Nuclear Waste Management: Research Challenges for the Future

Dates: 28th-29th October 2010.

Venue: Cambridge

The speakers were supported through generous contributions by the Geological Society, the Mineralogical Society, and the Applied Mineralogy Group,
the Geochemistry Group, the Environmental Mineralogy Group and the Mineral Physics Group.




120 delegates gathered in late October in Cambridge, UK, for this meeting. There was a healthy crop of students (50%) in attendance as befits the title of the meeting.

Management of the UK’s nuclear waste presents a major challenge to current and future generations of scientists and technologists, and to existing infrastructure and institutional arrangements. Young researchers entering the field now and over the next four decades will need to build and communicate an integrated understanding of the multi-scale processes involved in the processing, packaging, disposal and regulation of a wide variety of materials designated as nuclear waste. The context of this work is evolving rapidly – the Radioactive Waste Management Directorate of the NDA (Nuclear Decommissioning Authority) has now published its R&D strategy, and CoRWM (the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management) has issued its reports to the UK government on R&D and on the geological disposal programme.

The meeting was divided into five sessions

  • Stabilization of high-level waste
  • Long-term behaviour of engineered barriers (containers, buffers, backfills) in geological conditions
  • Retention, retardation and reactive transport of radionuclides
  • Total system performance, models and uncertainties
  • Careers panel discussion

Keynote talks were delivered by

  • Andy Felmy of Pacific Northwest Laboratories: Interfacial reactivity: emerging paradigms from molecular-level observations
  • Francis Livens of the University of Manchester: Why chemistry matters in radioactive waste management (especially for actinides!)
  • Bernard Kienzler of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany: Retention, retardation and reactive transport of radionuclides
  • the Mineralogical Society’s  41st Hallimond Lecture was delivered by Rod Ewing of the University of Michigan: The nuclear fuel cycle: role of mineralogy and geochemistry in the safe management of nuclear waste

As suggested by these titles, a wide range of content was covered. There were no parallel sessions: all delegates were encouraged to attend presentations and discussions on all aspects of the conference. A recurring comment was that people were learning a lot by going to talks outside of their usual area of interest.


Two novel aspects of this meeting, at least as far as the Mineralogical Society was concerned were:

  • Preview presentations of posters. Each presenter of a poster was invited to show one slide and speak for two minutes about the content of their poster. This was successful in so far as it allowed delegates the opportunity to decide which posters to study in detail in the poster session held immediately afterwards. It gave more profile to the poster session, often the poor relation at conferences.
  • At the end of the meeting, there was a two-hour panel discussion to discuss research needs, training needs, and possible career options for students and others in the audience. The panel included Sarah Vines from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Ian Barraclough from the Environment Agency, Fiona Rayment from the National Nuclear Laboratory, and the meeting convenors. There was much useful input from those in the audience, including some who work in the industry, some who work as consultants and from those in academia.


There was an excellent selection of talks given over this two-day meeting. The poster presentations, including a batch of 17 given by ‘Empower’ students were of very high quality. The Empower award for the best poster was given to Kate Norman.


Often the measure of the success of a conference is whether those present considered that it would be an exercise worth repeating. My impression is that there was a general feeling that this meeting could be repeated in a couple of years’ time. Britain needs a revitalized nuclear industry; clearly, there are many areas requiring research which should lead to careers in the industry, especially for those with a mineralogical background.

Kevin Murphy
October 2010

Mineralogical Magazine

A special issue of Mineralogical Magazine will be published arising out of papers submitted to the journal after the meeting. This will include Rod Ewing’s Hallimond Lecture. The closing date for submission of manuscripts is 17th December 2010. Submit your paper online.

Instructions for authors can be found here.


Mineral-based materials to contain radionuclides
I. Farnan

Interfacial reactivity: emerging paradigms from molecular-level observations
Andrew R. Felmy, Eugene Ilton, Kevin Rosso, and John M. Zachara

Degradation of waste container materials In repository environment.
L. Engelberg, T.J. Marrow and P.J. Withers

The use of natural systems data in modelling cement-rock interactions
David Savage, Joerg Rueedi and Irina Gaus

From laboratory observations to full-scale testing: The Large scale gas injection test (Lasgit)
R.J.Cuss, J.F. Harrington, D.J. Noy, A. Wikman and P. Sellin

Biogeochemistry of radionuclides – a geodisposal context
Katherine Morris, Jon Lloyd, Francis Livens

Observations of the microbial effects on intact, fractured mudstone from Horonobe (Japan) – a model for microbial influences on the geological disposal
of radioactive waste
Heather Harrison,  J.M. West, A.E. Milodowski, K. Bateman, P. Coombs, J. Harrington, S. Holyoake, A.M. Lacinska, G. Turner, D. Wagner and
H. Yoshikawa

Why chemistry matters in radioactive waste management (especially for KEYNOTE actinides!)
Francis Livens, John Charnock, Steve Heald, Jon Lloyd, Neil Milestone, Kath Morris, Stephen Parry, Joanna Renshaw

Modelling biogeochemical processes in radioactive wastes in surface and geological disposal facilities; approach, applications and research challenges
Joe Small

Bioremediation of Sr-90 and Tc-99 at Nuclear Facilities
C.L. Thorpe, J.R. Lloyd, G.T.W.  Law, I.T. Burke and K. Morris


Retention, retardation and reactive transport of radionuclides 
B. Kienzler

Triassic limestones of Mt. Kithaeron (Greece) as natural analogues of long-term retention of uranium in carbonate rocks: a synchrotron-based study
A. Godelitsas, F.-C. Kafandaris and J. Göttlicher

The nuclear fuel cycle: role of mineralogy and geochemistry in the safe management of nuclear waste

R. C. Ewing


Gas and water flow in the Callovo-Oxfordian argillite: a candidate host rock for the disposal of radioactive waste in France
J.F. Harrington, D.J. Noy and J. Talandier

Modeling geosphere transport in performance assessments of geologic disposal KEYNOTE  systems
S. Painter

How permeable are fractures in buried basement? 
Christopher J. Talbot

“All changed, changed utterly” – how much geomorphic change over the lifetime of nuclear waste?
T. Atkinson

Research for geological disposal: the role and expectations of the Environment Agency
I. Barraclough


1-slide Presentations of posters


The Best EMPower Poster + Presentation award went to Kate Norman.
Kym Jarvis of EMPower, presenting her ‘Best Poster’ prize to winner, Kate Norman




The speakers were supported through generous contributions by the Geological Society and the Mineralogical Society, and by the Applied Mineralogy Group, the Geochemistry Group, the Environmental Mineralogy Group and the Mineral Physics Group.The meeting was co-organized by the Geological Society ( and the Mineralogical Society ( The convenors were: Kym Jarvis, Imperial College, London (, Ian Farnan, University of Cambridge ( and Adrian Bath, IntelliSci (