Identifying unknown sharps in gloveboxes

As part of Sellafield Ltd's decommissioning programme, gloveboxes used historically for research, development, and fuel fabrication operations need to be dismantled.

  • There are approximately 350 gloveboxes in total on the Sellafield site.
  • They are generally cuboid and vary in size from one to several cubic metres.
  • Many designs exist, however, a glovebox can be thought of as a sealed, but ventilated, container generally comprising a steel frame and panels made from metal or polymers such as Perspex.
  • Long PVC gloves are built into the panels such that operators can place their hands into them and work on hazardous materials inside the gloveboxes.
  • Gloveboxes are held under a depression in an inert atmosphere.
  • Access is via entry ports where containment has to be maintained.
  • Manoeuvrability within a glove box is difficult due to limited access and complex machinery, which can be located within.

The opportunity for innovative solutions

Sellafield would like to explore technologies which would enable them to analyse the contents of gloveboxes, specifically allowing them to identify the presence of potentially unknown sharp objects.

This information is published as an open call for innovation, with Sellafield looking for technologies and techniques which could deliver game-changing solutions.

The glovebox challenge

  • Gloveboxes, and the facilities housing them, can be up to 60 years old.
  • In some instances, the glovebox viewing windows have degraded over time and visibility can be poor.
  • Glovebox lighting may be of a poor standard or disconnected altogether.
  • The presence of radiation shielding (such as Jabroc) on the outside of some of the gloveboxes can further reduce visibility. This can make it difficult to determine the contents of the gloveboxes.
  • The contents of gloveboxes can include pipework, vessels, cabling, valves and furnaces which may have remained in place after operations.

The gloveboxes may also contain unknown sharp objects which could represent a dismantling hazard.

These objects may be very simple in nature such as exposed wire, cropped cables or sharp pipework.

Functional requirements

  • Sellafield are seeking technologies which can be manoeuvred inside the gloveboxes.
  • The technology needs to be small enough to access all areas of the glovebox and be manoeuvrable around glovebox contents such as pipes and vessels.
  • Gloveboxes generally incorporate a ‘posting port’, usually 10” in diameter, and a number of other ports ranging in diameter from 6” to 20”.
  • It should be possible to post the sensor system into a glovebox via one of these standard ports.
  • Sensors should be capable of providing real-time images or signals, with object recognition alerting users to the presence of potentially sharp objects.
  • These sharp objects could be metallic (including magnetic and non-magnetic metals), glass, plastic, rubber or ceramic in nature.
  • It should be noted that glovebox users will have limited dexterity and not all gloveboxes have power supplies.
  • The technology itself must not have any sharp or snagging points.
  • Radiation tolerance of the technology may be a consideration.
  • Deployment and operation in a nuclear environment will be considered outside this challenge.

Please download the challenge statement for a full description of the challenge aims, current practice and the solutions Sellafield are seeking.

National Nuclear Laboratory

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