Engineers develop materials that could help clean-up Fukushima

Louise Smyth

Materials that could be used to help clean-up the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear power stations have been developed by engineers at the University of Sheffield. The materials, produced by Dr Claire Corkhill and her team from the University’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, in collaboration with scientists in Ukraine, can simulate the Lava-like Fuel Containing Materials (LFCMs) that are obstructing decommissioning efforts at the nuclear disaster sites. The development is the first time a close approximation of a real LFCM has ever been achieved.

LFCMs are a mixture of highly radioactive molten nuclear fuel and building materials that fuse together during a nuclear meltdown.

The masses present a highly dangerous risk to personnel and the environment in the surrounding area and could remain a hazard for decades, even millennia, unless something can be done to stabilise or remove them. However, very few samples of these meltdown materials are available to study and the masses are often too hazardous for people or even robots to get close to in order to better understand the behaviour of the materials.

Dr Corkhill said: “Understanding the mechanical, thermal and chemical properties of the materials created in a nuclear meltdown is critical to help retrieve them, for example, if we don’t know how hard they are, how can we create the radiation-resistant robots required to cut them out?”

In the new research, the University of Sheffield engineers report their development of small batches of low radioactivity materials that can be used to simulate LFCMs. These simulated materials are used to analyse the thermal characteristics and corrosion kinetics of LFCMs, which produced results that are very close to those of real LFCM samples reported by previous studies.

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