Technology development to evaluate dose rate distribution in PCV and to search for fuel debris submerged in water

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Engineering


The Great East Japan earthquake off the pacific coast of Tohoku was the most powerful recorded earthquake ever to hit Japan and triggered powerful tsunami waves. These inundated the coast including the area of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The flooding that followed disabled the auxiliary cooling systems at the power plant which, although being shut down, caused the reactors to overheat as a result of the effect of decay heat. This resulted in core damage to 3 of the 6 reactors on the Fukushima site. The damage is strongly suspected to have resulted in fragmentation of the nuclear fuel inside the reactors themselves and thus they are inoperable and need to be decommissioned. A key task is the removal of the nuclear fuel from the reactors. Once this is removed and stored safely elsewhere, radiation levels will fall significantly rendering the plant much safer than at present which will enable the remaining decommissioning requirements of the plant to continue more quickly, easily and with reduced cost.

However, the fuel debris cannot be removed until we know how much there is and the form it has adopted after the accident i.e. is it a molten lump confined to the reactor or a mixture of damaged fuel elements with some egress beyond the primary containment? The reason we need to know this information is that it is essential that the likelihood of re-criticality is assessed (the chance that the nuclear fission reaction could start up inadvertently when the debris is disturbed) and also that we know of the extent of radioactivity and the form it is in in order to plan disposal routes. This information is very difficult to obtain because the type of reactor affected at Fukushima operated in what is known as a primary containment vessel or PCV. This is a large, thick-sided steel tank that is bolted shut very securely. A PCV has only a few, narrow access routes by which it is possible to get inside. There is no light inside and in order to set the reactor into a safe state and maintain its cooling, each reactor at Fukushima has been flooded with sea water. As a result of the radioactivity from the fuel there are very high levels of radiation exposure which prevent human beings from getting near to the PCV, whilst access to the PCV would result in serious injury to people and could damage untested instrumentation. The water filling the PCVs further complicates matters but, for the timebeing, cannot be removed as it acts to cool the fuel debris and to shield the surrounding area from radiation emitted by the reactor.

In this project we combine two world-leading research activities in the United Kingdom associated with the portable detection of radioactivity (Lancaster University) and the development of small, submersible remote-operated vehicles (Manchester) in collaboration with the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, the National Maritime Research Institute of Japan, BeamSeiko Instrument Co. Ltd (Tokyo) and the Nagaoka University of Technology. The key objective of the research is to determine whether we can combine these capabilities to produce a remote-operated submersible vehicle with a radiation detection payload to detect neutrons and gamma rays. This device will be either mobile in the PCV, and thus able to inform us of the distribution of fuel debris in the reactor, or tethered in place in order to provide a continual indication of the core state; neither capability currently exists and clean-up of the reactors cannot continue without an assessment of this type. The distinction of the neutron and gamma-ray detection recommended for the payload on the submersible in this project is that the combination of the information provided by these two radiation types can tell us about the resident radioactivity, the risk of re-criticality and also provide a means for comparison with severe accident calculations to determine what happened to the reactor fuel in the accident.

Planned Impact

Our research will influence policy and planning directly through the development of the strategic plan for defueling at Fukushima. The most tangible evidence of this will be an acceleration of the programme so that the plant can reach defuelled status earlier than planned as a result of the ROV platform to be researched in this project, with enormous cost savings.

From this project it is very likely that a prototype will result and this will represent a product that constitutes a commercial opportunity for all submerged applications where there is a need to measure mixed radiation fields; these include Fukushima but wider to all sites with nuclear fuel storage ponds including Sellafield, reactor sites etc. There is also potential for this product outside of the nuclear industry, in oil & gas for the submerged assay of naturally-occurring radioactive material.

Both institutions on this proposal have extensive experience of conceiving and running spin-out businesses, with the pertinent examples being Hybrid Instruments Ltd. and Perceptive Engineering. A further spinout activity is likely from this project and this would have great prospects given the extensive opportunities available across the three plant at Fukushima, the imperative to immobilise wastes from ponds at Sellafield and the closure and defuel of reactors worldwide, not least in the UK. A clear avenue for impact in this regard would be the creation of high-value, high-skilled jobs associated with this activity, spanning in the manufacture of the submersible probes and also in the service that carries out the surveys on nuclear sites & technical consultancy. We would also anticipate a revised or new code of practice associated with the submersible assay of nuclear material to follow as impact, possibly developed in collaboration with the National Physical Laboratory with whom we have strong links. Clearly, the prospect of inward investment from Japan is significant, to consolidate and develop the commercial basis on which the outcome of this project benefits the Fukushima plan, and this would evidence significant commercial impact.

The impact on the wider public would be an accelerated rate of decommissioning of what are usually long-term projects, and a reduction in the cost people have to bear for the maintenance and upkeep of such facilities. This would benefit the wider public in Japan but also would have an impact on the public wherever our technology is used. For example, in West Cumbria the majority of the economy is driven by the very significant public sector investment necessary to support decommissioning the Sellafield site (over half of the expenditure of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority's budget, at currently ~£2Bn per year) and there is an important imperative for the regional economy to migrate to private sector investment, as expenditure at the Sellafield site falls. Given submerged fuel debris is a major challenge at sites such as Fukushima, Sellafield etc. with inventories often unknown, this project has the potential to have a significant impact on accelerating the completion of decommissioning activities, reducing public expenditure and shortening decommissioning programmes.

