Award-winning master’s thesis about new nuclear fuel concept

web_vinnarna_sigvard-eklund-beskuren-2016Nothing tops finishing up your master’s thesis with a feeling of a job well done. Except perhaps making a major discovery AND winning a prestigious award! MSc EMINE student Alicia Raftery did just that when securing the honourable Sigvard Eklund award for 2016.

The late nuclear physicist Sigvard Eklund dedicated his life to utilising nuclear energy for peaceful purposes – and his foundation carries on that tradition. This year Alicia was one of proud winners receiving their award at the SKC (Swedish Centre for Nuclear Technology) annual symposium in September 2016 in Hindås.

Alicia shares her passion for nuclear energy with us – and how InnoEnergy has been a big part of the picture.

Award-winning idea

Always having an interest in nuclear fuel fabrication, during a 3-week nuclear fuels course at Cadarache (part of her master’s study) it just clicked. She reached out to KTH (Royal Institute of Technology) to obtain a master’s thesis position in their nuclear fuels lab. This hands on experience allowed her to develop this possible new fuel concept – also the theme of her thesis, “Fabrication and Characterization of UN-USix Nuclear Fuel”.

Working closely with KTH PhD student supervisor, Kyle Johnson, she created a composite nuclear fuel of uranium silicide and uranium nitride using a relatively new sintering method called “spark plasma sintering” (SPS). The project was a great success in the fact that a high-density fuel pellet with enhanced thermal conductivity was created, but it also uncovered a new “unknown” ternary phase. “Westinghouse is going forward with the next step of irradiation testing the fuel in the US, putting the fuel in a research reactor to see how it behaves”, explains Alicia.

Kyle submitted her thesis for the award, recognising the significance of the results. “She was an incredibly talented, knowledgeable, and thorough young scientist – who always willing to get her hands dirty (not something just anyone does in a nuclear fuel lab).“

InnoEnergy’s role

Alicia already felt like a winner, having received a scholarship from InnoEnergy for the entirety of her master studies. “The EMINE programme exposed me to a wide network in industry and academia, both in Sweden and France.” Excited to begin her PhD studies in January 2017, she’ll spend the first two years studying in the US and the second two years in Belgium. “I think the high level of education I received in the EMINE program definitely contributed to my acceptance into this PhD position.”

Onward and upward

She is currently working at the Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico, gaining experience at a national lab before going on to graduate school. When asked what the future holds, “I’ve really enjoyed studying in an international environment. I see myself as a project manager on international collaborative projects.” But what continues to drive her passion in the field of nuclear energy? “I consider nuclear energy not only to be the most practical energy solution, but also endlessly interesting. And I am a true victim to the notion that my contributions to nuclear research will make a real difference in the world.” It’s clear to see she is already on her way. Congratulations on the discovery and award!