Funding of GBP3m ($3.65m) is being offered by the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and Innovate UK to develop and demonstrate technologies that could help resolve some of the complex challenges associated with dismantling facilities at the Sellafield site, a 12 January statement said. The two government bodies are collaborating to encourage innovation by sharing the investment among organisations whose proposals will be selected through a competition that starts on 30 January.
The Integrated Innovation for Nuclear Decommissioning competition, in partnership with Sellafield Ltd, will focus on robots and remotely operated equipment, with the goal of reducing the risks for workers, reducing timescales and costs, while identifying the optimum solution for some of the waste that will arise. Two of Sellafield’s major facilities for reprocessing used nuclear fuel are set to close by 2020, when the site will shift to full-scale decommissioning and waste management.
Technical Innovation Manager Chris Hope, who is on secondment to the NDA’s Technology Team from Sellafield, said: “The THORP and Magnox reprocessing facilities are unique, contain hazardous environments and we know they will present major decommissioning challenges in the years ahead so we are aiming to encourage early solutions.” He noted that with Sellafield closely involved as the potential end-user, the technologies will be aligned with the requirements, and prospective solutions could be tested at the site.
Since 2012, the NDA and Innovate UK have collaborated successfully with other public bodies leading to more than GBP50m of investment in innovative R&D projects for deployment across the whole nuclear industry. Dr Derek Allen, Innovation Lead, Innovate UK, said: “We want the decommissioning challenge to bring together a host of innovative organisations from a wide range of sectors. The demonstrator will be a showcase for UK innovation, with Sellafield playing a major role by providing the crucial route to market that innovators require.” Another important goal will be to encourage collaborative proposals from business and academia, especially small and medium-sized enterprises from the nuclear supply chain and from other industrial sectors.The competition will be split into stages, with initial funding available to develop a business case, followed by the second stage leading to demonstrations in a non-radioactive environment. If this demonstration is successful, there is the potential for progress to deployment and demonstration in a radioactive facility at Sellafield. It it is anticipated that the emerging technologies will also be of interest to the NDA’s wider estate, the nuclear sector and also to hazardous industrial environments in general, such as oil and gas or defence