Academics tasked with creating new solutions for radioactive decommissioning risks

A new consortium has been tasked with creating a new centre which will help one of the UK’s leading nuclear power plants tackle a range of decommissioning risks.

The University of Manchester has been chosen to lead an academic consortium to support Sellafield’s new Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Centre of Expertise.

The purpose of the consortium will be to provide Sellafield Ltd with technical support as it delivers its long-term objectives of safely inspecting and decommissioning their facilities using remote technologies.

Sellafield said it has made considerable progress with the deployment of robots to address challenges on its site. However, it added there are many challenges that remain, many of which cannot be solved using currently available commercial technologies.

The academic consortium will be led by professor Barry Lennox and Dr Simon Watson at The University of Manchester and supported by groups at The University of Bristol, led by professor Tom Scott, and The University of Oxford, led by professor Nick Hawes. Sellafield engagement with the academic consortium will be led by its Robotics and Manufacturing lead, Dr Melissa Willis.

“This new centre will enable us to continue to develop robotic systems that will have a real impact on the decommissioning of the Sellafield site,” Lennox explained. “Our involvement in this reflects the quality of research and expertise we have in this sector at the University, and we are looking forward to expanding our collaboration with Sellafield Ltd and our other academic colleagues involved in this consortium.”

Willis added: “We are excited by the opportunities that this consortium provides us with and are confident that their technical expertise will help us to deliver the benefits that robotics technology offers us on the Sellafield site.”

The consortium has considerable experience of working with Sellafield Ltd, having all been involved in the RAIN (Robotics and Artificial Intelligence for Nuclear) hub, and more recently The University of Manchester has provided the academic leadership for the Robotics and AI Collaboration (RAICo) in Cumbria.

Working collaboratively with Sellafield Ltd, researchers at The University of Manchester developed AVEXIS, which can be deployed into aquatic facilities with access ports as small as 150 mm and collect visual and radiometric data. The commercial version of AVEXIS was the first robot to be deployed into Sellafield’s Magnox Swarf Storage Silos and its use at Fukushima Daiichi has been explored.

The University of Oxford’s Robotics Institute (ORI) have developed a range of mapping and mission planning technologies that can be used by robots, such as Boston Dynamics’ Spot to autonomously monitor facilities and identify unexpected changes.

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