National Nuclear Laboratory


Sunday 25 May 2014

Senior Fellows – A Success Story

Some 2 years ago, Nexia Solutions began to appoint a series of Senior Fellows. The roles focus on technical leadership and providing an ambassadorial role for the forthcoming National Nuclear Laboratory. Each senior fellow is internationally known and respected in their field. Dr Robin Taylor was among the first appointees and his specialist area is actinides – more specifically with the chemistry of the transuranium elements. This article examines some of the areas that Robin has been involved in and provides a good insight into how the Senior Fellow roles help to deliver for our customers while enabling ongoing research and development and interaction with key external bodies. Time-Resolved Laser-Induced Fluorescence Spectroscopy (TRLIFS) is a modern, state of the art technology that can be used to determine the composition of wastes. Essentially, a laser probes the waste and provides valuable information on the speciation (type) of radioactive metals such as uranium and americium within the waste form: key information in determining the best way to deal with it in future. Robin said, “We have been developing this rather complex equipment over the past couple of years. Having overcome a number of difficult technical challenges, we’ve recently run some model americium solutions which were a great success, showing some significant differences to the speciation previously suggested in the literature. The next stage is to run trials for customers using simulant and actual plant solutions: this is really getting to the hub of the matter and is the beginning of the process for solving customers’ problems.” Another success during the last year has been their work on characterising the actinide species present in liquors and sludges from Magnox ponds. A particular highlight was obtaining Scanning Electron Microscope images of active sludges from the Sellafield site: the first ever from the B30 pond and the first of any Sellafield sludge since the 1980’s. This work has also identified that plutonium may behave differently than previously expected which potentially has a major impact in dealing with waste in the future. Such differences in Pu oxidation states will cause different behaviours during waste treatment and it is therefore important to have as accurate a picture as possible prior to dealing with wastes. Robin and colleagues have also been involved with key projects aimed at developing advanced actinide separations including defining plant flowsheets for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) programme in the USA. Nexia Solutions is part of a team looking at how GNEP could be industrially deployed. One real highlight is that some of the advanced reprocessing technology that Nexia Solutions has been developing for over 10 years has been incorporated into these flowsheets. The recent developments in the British Technology Centre – the bringing online of the active glove boxes – are of great benefit to Robin and his colleagues as they will allow the team to run unique (in the UK) experiments with high levels of plutonium, key to supporting projects in plutonium storage, reprocessing and waste behaviour. “It’s been a busy couple of years as a Senior Fellow and I’m very pleased at the way it’s been going. The nature of the role means that I cover a broad range of actinide chemistry issues and am involved with wide range of really interesting R&D projects, from advanced reprocessing to the behaviour of actinides in sludges to production and storage of plutonium dioxide. The key thing I’ve found is that the role simply would not be possible without the ongoing support and hard work of my colleagues around the business who are actually delivering such excellent results.” “Looking back at my original intentions for the role, I’m happy with the way things are panning out and, looking forward, there’s plenty of exciting opportunities to develop our research further for the benefit of Nexia Solutions and our customers.” Robin’s stated goals for his Senior Fellow role:

  • Raising the technical reputation of the National Nuclear Laboratory and Nexia Solutions
  • Developing research programmes in TRU actinide chemistry at BTC
  • Enhancing the actinide chemistry capabilities in the Technology Centre