New remote-controlled machines to enable safer decommissioning of nuclear reactors

Engineers from Lancaster University are working on a new project to enable safer decommissioning of nuclear reactors.

A joint effort between the University of Manchester, Hybrid Instruments and Japanese partners, the project aims at developing a remote-controlled vehicle capable of evaluating radiation levels in the adverse environments.

Additionally, the submersible remote-controlled machines will enable accelerated clean-up of nuclear disaster sites.

The Japanese partners for the project include the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, the National Maritime Research Institute of Japan and the Nagaoka University of Technology.

The technology will enable enhanced detection and evaluation of underwater radiation, especially neutron and gamma-ray fields, consequently resulting in the removal of nuclear fuel debris.

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the project will also help identify nuclear fuel.

Lancaster University nuclear engineering professor and lead author of the research Malcolm Joyce said: “Our research will focus on developing a remote-operated submersible vehicle with detection instruments that will be able to identify the radioactive sources.

“This capability does not currently exist and it would enable clean-up of the stricken Fukushima reactors to continue.”15

The project will leverage on the radiation detection technology expertise of the Lancaster University engineers while University of Manchester experts will focus on developing the remote-operated vehicle.

University of Manchester applied control professor Barry Lennox said: “A key challenge with the remote-operated vehicle will be to design it so that it can fit through the small access ports typically available in nuclear facilities.

“These ports can be less than 100mm in diameter, which will create significant challenges.”

The technology is expected to be useful for detecting naturally-occurring radioactive material in offshore fields in the oil and gas sector in the near future.