will be carried out in the University of Manchester’s RADER lab facility (https://www.ees.manchester.ac.uk/wrc/research/facilities/rader/), and will include solid- and solution-phase characterisation techniques. Throughout the study, the successful applicant will investigate the chemical speciation (local bonding environment) of neutron poisons and radionuclides using luminescence and X-ray absorption spectroscopic techniques to underpin the behaviour of these elements with a fundamental understanding of their aqueous geo-chemistry.
The successful applicant will join a welcoming, vibrant group of 20+ researchers examining environmental chemistry and radioactivity research topics and receive training in a wide range of experimental techniques and methodologies including the handling of radioactive materials and X-ray absorption spectroscopy. They will also have the opportunity to present their research results to their nuclear industry supervisor, and at national and international research conferences. The project benefits from established links to the UK nuclear industry (e.g. co-funder Nuclear Waste Services) and state of the art facilities in the University of Manchester’s Departments of Earth and Environmental Science and Chemistry. Furthermore, we have established links to radionuclide speciation via the Diamond Light Source. The student will benefit from co-funding through the GREEN CDT with a tailored training program, the success of which has been demonstrated by two-thirds of graduates from this consortium’s previous nuclear CDTs going on to work in the nuclear sector, and 90% taking up technical roles.
This project would suit an applicant with a background in Chemistry, Environmental Chemistry, Geosciences or a closely related discipline, willing to apply their skills to radioactive waste disposal. A Master’s degree in a relevant subject, and/or experience in handling and analysis of environmental samples containing radionuclides are desirable but not essential as all necessary training will be given.
Co-funded through NWS RSO and EPSRC, this studentship is available to start from 1 October 2023 and is fully funded for 4 years, covering fees and including a maintenance grant at the standard rate.
To apply or make enquiries visit Find A PhD and complete the form.
Institution: University of Manchester
Supervisor(s): Dr Vicky Coker, Dr Thomas Neill, Dr L Natrajan
Sponsor(s): Nuclear Waste Services, Green CDT
Nuclear energy radioactive waste disposal
Title: Nuclear energy radioactive waste disposal
Do you want to help solve the energy crisis? Are you passionate about preventing environmental pollution? Do you have problem-solving skills grounded in science? Want to gain industrially-relevant experience?
Then this PhD is for you!
Nuclear energy could offer part of the solution to the world-wide energy crisis through the generation of a low-CO2 baseload to the energy supply. However, to have truly “green credentials”, the safe disposal of radioactive waste should be fully planned and implemented. Most countries, including the UK, have adopted the principle of geological disposal of radioactive waste in a deep underground engineered facility, where the waste will be isolated from future populations until the radioactivity has safely decayed.
The planning for the UK’s geological disposal facility is currently underway and there are still unanswered questions about how certain radioactive wastes will behave, and degrade, in the subsurface. That’s where this PhD research comes in.
In this project, which is fully sponsored by the UK Government organisation responsible for radioactive waste disposal – Nuclear Waste Services – you will undertake research to understand the rate and mechanisms of radioactive waste degradation. Using full-scale simulant radioactive waste material, you will perform corrosion experiments under conditions relevant to the sub-surface disposal environment, growing skills in materials chemistry, mineralogy and geochemistry.
Experiments will be conducted in the laboratory (using the University of Sheffield’s swish new HADES and PLEIADES facilities – read on for more), but also at external user facilities (e.g. synchrotron facilities in the UK, USA, France), with opportunities to travel to international conferences to share your research amongst experts.
You will join a cohort of PhD students, all sponsored by Nuclear Waste Services, to undertake training, outreach and networking with the nuclear industry. There are also opportunities for placements relevant to the nuclear industry, environmental organisations and government.
The project will be supervised by Professor Claire Corkhill, who is one of the UK’s leading experts in radioactive waste disposal. She advises the UK Government on matters relating to nuclear waste, is often found chatting about radioactive waste on the TV (e.g. as a lead contributor to the Channel 4 documentary, Chernobyl: The New Evidence) and radio, and leads a group of 7 PhD students and 8 postdoctoral researchers.
The laboratories in which you will work are newly renovated and incorporate ~£1M of state-of-the-art equipment from two National Nuclear User Facilities – HADES (High Activity Decommissioning Engineering and Science) and PLEIADES (Platform for Long-term Evaluation of Alteration in Disposal Environments and Storage).
Still reading? Great! The PhD would suit someone with a 1st or 2:1 Bachelor or Masters degree (or equivalent experience) in any of the following: materials science, chemistry, chemical engineering, physics, geology, environmental science or related subjects. You must be prepared to work independently and also as part of a research team, and not be afraid to get things wrong before they go right (that’s how the best science works!).
For more information, please contact Professor Claire Corkhill: email@example.com
To apply visit Find A PhD and complete the form.
Institution: University of Sheffield
Supervisor(s): Professor Claire Corkhill
Sponsor(s): Nuclear Waste Services
Estimating chemical toxicity to wildlife
Title: Estimating chemical toxicity to wildlife – helping to dispose of our radioactive wastes
The University of Stirling are seeking a highly motivated individual to carry out a 4-year PhD project to develop an approach for estimating chemical toxicity to wildlife in support of the UK’s radioactive waste disposal activities by empowering decision making and building confidence around our ability to deal with radioactive and non-radioactive wastes in the long-term.
