The Pile Fuel Cladding Silo at Sellafield (Photo credit Sellafield Ltd)The UK on 27 July launched a £3.9 million ($5m) competition to find innovative ways to sort and segregate radioactive waste at some of the UK’s oldest nuclear sites.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) – including Sellafield Ltd and Magnox Ltd – has teamed up with Innovate UK to call on companies to come up with new ideas and innovative approaches to the challenge.

Robotics, sensors, artificial intelligence and autonomous systems are just some of the potential technologies which could be used for the Sort and Segregate Nuclear Waste competition. It is open to any interested organisations – they don’t have to be from a nuclear background – to form consortia and develop a plan to address the challenge, NDA said. It involves work at Sellafield and several Magnox nuclear reactor sites – the UK’s first generation of nuclear reactor.

NDA head of innovation, Sara Huntingdon, said: “Dealing with waste is a huge ongoing challenge for us as we progress our mission to decommission nuclear sites. We want people to be creative and help us develop new and innovative solutions. We welcome technologies from all sectors – organisations don’t have to have nuclear experience – just great ideas and a passion for turning those into a reality.”

Innovate UK’s nuclear innovation lead, Derek Allen, said: “We are delighted to be working with the NDA again to deliver another Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) to help drive innovation into the nuclear decommissioning supply chain.”

This is the second competition to encourage integrated innovation in nuclear decommissioning. The first launched in 2017 to find solutions to help decommission highly radioactive facilities at Sellafield – 15 submissions were identified in phase one as having potential, five then went forward to phase two to develop their ideas further and two winning consortia were then chosen to turn their ideas into reality.

The competition will be open for applications from 17 August. After a rigorous assessment process it is likely a number of consortia will be chosen in February 2021 to carry out a three month feasibility study into their idea, for which they will each be awarded up to £60,000. The best submissions will then be given up to £900,000 to go forward to the design and build phase of the project, which can last up to 15 months.