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UCLan Nuclear

UCLan is committed to maintaining and growing a productive, well-resourced and internationally competitive research community.


In late 2007 the John Tyndall Institute for Nuclear Research was launched with an investment of £0.75M, bringing together researchers in nuclear science/engineering from across the university with diverse specialisms.

The first two heads of JTi were both academics with a track record of success in attracting research funding from EPSRC and the nuclear industry.

Both came from and were submitted with an existing research group that achieved a proportion of world-leading (4*) research in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE 2008). In 2010, UCLan expanded its nuclear team with the employment of two professors – one post aimed at strengthening UCLan’s materials science research for the nuclear industry (particularly decontamination and waste processing) and the other post has quickly established a leading provision in nuclear safety, security and safeguards arena (with an emphasis on Regulation but with a complementary interest in related science/engineering).


In 2011 JTi was incorporated as the research arm of UCLan Nuclear. Additional staffing has been recruited with senior level experience in the civil service and industry. UCLan Nuclear has become a key partner of National Nuclear Laboratory and the lead partner in regard to safety, security and safeguards Regulation.

With campuses in Preston, Burnley and West Cumbria, and partner institutions in Gloucestershire and on the south coast of England, UCLan is ideally placed to undertake research, collaborate and consult on key nuclear issues.

Our research objectives are to establish a world-leading research capability to support Government and Industry in relation to:

  • Nuclear Regulation (including integration and Generic Design Assessment)
  • Nuclear Safety (including Regulation, risk, safety case and substantiation)
  • Nuclear Security and Safeguards (including Regulation, threat assessment and mitigation)
  • Nuclear Materials (including separation science, decontamination and engineering materials)
  • Internal and external hazards (including studies in fire, seismic, impact, etc.)
  • National and international nuclear energy strategy
  • The effective management of nuclear safety, nuclear security and safeguards at nuclear sites

Research areas

Nuclear Safety, Security and Safeguards - Regulation

This is a relatively new but fast growing capability at UCLan. Led by Professor Williams (formerly Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations and currently Chair of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management), research in this area is sponsored by National Nuclear Laboratory and EPSRC. Recent work has included an assessment of Regulatory obstacles/challenges to use of small modular reactors in the UK. Current work includes a CASE studentship that is seeking to build on the integrated regulatory experience of the Generic Design Assessment.

Nuclear Materials and Processing Technology

This is a mature area of UCLan capability. The work is led by the Professor of Nuclear Materials, Harry Eccles. Projects are sponsored by EPSRC and industry, together with some internal PhD studentships. Past JTi work focussed on sensor development for use with specific nuclear materials and process streams, but in recent years the focus has shifted. Current projects revolve around the two themes of decontamination (e.g. bio-availability of radionuclides in i-graphite) and advanced separation science (e.g. continuous chromatographic separation of metals). These are mainly scientific works but are underpinned by an engineering capability in (i) modelling of dynamic systems, which also finds an outlet in the modelling of auxetic materials and contributes to impact studies; and (ii) computational fluid mechanics, which also contributes to studies in alpha glovebox protection and fire in nuclear facilities.

Internal and External Hazards

UCLan Nuclear staff has expertise in development and review of engineering substantiation for safety case and academics have a personal interest in the theory and application of risk evaluation techniques, fire dynamics and fire safety, seismic qualification and impact studies. Past work includes vortex amplifier performance studies and design for protection of glovebox workers. Current projects include impact on honeycomb structures, model development for auxetic materials, fire modelling capability and realistic temperatures for prediction of waste package boundary conditions.

Nuclear Decommissioning and Waste Management

Decommissioning of facilities that are considered to be part of the UK nuclear legacy is not straightforward. There is need for new, more sensitive methods of sensing materials in process fluids and characterising items to be decommissioned. Past work includes public perception of risk and the emergence of a sustainable approach in decommissioning. UCLan Nuclear has also been actively involved with the Working Higher consortium and has contributed to the associated research into skills needs from the decommissioning/waste perspective within the nuclear sub-sector.