Past, present, and future anthropogenic uses of radioactivity from medical applications through to nuclear power generate radioactive wastes that we need to dispose of. The UK government is committed to geological disposal (GDF) for some of them. In addition to radioactivity, these wastes may contain non-radioactive hazardous materials such as lead and mercury, depleted uranium, Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), nitrates, hexachlorobenzene and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) amongst others. We need to understand the potential impacts of these non-radioactive stressors on wildlife.
To develop an approach for determining the effects on wildlife from non-radioactive stressors, you will interrogate the ecotoxicological literature related to non-radioactive stressors of interest and analyse criteria for determining the risk from these stressors to non-human biota. Having identified where ecotoxicological data are needed, you will then experimentally fill some of these data gaps. You will consider the effects of multiple stressors and incorporate your findings into a novel assessment tool that you will build for predicting the risk to wildlife from these non-radioactive stressors.
The successful candidate will be based in Biological and Environmental Sciences at the University of Stirling, supervised by Professor David Copplestone and Dr Clare Wilson, and you will spend time at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology’s ecotoxicology unit with Dr Dave Spurgeon and Lee Walker.
The project is fully sponsored by Nuclear Waste Services (NWS), the UK organisation responsible for radioactive waste disposal and you will join a cohort of PhD students, all sponsored by NWS, to undertake training, outreach, and networking with the nuclear industry. There are also opportunities for placements relevant to the nuclear industry, environmental organisations, and government.
Interested? Great! You should have a 1st or 2:1 Bachelor or Masters degree (or equivalent experience) in a relevant subject such as: biology, chemistry, ecology, or environmental science. You must work well independently and as part of a research team and are expected to participate in relevant national and international conferences and meet with industrial partners.
For more information, please contact Professor David Copplestone: firstname.lastname@example.org
To start October 2023, the studentship covers full UK PhD tuition fees for 48 months and a tax-free stipend at the standard rate for the full four-year duration. International and EU students applying must be able to provide evidence and pay the difference between the UK Home Fee and the International Fee. An additional £42k are available to support research activity, training, and conference travel.
Information and other helpful links about the host department/s can be found by visiting:
Institution: University of Stirling
Supervisor(s): Professor David Copplestone, Dr Clare Wilson
Sponsor(s): Nuclear Waste Services
Constraints on palaeohydrology of Lower Strength Sedimentary Rocks
Title: Constraints on palaeohydrology of Lower Strength Sedimentary Rocks (LSSR) using a novel analytical toolkit
Lower Strength Sedimentary Rocks (LSSRs) are a high priority for characterisation for the UK’s development of potential geological disposal facilities (GDF). Determining a history of past fluid-flow can better inform us about current and potential future fluid migration and pathways that fluids will take, and as such forms a key part of the characterisation involved in the safety assessment and management of nuclear waste disposal. Fluid-flow events can leave fingerprints such as veins and cements, and these can be measured with a variety of analytical tools to quantify both the timing of fluid-flow and source of the fluids. These fluid-flow fingerprints form the subject of this PhD.
This PhD project will use state-of-the-art laboratories at the British Geological Survey (BGS, Keyworth) to apply both traditional and novel isotope geochemical methods to mineral veins and cements within several LSSR units. The key analytical objectives of this project are to: 1) develop geochronological tools to determine the timing of cement and vein formation of carbonates and sulphates, and 2) develop analytical tools to isotopically fingerprint fluid-sources of carbonate and sulphate mineralisation. The completion of both objectives will entail a combination of 1) fieldwork, petrography and fluid-inclusion measurements; 2) isotope measurements including carbon, oxygen, sulphur, strontium and uranium isotopes, measured with high spatial resolution using micro-milling or laser ablation- based methods; and 3) geochronology involving all or some of the following: U-Pb, U-Th, Rb-Sr and Lu-Hf dating of carbonates and sulphates. These methods will be applied to regions of LSSR units that will be chosen to cover both tectonically complex regions, such as in SW England within the Variscan foreland, as well as regions outside of the Variscan Front with less tectonic complexity, such as the East Midlands. The aim of sampling these regions, even if they are not suitable locations for a GDF, is to constrain how deformation events influence fluid migration, and to compare these with sedimentary units that have undergone a simpler history of burial and uplift.
The data generated during this PhD will provide a comprehensive history of past fluid-flow events that have affected fluid migration and permeability conditions of the specific target areas. This will better inform about the potential migration pathways ongoing and in the future. The development and proving of a novel and robust analytical toolkit will demonstrate the modern analytical capabilities that academic and industrial communities within the UK can apply to other societally relevant rock volumes to understand fluid-flow histories, such as those useful for sub-surface storage (e.g. CCS).
Information and other helpful links can be found by visiting:
The closing date for applications is 23rd June 2023.
For questions about the application process please contact: Louise Bowron, PGR Coordinator email@example.com
Institution: Durham University
Supervisor(s): Dr. Catriona Menzies (University of Durham) and Dr Nick Roberts (BGS Keyworth)
PhD will be awarded from Durham University with the majority of laboratory work and training undertaken at BGS Keyworth.
Sponsor(s): Nuclear Waste Services