UTGARD Laboratory

UTGARD Phase II logo


Lancaster University logo
PI: Prof Colin Boxall
Mission: To establish a university facility for simulated spent nuclear fuel (SIMFUEL) fabrication and characterisation that is unique within the UK higher education landscape, in order to drive and accelerate UK spent nuclear fuel research.

Research themes

Uranium dioxide electrode

A uranium dioxide pellet electrode prepared in UTGARD Laboratory

© Lancaster University 2020

Researcher at work in lab

A postdoctoral researcher prepares a radioactive liquid sample for analysis

© Lancaster University 2020

Reflecting the fuel used in the UK’s current Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors (AGRs) and Light Water Reactors (LWRs), and to be used in new build LWRs, UTGARD Phase II will focus on oxide SIMFUELs – although, with an eye to future fuel cycles, this will include Mixed Oxide (MOX) and ThO2-based fuels. This new facility is designed to extend and interact with Lancaster’s existing radiochemical lab for open sources, UTGARD, creating an effective synergistic single R&D facility and enabling research in the following themes:

1)    Development of new, advanced sintering routes for the fabrication of SIMFUELs with porosities, fission product loadings, and defect microstructures that better simulate those of real spent nuclear fuel (UTGARD Phase II).

2)    Behavioural studies of advanced SIMFUELs, as well as those prepared using conventional techniques, under a range of conditions relevant to the back end of the fuel cycle – including wet/dry interim storage, geological disposal and new reprocessing routes (UTGARD Phase I).

For all fabrication methods in theme 1, samples of each simulant created by UTGARD researchers and, with permission, by external users will be retained on-site, so creating a library of well characterised SIMFUELs for use by external researchers who do not wish to create their own materials.


Diagram of lab

Design sketch of UTGARD Phase II Laboratory space attached to the existing UTGARD

© Lancaster University 2020


Constructed in 2016, UTGARD laboratory is a ~120 m2 process chemistry laboratory for work on β/γ active fission products, uranium, thorium and low level alpha tracers.

UTGARD Phase II involves an extension to the existing UTGARD Laboratory, generating a further ~40 m2 of new laboratory space. As with the existing laboratory, UTGARD Phase II will be rated to the highest level of university open source radiation protection, allowing for the handling of a wide variety of radioactive isotopes for use in SIMFUEL manufacture.



A selection of equipment that will go in UTGARD Phase II

A selection of equipment that will go in UTGARD Phase II

Clockwise from top left: © Struers Ltd. 2020; © Struers Ltd. 2020; © Netzsch Holding 2020; © Nabertherm GmbH 2020; © Anton Paar GmbH 2020

The equipment for UTGARD Phase II has been carefully chosen to allow complete end to end fabrication of oxide SIMFUELs:


For SIMFUEL powder precursor preparation:

  • A single user licence for the FISPIN fuel depletion code, for calculation of target SIMFUEL compositions as functions of burnup and cooling time.
  • A powder cabinet-isolated planetary ball mill (Retsch) and particle sizer (Horiba) for control and measurement of the size of SIMFUEL precursor powders that have been purchased or fabricated using UTGARD’s synthetic facilities.


For sintering of SIMFUEL precursors into pellet form:

•    An up to 100% hydrogen tube furnace (Nabertherm) for conventional sintering of green pellets prepared using existing powder presses.
•    A spark plasma sintering (SPS) system for advanced binder-free field assisted rapid sintering studies.
•    A modified dilatometer (Netzsch), both for monitoring pellet densification during sintering and for the study of the new and novel route of flash sintering.


For post-sintering sample preparation and characterisation:

•    A mercury porosimeter (Anton-Paar) to assess pellet porosity post-sintering.
•    A powder cabinet-isolated diamond saw and grinding and polishing machine (Struers) for sample preparation.


Access to existing equipment in UTGARD Phase I is also possible through the NNUF funded user access scheme:


Radiation handling and measurement

•    α/β tray counter
•    Multi-sample gamma counter / spectrometer
•    Large negative pressure glove box, fully HEPA filtered for α-sample preparation
•    Anoxic, positive pressure glovebox
•    Two banks of two centrifugal contactors and pumps



•    Multiple potentiostats, including low current and EIS models
•    Rotating Disk Electrodes (RDE and RRDE) 
•    Quartz Crystal Microbalances (QCM)



•    Two Raman microscopes
•    FT-IR with ATR stage
•    UV-VIS-NIR spectrophotometer and Stop-Flow adaptor



•    High Pressure Liquid Chromatography (HPLC)
•    Anion and Cation Ion Chromatography system with combined Mass Spectrometer (IC-MS)


Thermal Analysis

•    TGA/DSC system with combined gas mass spectrometer (TGA-MS) up to 1050°C

•    Raman hot stage up to 1100°C


Elemental characterisation/imaging

•    SEM with EDX
•    Large chamber XRF system

Negative pressure containment box

Negative pressure containment box in UTGARD Phase I

© Lancaster University 2020

UTGARD Phase I lab


© Lancaster University 2020

UTGARD Phase I lab


© Lancaster University 2020


As part of the creation of this new NNUF facility, UTGARD Laboratory is now supported by a full time research officer, Dr Richard Wilbraham. Richard is an experienced Radiation Protection Supervisor and has been a part of many multi-partner nuclear research projects, including the national nuclear innovation program, SACSESS (and its follow-on project GENIORS) and the spent nuclear fuel consortium.



UTGARD is open for research, within appropriate COVID-19 control measures. Within those controls we are able to accommodate external users, either in person or by delivering experiments on samples provided. In the first instance please do reach out to the UTGARD team to discuss requirements.



© Lancaster University 2020.