Transfer of remote handling technology from fusion industry into decommissioning.
Building on their expertise in developing the world’s first remote handling equipment to operate inside a nuclear fusion reactor, Oxford Technologies Limited (OTL), the UK subsidiary of Veolia Nuclear Solutions (VNS), has been providing engineering solutions for a variety of highly challenging applications for many years.
Their technologies are focussed on operation in locations where human access is restricted or impossible, due to safety reasons, space limitations, and/or a technical need to maintain an ultra-clean environment. Oxford Technologies is the UK head office of VNS (UK), which brings together the remote handling experience of OTL together with US capability in robotics and waste management technologies.
As a result of discussions with National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) and Sellafield Limited, a need was identified for an innovative means of carrying out dexterous analytical work in locations where high radiation levels impose safety limitations on the use of conventional glove-box containment with direct operator access.
OTL saw an opportunity to address this challenge by transferring their DexterTM remote telemanipulator system, a proven technology from the fusion industry, and combining it with increased sensitivity. With this technology, there is no mechanical link between the master and slave hence remote human operations become feasible over a distance of up to 8 km between the operator in a control room and the location of the work activity.
Also, because there are no electronic or hydraulic components in the slave it can work in environments with high radiation levels. This new system has potential benefits of reduced costs and increased productivity.
Through the Game Changers initiative, OTL applied for proof-of-concept funding to demonstrate the applicability of their technology to specific operational activities at Sellafield. Throughout the application process, they were able to access key technical leads at Sellafield and NNL in addition to business commercialisation experts from Game Changers delivery partner FIS360.
As a result of this interaction, OTL were able to gain further understanding of the specific requirements of the end users in relation to sensitivity and feedback of the system to the operator, and incorporate these into their proof-of-concept project plan at an early stage.
Following a well-received presentation of their proof-of-concept project proposal to the Game Changers panel in early 2017, OTL were awarded a £30k grant from the Game Changers Technology Innovation Fund towards their project.
A successful series of demonstrations of the DexterTM telemanipulator technology were carried out at NNL’s Workington facility in November 2017, with hands-on trials conducted by 30 attendees from across various departments within Sellafield and NNL. As a result, specific potential locations and areas of application at Sellafield were identified directly by the likely end-users of the technology, providing invaluable input and focus for the next stages of development.
Oxford Technologies will now meet with the interested SL/NNL parties to further explore the specific decommissioning challenge areas to which their remote handling technology will be applicable.
“As a result of our successful application to Game Changers, Oxford Technologies has been able to develop our Dexter manipulator system for potential applications at Sellafield. We were pleased to have the opportunity to engage directly with key personnel from NNL and Sellafield at the demonstrations hosted by NNL.”
“We were encouraged by the level of interest and the potential benefits of the system identified by prospective end-users, such as removing operators from the hazardous environment, elimination of windows and glove ports, being able to readily perform tasks that are currently difficult, and reducing operator fatigue.”
“With the help of Game Changers, we are looking forward to working closely with Sellafield and NNL on the potential applications identified.”
Dr Norman Jorgensen, NUCLEAR SOLUTIONS, Oxford Technologies Ltd.