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ENS HSC Award for best new PhD in nuclear


 Dr Steph Thornber UK wins in Europe!

We are delighted to bring you the news that the UK candidate has beaten nine other entrants for this year’s ENS HSC Award for best new PhD in nuclear. Dr Steph Thornber of NNL was selected by the UK judges to be our entry to this annual competition run by the High Scientific Council.  

The topic of her PhD was “The development of high fraction zirconolite glass-ceramics for the immobilisation of actinides in plutonium residues for long-term geological disposal” conducted under the joint supervision of Prof Neil Hyatt and Dr Martin Stennett from the University of Sheffield and Dr Ewan Maddrell from NNL.

Steph’s PhD project improved the understanding of both the hot isostatic pressing (HIP) thermal treatment process for wasteform fabrication and the scientific underpinning of zirconolite glass-ceramics.

Key outputs include the impact of precursor properties and process control quality, the impact of glass formulation on the final crystalline phase assemblage and its relationship to elemental activities in the glass, and the development and demonstration of an optimised glass formulation culminating in the production of plutonium containing HIP samples.

In a presentation of her results to the High Scientific Council judges Steph beat three other finalists – from Spain, France and the Netherlands.  

The judges reported how impressed they were with the quality of all the entrants which gave a very positive hope of the future success of nuclear research in Europe. One of the judges noted in the judgement that: 

“Stephanie's PhD work justifies the use of hot isostatic pressing (HIP) for radioactive waste treatment. HIP has been used in industrial processes for several decades and, if it can be modified successfully, has the potential to convert plutonium materials into safe, stable glass-ceramic forms (fissile material - Pu in the composition of ceramics, and this ceramic in a glass matrix) that will be resilient over the long term storage and be suitable for final geological disposal. This treatment process could potentially save billions of pounds from the cost of repackaging hundreds of plutonium canisters that are currently stored at Sellafield, pending transfer to a geological disposal facility.” 

ENS reported that “The High Scientific Council congratulates Dr Thornber for her achievement and wishes her a productive and fruitful research career”.  

The runners-up for the 2020 competition were:

  • Dr Fluvio Bertocchi - “Design, construction and operation of experiments for measuring large coherent structures and flow-induced vibrations in rod bundle flows by means of Particle Image Velocimetry and Laser Doppler Anemometry systems”, nominated by the Netherlands Nuclear Society;
  • Dr Tom Petit - “Comprehension and modelling of toughness tests with pop in: Application to 6061-T6 aluminium and effect of neutron irradiation”, nominated by the French Nuclear Society.
  • Dr Pablo Romojaro - “Nuclear Data Analyses for Improving the Safety of Advanced Lead-cooled Reactors”, nominated by the Spanish Nuclear Society.

We look forward to bringing you the presentations from the all the finalists in Nuclear Future and as soon as ENS announce the 2021 competition we will be inviting entrants to compete to be the UK’s entry.