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UK NDA, Innovate UK select five projects for nuclear decommissioning challenge

EBR Staff Writer Published 01 February 2018

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and fellow government agency Innovate UK have selected five projects which will receive up to £1.5m in funding each to develop prototype robots to develop new ways to tackle Sellafield radioactive hotspots.

Following the launch of competitive process for innovative technologies in 2017 for use in nuclear facilities which would soon be decommissioned, NDA and Innovate UK have shortlisted five technologies from 15 technologies.

The five successful consortia are led by Createc, Nuvia, Wood, Cavendish Nuclear and Barrnon.

The winning project or projects are planned to be deployed at Sellafield’s Thorp plant and Magnox reprocessing plant, which are scheduled to be decommissioned by 2020.

NDA technology head Melanie Brownridge said: “The projects demonstrate the full range of innovation – using existing ideas in an innovative way through to cutting-edge new technologies.”

The newly formed consortia will now build prototype demonstrators which will be tested over the next 18 months in a simulated radioactive environment.

The robots with potential will further undergo more rigorous trials in a radioactive environment prior to the deployment at the NDA sites. The robots will be controlled by super-smart auto-navigation systems.

Brownridge added: “It’s a huge challenge. The new integrated system must establish what’s inside the cells, measure the radioactivity, access spaces that have been sealed for years, cut up the contents (including large vessels and many miles of pipework), segregate the waste, then remove it for treatment and safe storage.

“Radioactivity levels are extremely high, restricting workforce access, so the work must be carried out remotely.”

Sellafield and the NDA are seeking to reduce risks to workers, boost productivity, deal efficiently with waste, reduce timescales and reduce overall costs to the taxpayer.

Innovate UK Energy innovation lead Derek Allen said:  “This program fully aligns with one of the Governments Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund priority areas: ‘Robotics and artificial intelligence in extreme environments’ which is looking to create a safer working world for people, improve productivity and support advances in industry and public services.”

Image: The Sellafield’s Thermal Oxide reprocessing plant will be cleaned out and decommissioned. Photo: © Crown copyright.