Waste management and decommissioning

At Manchester we’re improving the management of radioactive waste and decommissioning.

A successful, sustainable future for nuclear energy must meet the challenges of treating, processing and recycling spent fuels, and securing safe management of radioactive waste.

Fundamental and applied research at Manchester contributes to the development of effective solutions for decommissioning activities, meeting the demands of regulators and the nuclear industry. We are expanding the knowledge base that will help the nuclear industry handle nuclear materials at the back-end of the fuel cycle more efficiently and safely, and underpin the pathway to safe management for radioactive wastes.

Our two key University centres dedicated to research and training in waste management and decommissioning are: 

  • Research Centre for Radwaste Disposal (RCRD) – our focal point for underpinning research into the safe containment and disposal of radioactive wastes, decommissioning of contaminated nuclear plants and legacies, and containment and remediation of radionuclides in the environment.

We are working to develop new and better ways to meet the radioactive waste management and decommissioning demands of the nuclear industry. The world works better with us.

Radwaste and the nuclear environment

Our researchers work on understanding and predicting the behaviour of radionuclides in real-world and model systems.

Manchester is one of only two universities in the UK that offer capability in radiochemistry, and we also possess the only academic experimental facilities and expertise in the UK able to handle significant levels of high-hazard radionuclides. We pioneered the use of radioactive materials at the UK’s synchrotron facilities.

Our suite of experimental facilities are unique in the UK and are capable of handling radioactivity, microbes and minerals – all aspects of the behaviour of radionuclides in the natural and engineered environments we study – and we are capable of characterising them in detail at multiple scales.

Research results find application across a range of sites and environments – eg radionuclide interactions with cement and minerals like calcite and iron oxides, and their behaviour in high pH systems, is relevant to engineered environments. We focus on achieving a molecular scale understanding, in order to predict radiological impact and inform safety case development for site remediation and geological disposal.

Manchester researchers are also exploring the behaviour of radionuclides in effluent treatment systems and predicting the impact of decommissioning on these systems, to ensure that nuclear facilities can safely decommission the UK's nuclear legacy materials.

I think one of the hallmarks of the science that we do in Manchester in the nuclear environment/waste area is the fact that we always strive to work with industry and find innovative solutions to address real-world challenges.”
Professor Katherine Morris, Research Director, BNFL Endowed Research Chair in Geological Disposal

We are working on the most effective decommissioning and geological disposal processes. The world works better with us.

Nuclear graphite – decommissioning

Our Nuclear Graphite Research Group (NGRG) provides independent advice and research into nuclear graphite technology for both national and international organisations and companies.

The UK’s 14 advanced gas-cooled reactors presently supply a substantial portion of the country’s nuclear electricity. When all operational reactors are shut down the UK will have a graphite waste legacy of over 96,000 tonnes, representing a challenge to both decommissioning operations and safe disposal.

The work of our Dalton Nuclear Institute and its team of graphite experts encompasses all aspects of nuclear graphite, including decommissioning, treatment and disposal of nuclear graphite waste. Our researchers are working to provide the necessary understanding for ultimate safe and efficient decommissioning of nuclear reactors. Recent work with chemical leaching and thermal treatment has removed impurities and reduced the activity of radioactive graphite cores.

We are improving understanding of irradiated graphite, enabling safer management and disposal during decommissioning. The world works better with us.


We develop novel forms of aerial, submersible and ground-based autonomous vehicles for surveying nuclear ponds and monitoring nuclear storage facilities.

To overcome the challenges of monitoring nuclear storage ponds of legacy waste and spent reactor fuel, our researchers have developed AVEXIS: the Aqua Vehicle Explorer for In-situ Sensing.

AVEXIS is an autonomous mobile vehicle that is radiation-hardened to ensure it can withstand the environment within fuel storage ponds. It can be used in a swarm, using acoustics to communicate both with other robots and with its control station to provide feedback on what is found in the water, thereby monitoring and mapping items in the ponds. Several prototypes have been developed and are currently being tested at the Dalton Cumbrian Facility.

We are finding new ways to safely monitor nuclear storage ponds. The world works better with us.