Emerging technologies such as graphene are being investigated by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) in the UK for their potential to improve decommissioning of nuclear sites.
To identify how graphene, an emerging technology, could improve delivery of NDA’s mission.
Review the properties of graphene including the latest developments and areas for potential deployment.
Technology Review : Graphene – a form of carbon consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice with unique chemical and physical properties.
Expected Benefits: Raising awareness of new emerging technology across the NDA Group and supply chain.
The NDA published a report on its findings and research over the period of 2016 - 2018: "Graphene and its use in nuclear decommissioning", produced in collaboration with NSG Environmental, the University of Manchester and the National Physical Laboratory
Graphene’s chemical and physical properties are unique:
- one of the thinnest but also strongest materials
- conducts heat better than all other materials
- conducts electricity
- is optically transparent but so dense that it is impermeable to gases
Developments in graphene-based technology have been rapid in a number of areas, including advanced electronics, water filtration and high-strength materials. NDA identified graphene as an emerging technology that could be useful to improve delivery of its mission.
NDA carried out a technology review to compare the properties and potential uses of graphene against the challenges facing the UK in decommissioning its earliest nuclear sites. The opportunities identified included:
- Advanced materials: Graphene-doped materials could help to immobilise nuclear wastes.
- Composites incorporating graphene could be used in the construction of stronger buildings or containers for storing nuclear materials.
- Cleaning up liquid wastes: Graphene-based materials could absorb or filter radioactive elements, helping to clean up spills or existing radioactive wastes.
- Sensors: Graphene in sensors could improve the detection of radiation or monitor for the signs of corrosion in containers.
- Batteries: Graphene could produce smaller, longer-lasting batteries that would enable robots to operate for longer in contaminated facilities.
NDA also assessed the potential limitations in graphene’s use to provide a balanced assessment.
The issues identified included:
- environmental concerns
- lack of standardization
- knowledge regarding radiation tolerance
The report was shared with technical experts across the NDA group, published online and summarised in the Nuclear Institute’s journal: Nuclear Futures. As the technology moves on from early-stage research, NDA and its businesses are continuing to monitor developments, such as the recently opened Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre (GEIC), with the aim of supporting graphene-based technologies and accelerating their uptake within the nuclear decommissioning sector.
NDA is progressing further projects investigating the potential of other emerging technologies. Engagement continues with academia and industry to identify innovations that could improve delivery of the mission.