Bakerhicks win first stage of NNL nuclear ‘game changer’ challenge

26 July 2021

UK-based design, engineering and project delivery company BakerHicks said on 20 July it had won the Feasibility Study stage of the ‘Detection of organics in pipes and vessels’ Game Changer challenge, run by the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL).

Game Changers is an innovation programme which finds solutions and develops technologies to overcome complex challenges facing the nuclear industry. The best ideas are then selected for funding and further development to help them fulfil their potential and increase the chance of implementation on nuclear sites.  

The first stage of this particular challenge, set by Sellafield Ltd and Dounreay Site Restoration Limited (DSRL), looked for feasibility solutions for the characterisation or post-operational sampling of organic residues in pipes and vessels to help confirm their removal to acceptable levels. The presence of residues, in the form of solids, liquids and sludges, is expected in pipes and vessels across a wide range of facilities as a result of reprocessing, but their presence can be hazardous, including the risk of ignition. Therefore, to ensure the safe decommissioning and dismantling of nuclear site facilities, these risks need to be mitigated and the challenge looks for an efficient and effective way to do this. 

The design put forward by BakerHicks  draws on experience in process engineering. The concept incorporates a bespoke ‘duplex’ endoscopic/Raman spectrometer probe with the capability to visually locate and chemically characterise samples in-situ. Its core functionality enables the visual identification of analysed samples via an integrated light source and an articulating endoscope sensor tip, with the assembly of both inspection technologies designed to operate in the harsh environment of nuclear decommissioning. 

Gwyn Jones, Principal Engineer at BakerHicks, who led the development of the design, says the solution focuses on integrating two sets of technology in one. “We have essentially created a bundle which delivers both visual and organic characterisation to detect hazards and substances in real time,” he explained. “The probe has a reach of up to 30 metres, which allows it to address the issue of accessing the organics in pipes, vessels and columns located in areas with no permitted access. This will help make the decommissioning process much easier, safer and cheaper.”

Dave Gorringe, Head of Nuclear at BakerHicks said  the Game Changer programme is a brilliant platform which gives individuals and companies the freedom to think. “This particular challenge allowed our team to draw on their experience on other projects and across different sectors to come up with a solution that ticks all the right boxes without being over-engineered. The programme represents innovation at its best and we will definitely be entering further challenges where our experience can be of benefit to the industry.” The BakerHicks solution will now be reviewed by Sellafield and DSRL with a view to it progressing to the Proof of Concept phase of the competition.

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