We research new materials for fission and fusion nuclear power plants. Some highlights include advanced fuels, boride ceramics, and high entropy alloys.  

Our applied research covers areas such as: 

  • Blockchain infosystems for nuclear safeguards  
  • Deep space power systems  
  • Virtual reality technology for remote handling  
  • Modelling small modular reactors in integrated energy systems 

Nuclear Materials 

We develop nuclear fuels that can withstand sever accident conditions for longer. We’re developing leading uranium silicide and uranium nitride ATF in close collaboration with industry partners and national labs. This is achieved using state-of-the-art in-situ neutron diffraction and first principles modelling.  

We’re also exploring a new, innovative material: uranium diboride. UB₂ is currently used as an absorber but has been overlooked as a fuel, due to the neutron poisoning effect of B-11. Yet, our research suggests that it may in fact be employed as a future fuel. 

We’re working with industry partners in Europe and the United States to develop improved Zr alloys. This work has lead to improved economics and higher safety margins for carbon-free nuclear power. Zirconium cladding alloys currently used on nuclear reactors exhibit a unique combination of mechanical properties, corrosion resistance and neutron transparency. However, their ability to withstand prolonged exposure to in-reactor conditions limits fuel use in the reactor. 

In the emerging area of high entropy alloys, we collaborate with researchers in the Advanced Manufacturing, Materials and Structures group to explore this exciting new class of alloy for nuclear applications. 

We also work closely with Fusion companies in the United Kingdom. Our aim is to develop ultra-high temperature ceramics that have suitable radiation tolerance to protect sensitive superconducting magnets from the fusion plasma. The deployment of commercial fusion reactors is held back by a lack of materials that withstand the extreme environment of fusion plasma.  

We’re also investigating beryllium intermetallics as candidate neutron multiplier materials in the breeder blanket of fusion tokamaks. These are critical component to enable self-sustained fusion and create more tritium fuel. 

Nuclear Energy Systems

We’re part of a major project consortium of industry and academic partners in Europe and the United States, working to develop the design and the safety case for fast-spectrum, lead-cooled test reactor. The reactor will be designed and built by 2030 in Oskarshamn, Sweden. The UNSW team is contributing to testing and validation of candidate fuel materials for the fast reactor system. Lead cooled fast reactors offer improved resource utilization and accident resilience compared to conventional light water-cooled technology. 

We work with UNSW researchers in ACSER (Australian Centre Space Engineering Research) and SPREE (School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering) developing novel space power cells based on betavoltaics. Nuclear power systems are  attractive for certain applications in space, such as delivering power in shadowed locations, under low light or operating far from the sun.   

One area seeing recent resurgence is direct conversion of beta radiation to electrical power, so-called betavoltaics. Objectives of this research are modelling radiation transport through novel device architectures and improving radiation tolerance of semiconductors.  

The technology offers an attractive route for recycling or nuclear ‘waste’ into functional products, with widespread terrestrial applications as well. 

Advanced and small modular reactors (SMR) offer competitive advantages over conventional gigawatt power plants in terms of deployment rate, built cost, servicing remote or isolated grids. They can also integrate in electricity grids with high penetration of intermittent renewable energy like solar and wind. The combined deployment of renewable and nuclear power is the most promising pathway for deep decarbonization of the energy sector. We’re investigating how SMR technologies will complement renewable energy in electricity grids. 

Our research group developed SLUMBAT - the first blockchain demo for nuclear materials accounting, an integral part of nuclear safeguards. Nuclear Safeguards are measures put in place by the international community to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and our system is the most innovative solution for nuclear safeguards. With our partners at Stimson Center and Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, we have built SLAFKA, the first prototype of this technology. Further research and development in this area is ongoing. 

For decades, the nuclear industry has led the way in telemanipulation and remote handling of hazardous materials.  Operator vision systems have lagged comparatively behind and still use either thick windows or ordinary video feed to control advanced robotic handling tools. We’re closing this gap by developing visual telepresence through a combination of virtual reality and machine learning so that nuclear operators can immersive control experience working condition by telepresence and keep the ‘human in the loop’ for maximum flexibility while still working safely. 

Our Academic Research Partners 

  • Imperial College London 
  • University of Texas at San Antono 
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 
  • KTH Stockholm 
  • Uppsala university 
  • Luleå University of Technology 
  • University of Bangor 

Our Industry Partners 

  • Westinghouse 
  • Tokaomak Energy 
  • Sandvik 
  • UNIPER (a European energy utility) 
  • Jernkontoret (Swedish steel producers' association) 
  • Outokumpu (the largest producer of stainless steel in Europe) 
  • Safetech (nuclear safety consultancy) 

Our Nuclear Regulator Partners 

  • Swedish Radiation Safety Authority 
  • STUK (Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority) 
  • Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office 

Our People