Decommissioned nuclear power plant Sellafield has teamed up with Lasersnake 2, a flexible, snake-arm robot which can navigate through small spaces to inspect, fasten, clean and laser cut material.
The technology, which has been adapted from the automotive industry, has performed its first demonstration at Sellafield’s underwater test facility.
Lasersnake in underwater testing facility
The arm is highly flexible and spans up to 4.5m in length. Sellafield said that the robot was ideal for working in confined and hazardous spaces. Its motors, electronics and control systems are situated outside of the environment, with only the arm itself being deployed into the work space.
The project has been co-funded by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Innovate UK and the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and was developed in collaboration with a consortium including OC Robotics and the Welding Institute.
“Normal metal cutting methods, such as reciprocating saws or grinders, pose a significant challenge to remote deployment platforms, where the lack of ‘feel’ often taken for granted when operating tools manually, is totally lost,” explained Sellafield decommissioning project manager Rhys Roberts. “The engineering solutions can easily become overcomplicated, unreliable and expensive.”
Roberts added that the technology had the ability to be deployed within an unprepared area which minimised the modifications required to “size reduce” the active inventory, often the most challenging aspect of decommissioning.
“Most importantly the lack of contact between the cutting tool and the work piece allows the deployment platform to be much simpler, cheaper and reliable,” he said.
“Our drive to support the deployment of these novel tools is based on an eye for the future as well as immediate benefits. This is by applying a ‘lead and learn’ approach – using new tools or ways of working to deliver hazard reduction now. This will also deliver real instant progress, whilst demonstrating and developing more efficient ways of decommissioning for the next wave of nuclear facilities approaching end of life.”
Sellafield said that the next stage of the project would be to test the Lasersnake 2 in its first generation reprocessing plant where it will reduce the “size reduction” of a lightly contaminated vessel.