Staffordshire materials technology company Ceram has won a contract to evaluate alternative technologies for dealing with the decommissioning of waste stored in the First Generation of Magnox Storage Pond (FGMSP).
The contract is with Sellafield Ltd - the company responsible for decommissioning the Sellafield nuclear site and processing waste on behalf of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.
A spokesman for Sellafield Ltd said: "The FGMSP is one of Sellafield's high hazard legacy facilities and arguably one of the largest decommissioning projects in the world."
Sellafield Ltd has commissioned Stoke-on-Trent-based Ceram to carry out research into using geopolymerisation as part of the process.
Geopolymerisation is being considered as an alternative to cement for the encapsulation of low-level hazardous waste; this increases the amount of hazardous waste that can be safely stored within a given confined space.
Dr Giuliano Tari, Leader of Geopolymerisation development at Ceram, said: "Geopolymerisation has a lot of potential applications across many sectors. In ceramics, for example, adding alumino silicates helps bricks and tiles to be fired at lower temperatures.
"Regardless of application though, the performance of the end product has to be to the required specification.
"When you're dealing with nuclear waste and decommissioning, of course, that specification is incredibly rigorous."
Ceram is also working with Sellafield to find how geopolymerisation can be used to immobilise zeolite which is used to absorb low-level radioactive elements in effluent. Currently, an epoxy polymer is used to immobilise the zeolite prior to disposal.
Mr Tony Kinsella, Chief Executive at Ceram, said: "With the global push to reduce carbon emissions, nuclear energy is going to remain an important part of the energy mix around the world.
"Finding ways of encapsulating, storing and packaging the waste more efficiently is therefore going to be of benefit to Sellafield Ltd and the environment.
"We think the application of geopolymerisation is going to be a growth market for us over the coming years and we're proud that we have internationally-renowned experts in the field at Ceram.
"While the technology has been around for many years, there have been few realistic applications of the technique; we are making progress in a number of field applications."
Ceram specialises in materials development, innovation and sustainability consultancy and testing across a range of sectors including medical devices, aerospace, defence, construction, ceramics and pharmaceuticals. It has some of the worlds leading companies as its clients.
Ceram and its subsidiary CICS operate out of the group's Stoke-on-Trent headquarters and the business also has a facility in Leeds as well as bases in Texas, New York State and South Carolina in the U.S.
The firm develops, analyses and tests new materials on behalf of companies across the world while CICS focuses on sustainability services such as verifying carbon and water footprints and helping businesses gain and retain ISO certification.
The group employs 190 scientists and engineers, 140 of them in Stoke-on-Trent. A spokesman for Sellafield Ltd added: "Sustainability and minimising the impact of nuclear decommissioning on the environment is a key driver for both us and our customer.
"Ceram has the expertise to help us reduce the amount of cement we need to use and therefore be manufactured, which in turn both reduces our total carbon footprint and saves taxpayers' money. In addition, being able to store more waste in a lower volume benefits the environment by bringing down the space we will need for storage.
"We're really excited by the possibilities, and we're looking forward to some excellent results."
Ceram is an independent, international materials technology company that focuses on innovation, sustainability and quality assurance of materials.
Headquartered in Staffordshire, UK, and with approved laboratories around the world, Ceram solves product and process challenges across a range of materials to help clients improve performance, comply with regulations and develop their sustainability performance in order to gain a competitive advantage and increase profitability.
Ceram operates in a wide variety of sectors around the world.
Experts from Ceram are happy to comment on relevant issues including innovation and sustainability.