Subsea robot dives into nuclear clean-up

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A robotic arm used in underwater environments in the oil and gas industry will be helping Dounreay workers clean out radioactive cells.

The manipulator will segregate and package up low and intermediate level waste removed from inside concrete cells as the clean-up of the materials test reactor reprocessing plant gathers pace.

The cells contained tanks and pipework which became contaminated during the plant’s operational lifetime, when irradiated fuel was dissolved in acid and extracted for re-use.

The arm, a high-tech device made from titanium, sits in a dedicated stainless steel enclosure surrounded in lead shielding. It will pack the waste, previously cut up and compressed by another mobile robot, into specially manufactured waste containers according to its radioactivity. It will be operated remotely by a worker using a miniature version of the arm as a joystick.

DSRL senior project manager Tom Johnston, responsible for the decommissioning of the reprocessing facilities, explained that the waste packing process had involved extensive development and design work.

“This waste handling and consignment system is a key step of the bespoke integrated waste management process which has been designed to safely remove the waste materials from the cells, while keeping the doses to workers as low as possible,” he said.

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