The Remote Handling Control Room at the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) has undergone a significant upgrade providing one of the most advanced robotics and remote handling systems in the world for the Joint European Torus (JET). UKAEA said this will support its role in delivering the highest standards in fusion repurposing and decommissioning projects.

Steve Gilligan, the Programme Sponsor and Head of Decommissioning & Handling, said the Remote Handling System is “absolutely fundamental” to the repurposing and decommissioning of JET. “Due to safety precautions, personnel have not be able to enter the tokamak for over 30 years.” JET’s plasma operations over the last few years have made it a particularly challenging work environment.

“We have refurbished the system so that it’s fit for the future,” he added. “This has taken huge effort, more than 400,000 hours have been invested in its upgrade, which includes research and development, installation, testing, commissioning and training.”

JET in Culham near Oxford closed at the end of December 2023 after 40 years of operation. Its final deuterium-tritium experiments (DTE3 conducted over seven weeks from August to October demonstrated the ability to reliably generate fusion energy, whilst simultaneously setting a world-record in energy output”, according to UKAEA.

The next phase of its life cycle for repurposing and decommissioning, represents an opportunity to develop new technologies and skills in line with the Government’s published fusion strategy. The critical testing of the inside of the tokamak is now underway and will continue throughout Spring and Summer of 2024.

This process involves retrieving 60 key samples for further scientific analysis. The remote handling operators will be responsible for eventually removing over 4,000 individual tiles and components from JET’s inner vessel, including some that weigh several hundreds of kilogrammes.

The Remote Handling Control Room upgrades include a complete overhaul of MASCOT, a highly dextrous remote manipulator with haptic feedback, that allows the operator to feel every action from carrying a new component to tightening a bolt.

Image: The MASCOT remote manipulator robot (courtesy of UK Atomic Energy Authority)