Snake-arm robots to conduct nuclear pipe inspection

A small British firm has been chosen to build robotic equipment for inspecting pipework inside Canadian nuclear reactors.

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) has awarded a contract to Bristol-based OC Robotics to design and build a snake-arm robot mounted on a mobile vehicle that will be used to inspect complex pipework and structures within CANDU (CANada Deuterium Uranium) reactors.

The snake-arm will be 2m (7ft) in length and will have a rectangular cross-section measuring 25mm (1in) in width and 50mm (2in) in height. In the first instance it will be equipped with tip cameras for pipe inspection.

Snake-arm robots are flexible robotic arms which have many joints so they can 'follow their nose' into confined spaces.

This is the first time that OC Robotics has been the prime contractor to a nuclear utilities company, though it has previous nuclear experience. The company sees this contract as a huge achievement, as it currently employs only 17 people and was bidding against some of the largest companies in the world.

OC Robotics completed its first commercial nuclear contract in 2004. Working with Uddcomb AB, it supplied two types of robot (five in total) to Ringhals AB in Sweden to complete an urgent pipe replacement in an extremely awkward area below a reactor.

CANDU reactors are Canadian-invented nuclear reactors originally developed in the 1950s and 1960s. There are currently 19 operational reactors in Canada and 23 in the rest of the world. OPG owns and runs ten of these and leases two others.

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