I’ve been incredibly inspired to see the huge amount of creative thinking and sheer hard work that has brought these projects to the demonstration stage.
I’m very much looking forward to the demonstrations that will be taking place in a simulated radioactive environment later this year, and suspect that making a final choice will be extremely difficult! We hope at least one project will be successful in progressing to testing in a radioactive environment in historic radioactive cells at Sellafield.
Read each of the blog posts from each collaborating consortia to learn more about their experience:
- Barrnon blog post: Opportunity to carry out exciting and innovative research
- Cavendish blog post: Fully remote solution needs fewer people and less equipment
- Createc blog post: Stepping out of our comfort zone to test other innovative ideas
- Nuvia blog post: We're addressing industry challenges in a collaborative, imaginative way
- Wood blog post: Anchored in reality but pushing innovation into under-developed areas
Robotics, Virtual Reality (VR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI)
There are numerous highly radioactive cells that are difficult to access. The projects have all combined individual technologies such as robotics, VR and artificial intelligence, into an integrated remotely operated solution. This will establish what’s inside the cells, remotely cut the infrastructure and then prepare the contents for packaging. Dealing with unknown and hazardous challenges on our ageing facilities is fundamental to NDA’s mission, and our aim wherever possible is ‘safer, faster, cheaper’.
It’s been fascinating to watch the projects progress from the drawing board to reality, and to see the collaborative spirit at work, overcoming obstacles and issues on the journey. That’s what innovation is all about – this competition aimed to provide the opportunity and funding for innovation to flourish and transformational and disruptive solutions to be developed. This is in line with the ambitions of the UK's Nuclear Sector Deal. It’s also exactly what we’re seeing and it’s very exciting for us and the projects.
You’ll see in the blog posts that such opportunities are essential for true innovation to thrive. We’re all hoping that, irrespective of winners and losers, they will all succeed in enabling the consortia to market their technologies widely, both here in the UK and overseas. We know there have been substantial levels of external interest – freeing them from intellectual property restrictions and supporting UK innovation in the wider economy were among our aims.
Collaboration is key
We worked closely with Innovate UK back in 2017 to launch the Integrated Innovation in Nuclear Decommissioning competition, and with Sellafield Ltd who could be using the solutions - having the potential end-user involved right from the outset has really helped to ensure the technologies are tailored to the problems we know we'll encounter.
Chris Hope, Decommissioning Capability Development Lead for Sellafield Ltd, said:
"This has been a really exciting competition and fantastic to see how the supply chain has responded to a really significant decommissioning challenge for the nuclear industry. Having represented the end-user and been involved in the competition throughout, it has been a pleasure to witness new collaborations form, ideas being nurtured and integration of technologies which could provide game-changing solutions for the nuclear industry and beyond."
Derek Allen, Innovate UK's Innovation Lead, Energy Clean Growth and Infrastructure, added:
"We have been delighted to work in partnership with the NDA and Sellafield on this really exciting and unique programme. It has allowed innovators to be truly creative and given them the opportunity to take their ideas from concept to commercialisation. At the same time, they are helping to solve real challenges associated with decommissioning the UK’s nuclear sites – and providing a stimulus to the UK’s economy."
Our earlier initiatives with Innovate UK had looked at encouraging innovation across the whole nuclear sector but this time, we focused solely on decommissioning and on Sellafield challenges in particular.
We didn’t quite know how it would work out but the level of interest went beyond our expectations and we were especially pleased to see submissions from diverse industries such as defence, space, gaming, VR as well as academia.
It meant we were able to secure additional funding from BEIS, taking the total up to £8.5 million, so the projects were fully funded, and it’s created a real opportunity for innovation to thrive.
The next steps in this programme are the demonstrations and assessment for possible demonstration at Sellafield in a radioactive environment. For the NDA, the success of this and our previous progammes have reaffirmed the importance of innovation and we’ll be continuing to ensure we’re playing our part in leading the drive for innovation to deliver decommissioning safer, faster, cheaper.