Innovative approaches to detect radioactive contaminated structures

The project aims to develop a decision-making tool for the quantitative assessment of underground radioactively contaminated structures.

Start date
1 October 2019
3 years
Application deadline
Funding source
Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) via Transcend
Funding information

The studentship will cover University fees and student stipend at normal research council (EPSRC) rates. Funding is provided for the whole duration of the PhD. This studentship forms part of TRANSCEND (Transformative Science and Engineering for Nuclear Decommissioning), which brings together a consortium of 11 universities.


It is essential that buried and potentially contaminated structures can be quantitatively assessed to facilitate future decommissioning of nuclear sites. This PhD will seek to develop a robust methodology to predict gamma dose rates in contaminated underground structures based on limited direct information. The research will contribute into the EPSRC and industry-funded Transformative Science and Engineering for Nuclear Decommission programme (TRANSCEND). This is a £9.4 million research collaboration, across 11 UK universities, addressing the challenges associated with nuclear and radioactive waste. 

The project objective is to minimise and, where possible, avoid intrusive sampling and analysis whilst still acquiring sufficient information to justify management options for radioactively contaminated underground pipes and other structures at UK nuclear sites. Following experimental assessment, algorithms will be developed to infer the distribution and activity concentrations of selected gamma emitting isotopes as a function of structure type, extent of contamination, depth of burial and environmental factors (e.g. soil moisture content). 

Research tasks will include a range of experimental activities, both within the laboratory and field, alongside data analysis and computational modelling. An initial evaluation of contamination and environmental conditions will be conducted before the development of a laboratory soil tank test facility. This will facilitate gamma spectroscopy and other radiation detection assessments, used to inform diagnostic measurement campaigns within the UK field locations. 

Alongside the experimental component, the project will develop a modelling capability incorporating decay profile, contaminants and environmental conditions. Use of Geant4 to model radiation transport will be utilised. Standard and enhanced data analysis of both experimental and modelled data sets will be applied, incorporating data fusion methodologies. 

The project represents an opportunity for a student to undertake experimental radioactive measurements, develop computational and mathematical data analysis approaches whilst also acquiring experience of conducting research campaigns. This studentship sits within a larger research effort, with contributions to the TRANSCEND programme from the University of Surrey Physics and Chemistry Departments. The studentship will be based within the Physics Radiation and Medical Physics Group and the student will also benefit from interactions within the Surrey interdisciplinary TRANSCEND research group and the broader TRANSCEND university collaboration. 

The student is expected to liaise where necessary with fellow research staff, support staff and students in the group. In addition, s/he will have the opportunity to benefit from the wide range of additional workshops and skill development opportunities facilitated through the Surrey Researcher Development programme and the SEPnet Graduate School, which maximise students’ preparation for a successful career beyond their PhD studies. Research results are anticipated to be published and presented at appropriate international conferences, for example the IEEE Nuclear Science and Medical Imaging Symposium.

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Project details

Eligibility criteria

UK or EU applicants who hold a First or 2:1 UK honours degree in a relevant subject area, or a 2:2 alongside a good master’s degree (a distinction is usually required).

The studentship is available to UK or EU candidates (for EU candidates the standard EPSRC residence requirements apply).

If English is not your first language, you will be required to have an IELTS Academic of 6.5 or above (or equivalent), with no sub-test score below 6.

How to apply

Applications can be made through our Physics PhD course page.

Please state the project title and supervisor clearly on all applications.

Physics PhD

Application deadline

Contact details

Caroline Shenton-Taylor
29 BC 04
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 688759
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