Nuclear Safety, Security and Safeguards - Regulation

This is a relatively new but fast growing capability at UCLan. Led by Professor Williams (formerly Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations and currently Chair of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management), the UCLan Nuclear capability in this field has been recognized by the UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL). UCLan has been named NNL’s lead academic partner for the subject area.

Historical development of the nuclear industry in France, the United States of America (USA) and the United Kingdom (UK, to name but three major users of civil nuclear power) have led to very different codes and regulatory systems currently in force across the world. For example, the USA takes a more prescriptive approach to Regulation of civil nuclear facilities than does the UK. In the latter case, the current Regulatory system for safety has been strongly influenced by publication and adoption of the concept of Tolerability of Risk by the UK Regulator, which was developed in response to the outcome of the pre-construction public inquiry into Sizewell B.

In recent years Nuclear Safety and Nuclear Security Regulation has been brought together in the UK under one body, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR). The effective integration of these two functions within one body is a long-term project requiring changes in Secretary of State issued Regulations, organisational arrangements and a mutual appreciation of threat, hazards, vulnerability, risk, capability, mitigation and culture, but has a multiplicity of potential benefits. However, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary and the Environment Agency remain outside the ONR umbrella but by their very nature, they have a regulating influence with respect to nuclear licensed sites.

Research in this field has a wide remit. Nuclear Security and to a lesser extent, nuclear safety and safeguards rely on techniques that cut across a variety of traditional disciplines in social and exact science, including psychology, history, politics, management, chemistry, mechanical engineering, electronic engineering and physics. Strands of research in the field range from historical development of the legal framework to materials science, but the main thrust of UCLan Nuclear’s research is with regard to licensing and topical in this field at the moment is the Generic Design Assessment (GDA).

GDA is the process by which the design of modern reactors is assessed by the ONR and Environment Agency prior to government approval for application in UK new nuclear build. It requires submission and acceptance of a combined safety, security and environmental case for the design of modern reactors intended for UK new build programmes (i.e. reactors not previously used in the UK). The Westinghouse AP1000 reactor and the European Pressurised Water Reactor (EPR) are at the most advanced stage of GDA, with ONR concluding that it was largely satisfied with the safety, security and environment aspects of each reactor generic design. As at March 2013 there were still a number of issues to be addressed before Design Acceptance Confirmation could be achieved for these reactors. The way in which ONR and Environment Agency interacted in GDA is the subject of on-going research at UCLan aimed at learning from experience, investigating barriers and challenges to more efficient integration of the two regulatory processes eeds and thereby, looking at the options for building on recent experience.

Another area that is quite topical (although more in the USA and for marine transport than for application in the UK) is the potential deployment of small modular reactors. The licensing and control of these (potentially portable) systems presents major challenges to a Regulatory system based on site licensing, but the potential of these reactors for district and emergency power cannot be denied. This has been the subject of a UCLan Nuclear study with BAe Systems. Also topical and currently under investigation at UCLan is the cultural and organisational challenges in safety Regulation highlighted by the severe accident at Fukushima. This Tsunami-induced accident led to ‘stress tests’ of UK facilities and has generated study of the contribution of local Regulatory ethos to the vulnerability of plant and preparedness for dealing with an emergency. Also, from a social perspective, the accident has illustrated a world of difference between the scale and concern of immediate impact and longer term effects of a natural disaster and a meltdown. Clearly the immediate impact of the Tsunami on life, health and society dwarfed the effects of the nuclear accident it caused, but the potential for long-lived radionuclide escape remains a real concern and driving force for effective Regulation.

‘Safeguards’ is the word used by the nuclear industry to describe all the arrangements needed to ensure nuclear materials have not gone astray. It is primarily concerned with measurement. ‘Security’ is concerned with preventing sabotage, attack and theft. The integration of safety, security and safeguards is being studied at UCLan in terms of both Regulation and delivery. The culture and requirements of the three communities are very different. Since the information needed to share best practice can be the very same information that would be of use to an adversary, there is a potential conflict between the advantages of sharing information and the advantages of securing information. The way in which a balance is achieved is one of the research strands in UCLan Nuclear, who also collaborate with colleagues studying Cyber security. We also collaborate with Kings College London on delivery of IAEA nuclear security courses for university teachers and through this link we are developing a research collaboration with the Department of War Studies.

