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PhD Studentship: Geomicrobiological Controls on Radionuclide Speciation and Fate During the Geodisposal of Radioactive Waste

The University of Manchester - Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Manchester
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students, International Students
Funding amount: £18,622
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 14th February 2024
Closes: 8th March 2024

This project is supported by The University of Manchester. Your tuition fees will be paid and you will receive an annual stipend of at least £18,622. The funding is available to UK nationals or non-UK nationals with indefinite Leave to Remain only.

The UK has been generating electricity from nuclear power for over sixty years. Consequently, the safe disposal of the UK’s existing ~750,000 m3 of radioactive waste is a clear priority. Government policy is to dispose of the higher activity wastes in a geological disposal facility (GDF) utilising the multi-barrier system to prevent the migration of radionuclides over prolonged timescales (tens/hundreds of thousands of years). A potentially suitable host rock type for the siting of a GDF is lower strength sedimentary rocks (LSSRs). Recent work by the research group has shown that microbes have the potential to colonise such systems and impact on the performance of the GDF.

The aim of this project is to contribute to the understanding of how microbial processes will affect the long-term biogeochemical evolution of a GDF and how that impacts radionuclide mobility. This research project is part of the NERC/Nuclear Waste Services (NWS) funded GeoSafe consortium, a multi-centre project aimed at delivering innovative research related to geodisposal of radioactive waste.

This is an interdisciplinary research project combining geomicrobiology, microbial genomics, radiochemistry and mineralogy, and will study the impact of biogeochemical processes on radionuclide solubility and mobility. Batch and dynamic flowthrough systems will be used, and interrogated using state of the art techniques including microbial analysis (DNA and culture-based), advanced imaging techniques including confocal microscopy, ESEM, TEM and X-ray tomography, alongside geochemical, mineralogical and radiochemical characterisation.

The project will also include an element of numerical modelling, which will aim to simulate the biogeochemical processes studied in the experimental work. This will utilise tools that can couple geochemical processes with microbial metabolism, e.g. PHREEQC or The Geochemist’s Workbench.

The successful applicant will join a welcoming cohort of 40+ interdisciplinary researchers working in two recently refurbished and co-located centres in the Dept of Earth and Environmental Sciences, co-directed by the PI and co-supervisors (Lloyd, Morris and Shaw). The student will have access to a large suite of dedicated laboratories within the Williamson Research Laboratory for Molecular Environmental Sciences (WRL; directed by Lloyd), which houses state of the art equipment for molecular environmental studies and sits alongside the new £4M NNUF RADER labs (https://www.nnuf.ac.uk/rader) directed by Morris, offering unique complementary facilities for handling and analysing radionuclides in nuclear environmental systems. Modelling support will be provided by National Nuclear Laboratory and industrial co-supervisor Boylan.

The skills developed within this PhD will be directly applicable to a range of careers within the nuclear sector, including decommissioning, waste management and disposal, effluent treatment, environmental protection and regulation. The skills and experience developed will also be applicable to wider, non-nuclear applications of environmental protection, contaminant behaviour and geochemical analysis.

Applicants should have, or expect to achieve, at least a 2.1 honours degree or a master’s (or international equivalent) in a relevant science or engineering related discipline, including chemistry, environmental/earth science, biosciences, or other related discipline.

We strongly recommend that you contact the supervisor(s) for this project before you apply. Please email Prof. Jon Lloyd (Jon.Lloyd@manchester.ac.uk) if you have any questions.

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