New Materials Could Help Clean-Up Chernobyl and Fukushima

The study of the corrosion behavior is vital to support ongoing decommissioning efforts – both at Chernobyl and the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant – where LFCM-type materials are thought to have formed, and remain submerged in water used to cool the melted core. Using the new simulant materials developed at the University of Sheffield, Dr. Corkhill and her team are collaborating with researchers at the University of Tokyo and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency to investigate the process of highly radioactive dust formation that occurs at the surface of LFCM when water is removed.

Dr. Corkhill added: “The major difficulty in understanding the real materials is that they are too hazardous to handle and, although the Chernobyl accident happened over 33 years ago, we still know very little about these truly unique nuclear materials.

“Thanks to this research, we now have a much lower radioactivity simulant meltdown material to investigate, which is safe for our collaborators in Ukraine and Japan to research without the need for radiation shielding. Ultimately this will help advance the decommissioning operations at Chernobyl and also at Fukushima too.”

The investigation into the corrosion behavior needs a lot more work, but having established a starting point, the research team hopes to advance this work quite rapidly. Dr. Corkhill noted: “Since the clean-up of Chernobyl is anticipated to take around 100 years, and Fukushima at least 50 years, anything we can do to speed up the process will be beneficial to Ukraine and Japan, in both financial and safety terms.”

The development at Sheffield comes ahead of the Olympic Games being held in Japan this year. The Olympic torch relay is due to start in J-village - a sports ground close to the site of Fukushima - where high levels of radioactivity have been found.

Dr. Corkhill added: “Until we have developed an understanding of the meltdown materials inside Fukushima, we can’t remove them — and until then, there may always be a small risk that radioactive materials from the reactors may find their way to the surrounding environment.”

Dr. Corkhill is part of the University of Sheffield Energy Institute, which is finding low-carbon solutions to some of the world’s biggest energy challenges.

The Energy Institute carries out energy research across a wide spectrum of fields, including renewable, nuclear and conventional energy generation, energy storage, energy use and carbon capture, utilization and storage technology. Its multi- and interdisciplinary research teams work with industry and government on sustainable solutions.

Research into nuclear energy is one of the institute’s strengths, with its academics conducting world leading research to ensure nuclear power can generate electricity safely, securely and sustainably.