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Meet our nuclear robots

For decades man and machine have worked together at Sellafield.

Introducing our new recruits

For decades man and machine have worked together at Sellafield. Today, their ability to support our clean-up mission by entering buildings that are too radioactive for human entry makes our newest robots an essential part of the team.

Mini submarines have been fitted with scoops (gallery image 1), cameras (gallery image 2) and other tools. Their role has evolved from being used to look inside nuclear buildings to being at the front line in the retrieval of fuel and sludge from legacy storage ponds. Our engineers, operators and supply chain have adapted off-the-shelf robots, like these mini submarines, adding tools and cameras and tailoring them for specific jobs.

Traditionally organisations replace humans with machines in order to improve efficiency or reduce costs. At Sellafield they work hand-in-hand.

Machines are operated by our employees who deploy them to investigate radioactive areas, to retrieve nuclear waste and sludge, and to move nuclear materials. Robotic arms at Sellafield are similar in design to those used in the automotive construction industries.

When innovation takes flight

Innovation is a human response to a problem or challenge – and challenges don’t come much more difficult than those faced at the Sellafield nuclear site

The urgency of high hazard reduction at Sellafield is creating a very valuable by-product – that being the increasing speed at which innovation and technology is being developed to tackle it. The site is home to historical nuclear waste from the cold war era and removing these hazards quickly and safely is a national priority – which is why West Cumbria is becoming the test bed for some of the most revolutionary nuclear innovations on the planet.

Solutions are being pioneered and accelerated to tackle some of the most complicated decommissioning challenges in the world, much faster than they would if the hazards didn’t exist. Cutting-edge remote technology is just one of the solutions emerging.

Introducing Project Riser

On a 60-year-old nuclear site, the balance between an unwavering focus on safety and the urgency of the clean-up is ever present. So how do you get workers inside potentially dangerous plants which haven’t been accessed in 50 years, to decommission them?

The answer in 2015 is – maybe you don’t need to.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are beginning to carry out vital work in hazardous environments where safety conscious Sellafield workers can’t get to, to help clean up the UK’s nuclear legacy. Project RISER (Remote Intelligence Survey Equipment for Radiation) is a collaborative initiative between a small Cumbrian company, Createc, and a Bedfordshire based aerial specialist, Blue Bear Systems Research.

The RISER is an electrically powered quad-copter that can perform a function unlike any other in the world. It has been specially developed to simultaneously laser scan an environment and characterise radiation within it. It generates an accurate 3D virtual model of the environment (which others of its kind can do), but its unique selling point is that it can overlay that model with accurate radiometric data. No other unmanned aircraft system can perform this function.

Before it is switched on the RISER knows nothing at all about its location and environment. The technical maturity of this kit has the potential to transform the way data relating to radiation and hazard is gathered at the Sellafield nuclear site, and across the globe. Driven by an Xbox type controller, it can give us detailed information about areas where it would be extremely difficult, or even impossible, for humans to access safely.

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Tonnes of sludge removed

Createc is based just 20 miles up the road from the nuclear site and they developed the N-Visage™ radiation mapping software that produces an accurate 3D, high-definition picture of contamination distribution, quickly and safely. The Blue Bear Quadcopter’s flight management system, the SNAP® autopilot, make it completely autonomous using simultaneous location mapping.

The first ever test of the RISER in a radioactive environment has taken place inside the iconic high Windscale pile chimney on the site and early results show that the sky is the limit when it comes to remote technology.