In terms of the wider public, both universities on this project have established schools programmes (in the case of Lancaster Engineering for example funded by the Sir John Fisher Foundation, Smallpeice Trust etc.) into which this project will feed directly. Summer school activities will be developed for students from junior and secondary school to develop their own submersible ROVs, by way of example, with a taught element to encourage them to learn about the Japanese earthquake, Fukushima and the activities the UK is leading such as this.

Researchers and student(s) will of course be trained and educated in the requirements of the Fukushima challenge facing the world, and this will impact them, directing their careers towards this priority.


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Description We have learned that CeBr3 as a detector material is extremely robust, relative to other technologies, in very high gamma-ray fields likely to be associated with Fukushima clean-up as a result of active test in a research reactor.
We have also learnt of the dose-rate distribution in the PCV, which has arisen as a result of a combination of experimental measurements made by the Japanese and Monte Carlo modelling.
We have tested our apparatus at the JAEA 'Naraha' and at the Slovenia Triga research reactor at the Josef Stefan Institute.
We have been able to perform spatial characterisation measurements of synthetic reactor core debris with a portable sonar system mounted on a submersible robot.
Exploitation Route Collaborators at Fukushima will be able to use CeBr3 in their clean-up operations; our Japanese peers have sourced continuation funding, Hitachi have invited us to speak on several occasions about our achievements. Partners on the project from JAEA, NMRI and the Nagoaka University of Technology were able to visit and use the JSI research reactor in Slovenia for the first time. The wider expertise of the CLADS Laboratory associated with the clean-up of Fukushima are now exploring the effect of exposure on the gamma-ray spectrometry performance (energy resolution etc.) of CeBr3.
Sectors Energy,Environment

Description We have been able to influence thinking on the best way to locate and characterise debris in the Fukushima reactors. Our research has led to peers at the NMRI being funded subsequently by the Japanese funding body, MEXT, and two papers have been generated by the Japanese team. Further JAEA have produced a letter of support for our EPSRC continuation application, and this collaboration has broadened to include partners at Bangor and Bristol Universities. Whilst this application was not successful, a subsequent application for a network (led by Sheffield University) was successful. Our findings specifically relating to CeBr3 performance in high radiation fields have been taken forward by the Japanese partners themselves in terms of the resilience of the systems' performance under high degrees of radiation exposure.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Energy,Environment
Impact Types Economic

Description JUNO: A Network for Japan - UK Nuclear Opportunities
Amount £488,145 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P013600/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2016 
End 11/2021
Description Robotics and Artificial Intelligence for Nuclear (RAIN)
Amount £12,203,190 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/R026084/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2017 
End 04/2021
Description JAEA 
Organisation Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA)
Country Japan 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We have tested apparatus with our peers from JAEA and related organisations at the NARAHA facility in Japan and at the research reactor in Slovenia.
Collaborator Contribution Our Japanese partners have provided access to the NARAHA facility, accompanied us on these tests, provided data on the Fukushima challenges and also provided access to a sonar system to be integrated onto our submersible robot.
Impact For example: 'Development of a Radiological Characterization Submersible ROV for use at Fukushima Daiichi', M. Nancekievill, S. Watson, A. R. Jones, M. J. Joyce, B. Lennox, Trans. Nuc. Sci. accepted for publication, 2018., 'Development of an ROV system to explore fuel debris in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant', S. Kamada, M. Kato, K. Nishimura, M. Nancekievill, S. Watson and B. Lennox, Prog. Nucl. Sci. Tech., (2018)., 'A Remoteoperated System to Map Radiation Dose in the Fukushima Daiichi Primary Containment Vessel', NANCEKIEVILL Matthew, JONES Ashley, JOYCE Malcolm, KAMADA So, KATAKURA JunIchi, KATOH Michio, LENNOX Barry, OKUMURA Keisuke, NISHIMURA Kazuya, POTTS Dale, SAWADA KenIchi, WATSON Simon, INVITED oral paper, #98, IEEE ANIMMA, Liege, Belgium, June 2017, EPJ Web of conferences 170 (2018) 06004.
Start Year 2015
Description Jozef Stefan Research Institute, Slovenia 
Organisation Institute Josef Stefan
Country Slovenia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We tested our submersible radiation detection apparatus at the reactor in Slovenia.
Collaborator Contribution They provided access to their research reactor and access to their technical expertise.
Impact fgfgf
Start Year 2018
Description Invited keynote presentation, AESJ & JSME International Topical Workshop on Fukushima Decommissioning Research 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact ~100 delegates attended this international conference at Fukushima which was opened with my talk.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Invited presentation, Hitachi Research laboratories, Hitachi, Japan, 23rd May 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact I attended Hitachi on the basis of my research on this grant and presented on the work we have done with the Japanese experts.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Invited talk, Josef Stefan Institute, Slovenia 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I was invited to give a presentation at the reactor centre at the Josef Stefan Institute, Ljubljana, Slovenia. Approximately 50-100 students, researchers and institute staff attended the talk.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Visit by peers from the National Maritime Research Institute, Japan 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Three senior researchers from the National Maritime Research Institute in Japan visited the UK to discuss Fukushima-related developments with Lancaster, Manchester and the Dalton Cumbria Institute.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019