Cleaning Nuclear Power Stations?

Engineers have developed a material to find ways to clean up disaster sites. This “lava-like” material is akin to the highly molten nuclear fuel created through the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters.

How was it created?

This lava-like fuel containing Materials (LFCM) was created in the nuclear meltdowns of the power plants and contain a high level of radioactivity. This material spread across the site and scientists has said it is “truly unique” as little is known about it and scientists have yet to figure out a way to get rid of the material. So creating a similar structure allows the development and opens up different techniques to help neutralise the material.

What have scientists advanced on?

Chernobyl reactor 4

The substance has been made in a laboratory which mimics an extremely dangerous material and is only found during a nuclear meltdown like in Fukushima and Chernobyl.

Scientists and researchers from the University of Sheffield have said the actual substance is too dangerous to safely study and its properties remain unknown to scientists. Therefore, it cannot be removed from sites as it could be a radio-logical risk to the environment.

However, the artificial version mimics the structure, the properties of the original material and behaves similarly, but it is safer to use. Researchers hope that it will help them investigate how to decommission LFCMs.

Chernobyl’s Meltdown

Chernobyl’s catastrophic meltdown on April 26, 1986, caused 31 direct deaths and a 30 km exclusion zone causing a mass evacuation.

The formation of LFCMs is well known at Chernobyl and the risks and problems are well documented. LFCMs are a mixture of molten nuclear fuel, which is dangerously radioactive, mixed with building material.

Understanding the mechanical, thermal and chemical properties of the material created in a nuclear meltdown is critical to help retrieve them, for example, if we don’t know how hard they are, how can we create the radiation-resistant robots required to cut them out?

Dr Claire Corkhill, University of Sheffield – Department of Materials Science and Engineering

Fukushima’s disaster

Researchers suspect LFCMs have also formed at the site of Fukushima which was destroyed by an earthquake in 2011. It killed more than 21,000 people and the reactor is currently submerged in the water used to cool the melted core.


Dr Corkhill has been collaborating with the researchers and scientists at the University of Tokyo and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency to find out what happens to the highly radioactive dust that swells out from the surface of LFCM when the water is taken out.

Thanks to this research, we now have a much lower radioactivity simulant meltdown material to investigate, which is safe for our collaborators in Ukraine and Japan to research without the need for radiation shielding.

Ultimately this will help advance the decommissioning operations at Chernobyl and also at Fukushima too

Dr Claire Corkhill

Post Author: Han Yeo