Nuclear Decommissioning and Waste Management

Studies in advanced separation science, decontamination, hazards and Regulation of nuclear operations at decommissioning, waste management and storage sites are described in the previous sections. To complement those studies, UCLan Nuclear has developed a research theme in the leadership and management of decommissioning and waste management. We collaborate with colleagues in Centre for Power Management and Applied Policy Science Unit in studies of risk perception and stakeholder management aimed at the nuclear industry; and the emergence of sustainable practice in managing and decommissioning a large portfolio of buildings.

Nuclear Materials and Processing Technology

This is a mature area of UCLan capability. The work is led by the Professor of Nuclear Materials, Harry Eccles. The science and engineering of nuclear materials can be split into 4 entwined areas: development of nuclear fuels for modern and future reactors; manufacture of nuclear fuels for current reactors; separation science, reprocessing and process technology (e.g. vitrification) for waste treatment; decontamination methods for waste minimisation. This is supplemented by generic materials science and engineering materials research that finds application in the nuclear and radiological waste management fields, such as impact resistance, pressure vessel technology, corrosion, etc.

At UCLan we are engaged in a range of fundamental and applied materials research that finds important application in the nuclear field. The decommissioning of UK Magnox reactors presents a problem that is not unique to the UK but which is of particular importance, since the UK fleet (decommissioned and currently generating) has generated approximately 100,000 tonnes of irradiated graphite. The challenge is to find ways to decontaminate the graphite in such a manner as to reduce the volume of waste. This is complex since the graphite matrix is itself affected by neutron radiation during the reactor life. Release of radionuclides from the microstructure (such as Carbon 14, Caesium 135 and Selenium 79) can be achieved using chemical, thermal and biological techniques. At UCLan we are investigating the bio-availability of radionuclides in i-graphite. Microbiological decontamination studies are undertaken in collaboration with other universities and are supported by access to the laboratory facilities of NNL. Professor Eccles has been heavily involved with the Euratom CARBOWASTE project.

Using the laboratories in Maudland and JB Firth buildings at UCLan, Professor Eccles is also leading studies in advanced methods of separation science. These have application broader than the nuclear industry but seek to provide less expansive means to reprocess nuclear fuel which will increase the attraction of using a closed fuel cycle for GenIV reactors in the UK. The current PUREX process is at least 50 years mature, but none the less is proven, reliable, predictable but with several major drawbacks, such as solvent stability and selectivity, environmental impact etc. Reprocessing of nuclear fuel offers major benefits in terms of protection of uranium stocks and re-use of legacy materials. However, separation science is a generic subject with applications in fine chemical purification, base metal extraction, food industry, pharmaceutical and various process industries.

UCLan nuclear academics have also developed models for prediction of behaviour of auxetic materials under static and dynamic (and thermally induced) stress. These negative Poisson’s ratio materials have been developed for use in composites. They are able to reduce principal stresses and so potentially improve longer-term and impact resilience, absorbing energy more readily than traditional structural materials.

Internal and External Hazards

This area of UCLan Nuclear Research and Knowledge Transfer is jointly led by two Principal Lecturers, Dr John Inkester (Head of Commercial Operations in UCLan Nuclear) and Dr Jonathan Francis (Head of UCLan Nuclear Research). UCLan Nuclear staff has expertise in development and review of engineering substantiation for safety case and academics have a personal interest in the theory and application of risk evaluation techniques, fire dynamics and fire safety, seismic qualification and impact studies.

Fire is a major hazard to any facility. Apart from the intrigue of sodium fires that is relevant to studies of the Windscale accident, fire safety, fire protection and fire dynamics in facilities at a licensed nuclear site are little different from those elsewhere. In the main, codes used in design of a nuclear building are the same ones used in any industrial or commercial building. The nuclear materials present in the building merely serve to indicate the importance of ensuring the building and workers are protected from fire. However, there are specific aspects of fire in a nuclear facility that demand targeted study. One such is the determination of realistic fire conditions and heat transfer rates that waste packages will be exposed to if a fire occurs in a storage facility. This is important information because models of waste package response to elevated temperature and flame give the most useful predictions when used with realistic boundary conditions.

