nuclear-news

The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry Fukushima Chernobyl Mayak Three Mile Island Atomic Testing Radiation Isotope

Robots the hope for cleaning up the world’s riskiest and massive nuclear waste storage pool, at Sellafield, UK.

Above – Sellafield’s massive Magnox nuclear waste storage pool

Only Cthulhu can solve Sellafield’s sludgy nuclear waste problem, Wired,    , 14 June 18 

Cleaning up Sellafield’s nuclear waste costs £1.9 billion a year. To help with the toxic task, robots are evolving fast.  Sellafield has been called the most dangerous place in the UK, the most hazardous place in Europe and the world’s riskiest nuclear waste site. At its heart is a giant pond full of radioactive sludge, strewn with broken metal, dead animals and deadly nuclear rods. The solution to clearing up Sellafield’s nuclear waste and retrieving the missing nuclear fuel? Robots, of course. And to tackle this mammoth task, the robots are being forced to evolve.

Sellafield’s First-Generation Magnox Storage Pond is a giant outdoor body of water that’s the same size as two Olympic swimming pools. It was built in the 1960s to store used fuel rods from the early Magnox reactors – which had magnesium alloy cladding on the fuel rods – as part of Britain’s booming nuclear program. In 1974, there was a delay in reprocessing; fuel rods started corroding and the pond became murky. The pool was active for 26 years until 1992 and is now finally being decommissioned as part of the £1.9 billion spent each year on Sellafield’s mammoth cleanup operation.

The pond contains about six metres of radioactive water and half a metre of sludge, composed of wind-blown dirt, bird droppings and algae – the usual debris that builds up in any open body of water. Unlike other mud, it conceals everything from dropped tools and bird carcasses to corroded Magnox cladding and the remains of uranium fuel rods.

A number of robotic creations have bee used to get to the bottom of the pool’s sludge but struggle to break through the hostile environment. Tethered swimming robots do not have the sensors to find objects in the fine mud, and lack the leverage to lift chunks of metal. Experience at Fukushima has shown robots that are not well adapted to the environment are a waste of time.

Enter Cthulhu, a tracked robot that can drive along the pond bed, feeling its way with tactile sensors and sonar. The robot, which is currently in development, is approaching Sellafield’s problem differently. The robot will be able to identify nuclear rods and then pick them up. “Rather than trying to mimic a human, we’re building a robot that can do things humans can’t do with senses that humans don’t have,” says Bob Hicks of QinetiQ, which is leading the project.

The name stands for ‘Collaborative Technology Hardened for Underwater and Littoral Hazardous Environment,’ but it’s also a nod to Cthulhu, the godlike alien created by HP Lovecraft: both are amphibious, dwell in strange surroundings, and have sensory feelers. “Much like a walrus detecting molluscs, we hope to be able to detect and identify objects in the sludge with the whiskers,” says Plamen Angelov of Lancaster University’s School of Computing and Communications.

QinetiQ is supplying the tracked body, originally from a bomb disposal robot, and Bristol Maritime Robotics is developing the tactile sensors, while Angelov’s team is providing the neural network AI. It is planned the robot will use deep learning to fuse tactile and sonar data into a single picture of the world. Existing neural networks can handle video data, and ‘image classifiers’ to distinguish objects are well-established. But nobody has tried to fuse data from different types of sensor before.

Cthulhu’s classifier will learn to divide objects into ‘fuel rods’ and ‘everything else’………

The work at Sellafield is due to take several decades to complete fully. Nuclear waste is spread through several buildings in a variety of silos and pools. Each has its own challenges for cleaning-up. For the First Generation Magnox Pond, documents from the government show all the bulk fuel should be removed by the early 2030s. http://www.wired.co.uk/article/sellafield-nuclear-robots-cleanup-waste

Advertisements

June 15, 2018 - Posted by | Reference, technology, wastes

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: