Robot takes over dangerous nuclear decommissioning tasks

A new robot can take over some of the most dangerous tasks involved in nuclear decommissioning.

Createc’s Automated Nuclear Detection Cell (AND-C) can remotely scan items for radioactive contamination and then automatically remove the contamination.

Createc is behind some of the world’s most advanced technologies in robotics and computer imaging and is well-known for finding solutions to some of the world’s most complex industrial challenges.

Createc’s technology, developed as part of an Innovate UK project, involves an AND-C sensor pack being deployed on a robotic arm.

The sensor scans the contaminated item and the 3D radiation contamination map is transferred directly to the robotic system to guide the arm to the precise location and remove the contamination.

“The AND-C system allows remote radioactive decontamination without requiring operators to work inside a hazardous nuclear environment,” said David Clark, Createc’s operations director.

“In many nuclear decommissioning facilities, a decontamination cell is used to process transport containers on site so that they can be sentenced to low level waste.

“This is labour-intensive work which needs to be carried out using complex PPE and sometimes air-fed suits. This involves multiple operational teams as well as support staff and radiation protection staff.

Combining Createc’s proven technology for radiation mapping with nuclear robotic arms means the precise location of the contamination can be identified and removed without having to put nuclear workers into this hazardous environment.

Identifying different levels of nuclear waste in this way will result in significant financial savings as it will mean low level waste will not be sent to intermediate level waste facilities unnecessarily, Clark said.

Cost of nuclear waste

In the UK alone the lifetime disposal costs of nuclear waste are estimated at £18billion ($31 billion) equating to £50,000 ($86,000) per cubic metre of intermediate level waste and £7,500 ($13,000) per cubic metre of low-level waste.

“This is a strong driver to ensure that waste is accurately assayed and as much as possible of the waste is put into the appropriate low-level storage,” said Will Newsom, Createc’s head of nuclear engineering.

“AND-C provides an intelligent approach to nuclear waste management by assessing the activity of the waste item to a very high level of accuracy.”

The process starts with the waste items being moved into the AND-C cell. The end of the robot uses the AND-C sensor pack which can navigate the object and avoid collision. The scan generates a point cloud and radiometric data is collected.

Watch a video of the robot in action.

Createc’s N-Visage technology, commercially deployed across the world including at Sellafield in the UK, and extensively at the Fukushima Daiichi site in Japan, is then used to estimate the source distribution of the contamination of the object’s surface.

A 3D model combined with radiometric data is then used to plan how waste will be dismantled, improving the effectiveness and cost of decontamination.

Newsom said the technology answers three main challenges for the nuclear decommissioning industry. It can:

  • potentially reduce the amount of nuclear waste going into higher categories by removing assessment pessimism.
  • remove people from the danger of the assessment of that waste.
  • use digital tools to improve the workflow of the nuclear industry as a whole.

The modular approach of the technology and its use of Createc Robotics’s Iris platform means the whole system is flexible and agile and can be easily modified depending on the task.

Createc has pioneered some of the latest technology which is being deployed around the world to provide accurate, and readily available, radiological information.