Another situation of interest is the protection of gloveboxes against fire and against moisture ingress through the use of inert gas during emergency breach conditions. Glovebox workers are protected from inhalation of radioactive materials during a breach (e.g. torn glove) by the presence of either a Donkin Valve or more usually in the UK, a vortex amplifier on the glovebox ventilation outlet. Vortex amplifiers operate to change the flow and pressure conditions upon sensing a pressure change in the glovebox as a result of a breach. They have no moving parts and rely purely on fluidic technology. UCLan Nuclear Research has helped industrialists to understand the reasons for high oxygen content and means to reduce oxygen ingress with a new version of vortex amplifier developed for use in alpha gloveboxes with restrictive space limitations.

Recent developments in research include impact studies and cyclic stress/strain in pressure vessels. Studies in risk are being undertaken by staff working in collaboration with City University and Masters level and CPD courses in engineering substantiation are delivered by our experienced staff with Regulator and Industrial experience of safety case development and review. UCLan Nuclear also collaborates with colleagues in School of Computing, Engineering and Physical Sciences studying surface engineering, reliability and tribology.

  • Research output led to development of a new vortex amplifier (VXA) assembly and VXA geometry, saving 75% of inert gas use in Sellafield Limited (SL) and NNL alpha gloveboxes.
  • Modelling of sutured and coupled microvascular anastomoses used techniques developed in VXA research and improved confidence at Preston Royal Hospital in the use of such surgical techniques.
  • Review of IAEA Governmental and Legal Regulatory Framework for Safety (post-Fukushima).
  • Oral evidence (Professor Laurence Williams) has been quoted extensively in the report of the House of Lords Science & Technology Select Committee on Nuclear Research & Development Capabilities.

21 – 24 October 2019

A 4-day symposium, delivered by nuclear experts in both business and academia, will provide comprehensive understanding of the challenges for the nuclear industry and its facilities. Topics covered will include UK nuclear security legislation, UK nuclear security regulations, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, nuclear security governance and an understanding of new threats to the industry from the cyber age. Attendees will also participate in a laboratory Emergency Planning exercise.

The symposium is aimed at people employed in the nuclear industry, contractors or postgraduate students undertaking MSc nuclear studies

This event is kindly supported by the ANNETTE project (Advanced Networking for Nuclear Education and Training and Transfer of Expertise).

For further details see the or emailsymposium

Westleigh Conference Centre, Preston June 12th 2013

Kindly Supported by: Consent of the public is required for Nuclear growth. Society demands protection delivered through Nuclear safety, security and safeguards. These three factors have been traditionally considered separately, however there are opportunities and possibilities to develop their interrelationship.

The aim of this conference is to stimulate thinking about these interfaces in design, operation and regulation and how the requirements can be better coordinated in current and in future programmes.

The conference has secured a prestigious line up of forward thinking speakers in this area. This conference will be of interest to delegates who want to develop a strategic advantage from across the:

  • Nuclear Supply Chain
  • Utilities companies
  • Universities
  • Regulatory bodies
  • Consultants and technical specialists
  • Academia
  • Community & stakeholder group

View conference programme

Professor Harry Eccles

Dr Jonathan Francis

Dr Javad Yazdani

Stephen Kirkup

Research projects active since 2008:

  • Building on the success of Generic Design Assessment
  • Regulatory challenges for licensing of small modular reactors in UK
  • Silica templates for extraction of radionuclides
  • Chromatographic separation of radionuclides
  • Continuous chromatography for metals separation
  • Bio-availability of radioisotopes in i-graphite under disposal conditions
  • Bio-availability of radioisotopes in i-graphite and cement
  • Decontamination of i-graphite
  • Design for low leakage in vortex amplifiers
  • Application of experimental and computational fluid dynamics techniques to the design of vortex amplifiers
  • Modelling fire development in and around radiant structures
  • Tool to assess opportunities for and to deliver carbon reduction in a large building portfolio
  • Emergence of sustainable practice in decommissioning of nuclear buildings in UK
  • Impact on aluminium foams
  • Dynamic modelling of auxetic materials

Skills projects active since 2008 include:

  • Higher Level Skills Pathfinder
  • Working Higher Consortium