Plant Characterisation challenge overview

Characterisation aims to deliver robust information on the radiological, chemical and physical status of a facility, materials and wastes from all areas of the Sellafield site in order to inform decisions.

These decisions define the Post Operational Clean Out (POCO), decommissioning and waste management strategies. POCO is the first stage after plant operations designed to use existing plant reagents and operating regimes to remove as much of the radioactivity as possible prior to potentially moving the plant to care and maintenance.

Innovative characterisation tools and techniques will seek to complement the existing ‘baseline methodologies’ so that teams are better placed to perform characterisation activities and collect qualitative and quantitative data.

Below are a number of factors which challenge the effective characterisation of facilities, materials and wastes across the Sellafield site:

  • Difficult deployment in areas of restricted access:
    • Access may only be possible via small holes (approx. 100mm diameter)
    • Access is sometimes located at height and through several metres of concrete, and potentially through lead or water
    • High radiation, loose and fixed contamination
    • Complex and highly congested environment due to numerous pipes, vessels, vents and cables in close proximity that criss-cross large closed spaces
  • A range of different pH environments (pH<0 to greater than 11) in different plants
  • Heterogeneity of materials being measured
  • Speed of deployment; Currently weeks, desire real time and cheaper data assessment and reporting
  • Lack of ‘through the wall techniques’ to look inside shielded cells
  • Lack of efficient and secure data transmission in large robust buildings across the Sellafield site
  • Requirement to collaborate widely without sophisticated or costly IT packages, data that can be exported to standard Microsoft office packages
  • Requirement to be cheap enough to be disposable or robust and designed for maintenance and decontamination.
  • Desire for field deployment of laboratory based equipment (e.g. Laser ablation)
  • Desire for operation by non-specialists without the need to recalibrate

Characterisation vision

Imagine if we could with minimum, or no, intervention into hazardous environments, provide accurate and timely characterisation of a facility and that this characterisation addressed all our information needs for decommissioning and waste management.

Moreover, imagine that in changing environments we could use small, cheap, disposable networked sensors to monitor changes such as ageing, performance of vent systems and air-borne radioactivity levels.

Our vision is therefore an integrated capability that combines isotopic radiometric, physical, chemical, spatial and other information to provide a complete understanding of the hazards and leaves a virtual and in-situ record or label.

An integrated capability that can identify the chemical and physical nature of contamination and provide advice on decontamination; that can also intelligently optimise its own investigation based on real-time data and is operable by non-specialists.

This may use machine intelligence to utilise existing information and knowledge to determine what further characterisation is needed to fill the gaps to identify infrastructure and other requirements that are needed to support decommissioning objectives. Using Virtual Reality to combine plant knowledge and characterisation information to support decision making, planning and training.

On a day-to day basis via Augmented Reality making (historic and real-time) radiometric and other information available to that ensures work is done efficiently and safely.

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