POCO Feasibility Projects

During an event held in May at Strathclyde University’s Technology and Innovation Centre, Sellafield issued a call for innovative ways of addressing the challenges of POCO.

Post Operational Clean Out (POCO) is the process that takes place when a nuclear plant has reached the end of its operating life and is the final phase before decommissioning begins. Getting the plant radiologically and chemically clean reduces the risk and hazard and makes the plant cheaper to care for in advance of being dismantled.Through the Game changers Innovation Programme, Sellefield Ltd. in particular requested funding applications for:

  • alternative routes to access cells and vessels
  • remote handling and navigation techniques
  • reduced human intervention
  • new cleaning methods
  • advancements in characterisation techniques

Eleven high quality applications were received to address these challenges, with five selected for initial feasibility funding totalling £50,000.

Eadon Consulting’s REACH technology (pictured above) is an access system designed for use in challenging environments. Consisting of a modular tool-kit of simple elements that can be assembled, REACH can be ‘launched’ into process cells or other areas via existing openings or access points.

Due to it being a tool-kit of parts rather than a specific machine, it is possible to configure different components to suit the task and access available. Each of the components is lightweight and can be left in-situ and operated remotely.

The Centre for Process Innovation propose introducing a solvent wash for the decontamination of plutonium contaminated gloveboxes.

When the solvent evaporates at atmospheric temperature and pressure, it aggregates/ collects plutonium particulates into a small single point on the base of the glovebox (solvent sweeping). This greatly improves the effectiveness of the vacuuming process, mitigating the physical properties of the dust, overcoming risk of creating particulate clouds.

NNL’s N-sponge technology involves an alternative application of selective absorbent sponges currently used during environmental clean-up such as oil spills. Contaminated organic wastes such as oil and solvents present problems during the operation of nuclear facilities and are a safety hazard to operators.

Sponges can be applied and recovered in a range of formats and adapted for application during POCO where free-phase organics and organic coatings will be encountered. This use of sponges will provide a versatile method for separating, collecting and concentrating organic wastes for further treatment or disposal.

The Space Research Centre at the University of Leicester have developed a Hybrid Gamma Camera (HGC) which combines an optical and a gamma camera in a portable (hand-held) system. Using technology originally designed for the space sector, a team at Leicester used their expertise to develop the HGC for application in gamma imaging in hospitals. The researchers are now applying this same technology to deliver real benefit in POCO activities.

The HGC head is small enough to fit through a standard port in a glovebox and can therefore be used to aid glovebox cleaning at Sellafield. The HGC can scan an area and provide the operator with an image showing the location, size, shape and relative activity of gamma emitting materials.

Due to the design of the camera, this can be done in real time (without the need for post-processing) and the camera can operate in video mode, constantly updating the images as the camera is moved.

Laser Piglet is a project covering the development of in-bore laser processing tools for use in small diameter pipes. The technology is being developed by the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s RACE team, who have proven experience in developing tools for remote laser cutting and welding of 90mm diameter pipes on fusion reactors.

RACE have also designed bespoke miniaturised laser heads for working at short stand-off distances (<25mm), compact pneumatic actuator mechanisms and gas systems. They are able to package multiple functions (laser, rotation, clamping, alignment) into a single tool, along with a ‘pipe crawler’ and umbilical for deployment in-bore several meters down a pipe and around corners.

At present, each of these projects are undergoing feasibility studies and discussions with Sellafield Ltd to assess their potential for development support and future deployment.

We welcome enquiries about any of these technologies or projects which have been submitted to the Game Changers Innovation Programme.