Robots will help assess radiation levels in submerged parts of Fukushima

Underwater robots to assist with Fukushima clean-up

Radiation-sensing amphibious robots will help speed up decommissioning of the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Currently under development by an international research team, the technology will finally provide means for assessing radiation in the submerged parts of the reactor.

“Our research will focus on developing a remote-operated submersible vehicle with detection instruments that will be able to identify the radioactive sources,” said Malcolm Joyce, Professor of Nuclear Engineering at Lancaster University, who leads the team.

“This capability does not currently exist and it would enable clean-up of the stricken Fukushima reactors to continue.”

Focusing particularly on dangerous neutron and gamma radiation, the robots will be able to assess how stable the situation is in the submerged parts of the nuclear power plant. For safe decommissioning, debris as well as fuel needs to be removed from the reactor, but the high risk is that some accidental reaction could be triggered by the manipulation.

“A key challenge with the remote-operated vehicle will be to design it so that it can fit through the small access ports typically available in nuclear facilities,” explained Barry Lennox, Professor of Applied Control at the University of Manchester. “These ports can be less than 100 mm in diameter, which will create significant challenges.”

Scientists from universities in Lancaster and Manchester are working on the project, which is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, together with partners from Japan and private company Hybrid Instruments.

The remotely controlled vehicle that will come out of the project could also be used in decommissioning of undamaged nuclear sites, such as the Sellafield Reprocessing facility in Cumbria, or it could serve the oil and gas industry in assessing natural deposits of radioactive materials.

The reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, damaged during the 9.0-magnitude earthquake in 2011, had to be flooded with sea water to cool them down.

“A key task is the removal of the nuclear fuel from the reactors,” Joyce said. “Once this is removed and stored safely elsewhere, radiation levels fall significantly making the plant much more safer, and cheaper, to decommission.”


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