NNUF-HR: National Nuclear User Facility for Hot Robotics

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Interface Analysis Centre


Scope and Operating Vision
We propose a facility that will become an internationally-recognised hive for collaborative research in nuclear robotics and sensors. The facility will provide necessary infrastructure and equipment to support significant sector change, both in terms of technology-innovation and culture. Complementary nuclear robotics-related equipment and mock-ups will be based at four strategic UK locations: Remote Applications in Challenging Environments (RACE) at UKAEA, Culham; the University of Bristol's Fenswood Facility on the outskirts of Bristol; the Workington Laboratory of National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL); and the University of Manchester's Dalton Cumbria Facility (DCF). The Hot Robotics facility will run via a coordinated "Hub and Spoke" approach, with RACE being the primary site. Together, these facilities will form a coordinated National Nuclear User Facility for hot nuclear robotics. Our aim is for NNUF-HR to be a national facility for the next 25 years, supporting UK ambitions for cheaper, faster decommissioning, nuclear new-build, advanced modular fission reactors and future fusion powerplants.

Summary of Equipment
Our proposal is for a combination of robotic manipulators, ground vehicles, aerial vehicles, underwater vehicles, deployment robots, various sensors and cameras, plant mock-ups, and supporting infrastructure. By proposing such a breadth of equipment, across multiple sites, we are confident of having the widest possible reach and impact in terms of scientific output and user base.

Why These Four Locations?
We have specifically chosen four sites to build on existing infrastructure and relationships. It is essential, in terms of both geography and distribution of existing capabilities, that there are four sites in this proposal. Truly UK-wide benefits would not be able to be achieved by limiting this proposal to a single site. The Bristol site is ideally placed in respect of major nuclear sector activities in the South West, such as new-build at Hinkley Point C, Magnox site decommissioning (Berkeley, Winfrith and Oldbury) and substantial training/skills undertakings associated with the National College for Nuclear (NCfN) southern site at Bridgwater & Taunton College. At Culham, as well as UKAEA, there is close proximity to both Harwell (Magnox and other nuclear companies), AWE and support of the Oxfordshire LEP in terms of innovation and skills. In Cumbria, DCF and NNL Workington are ideally placed for Sellafield and also the NCfN northern training site at Lakes College, Workington.

How Will Users Access the Facility and its Equipment?
The facility will provide access to cutting-edge robotics equipment and experts, supporting research, innovation, commercialisation and training. There will be two modes of access:
(1) Universities and their industrial partners will be able to book both space and equipment inside the facility for supported experiments, demonstrations and technology certification.
(2) Users will also be able to hire-out, to their own laboratories or to nuclear sites, turn-key 'containerised' robotics solutions to facilitate development, integration and testing of new capabilities, control algorithms and sensory add-ons. This latter mode of access will enable a widening of academic and industrial participation to fully utilise the facility's resources.
NNUF-HR funding is not expected to create a full decommissioning toolkit to decommission Sellafield - such a toolkit will cost £Bs over decades. NNUF-HR's ambition is to show what is possible and, hence, influence decision-makers and enable the routine use of robotics for high-hazard working. However, we envisage that the containerised decommissioning toolkit will be the proof-of-concept enabling rapid expansion with industry investment. Hence, NNUF-HR will create the prototype facilities for much wider use.

Planned Impact

Nuclear Sector Impact
Work carried out in NNUF-HR offers the potential to deliver significant impacts for ongoing and future nuclear plant operations in the UK and beyond. Rather than simply offering NNUF-HR on a "transactional" basis, we aim to work truly collaboratively with nuclear sector companies, in order to help them define, refine and solve their operational and design challenges. This could potentially include secondment of industrial staff to spend significant periods of time at NNUF-HR organisations. We also aim to attend events, such as the annual Nuclear Decommissioning Authority Estate Supply Chain Forum, the Sellafield Directors Forum and Nuclear Industry Association events.
Plant-Facing Trials: NNUF-HR will be ideal for hosting trials, in order to help nuclear companies carry out as much "off-site" work as possible, prior to deploying technology and personnel on their active facilities. We recognise that, in some cases (e.g. dealing with emerging or unexpected plant faults, findings and breakdowns), access to NNUF-HR could be requested with high urgency/very short timescale, which we would aim to accommodate.
R&D and Design Optimisation: NNUF-HR will also be able to be used for lower-TRL R&D which will help inform design (and associated procurement and build) of future nuclear sector facilities. Recognising the emergence of large, strategic commercial framework agreements for such activities (such as the Sellafield Ltd Programme, Projects and Partners (PPP) model), we will engage with relevant organisations (e.g. Wood Nuclear (for Design and Engineering) and Doosan Babcock (for Process Construction Management) for for Sellafield PPP) to make them aware of NNUF-HR, including access possibilities and contracting mechanisms.

Personnel Development
A major focus of NNUF-HR will be to help support the development of nuclear-capable scientists and engineers.
Students: The facilities will be able to be used by students, including final year undergraduate projects, MSc projects (the University of Bristol (UoB) has an MSc in Nuclear Science and Engineering) and also PhD/EngD. To help set expectations, project supervisors and students will be made aware, in advance, of all training and access requirements; we will produce a "Guidelines and FAQs" document to help with this. The NNUF-HR capabilities and access possibilities will also be communicated to all organisations within the two nuclear-related EPSRC Centres in Doctoral Training awarded earlier in 2019, with the University of Manchester leading one of these and UoB being a partner (Imperial College leading) in another.
Apprenticeships and Training: NNUF-HR will also be valuable for helping to support Nuclear Engineering Degree Apprenticeships. We will closely liaise with relevant UK companies in this area, in order to consider offering bespoke training programmes. We will also work closely with both the National College for Nuclear (of which UoB is a member, on the board of governors) in respect of considering nuclear sector-wide approaches and standardisation to nuclear robotics skills, qualifications and experience; and Oxford Advanced Skills (OAS), the UKAEA's £12M apprentice training facility which will be opened in 2019. OAS includes a robotics theme and RACE has £500k this financial year, growing to £2M subsequently (CSR pending) to address RAI skills for internal and external demand.
Description We have established a world-leading user access facility for nuclear (hot) robotics, aiming to support the development and uptake of robotics and sensor solutions into the nuclear industry to improve safety, reduce costs and accelerate programmes such as nuclear new build and decommissioning. This is, to our knowledge, a world first for such a facility and capability.

The facility is coming to the end of its funding and we are now seeking to extend its operational lifetime by securing new funding but also, for the Universities of Bristol and Manchester, we are transitioning to running as TRAC facilities within each institution.
Exploitation Route As above, we expect the facility to gain financial sustainability as a TRAC facility beyond the end of the grant period.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Energy,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Security and Diplomacy

URL http://www.hotrobotics.co.uk
Description The facility, is now just into it's operating phase and has already informed industry about the choice of robotic systems for deployments on nuclear sites and supported several SBRI projects on development of robotic and sensor systems for nuclear decommissioning. We have provided training and guidance to industry as part of this activity. As the facility enters its first year of operations we expect to do increasing amounts of research and research support with both academic and nuclear industry partners.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Energy
Impact Types Economic

Description Professorial Research Fellowships Scheme
Amount £625,000 (GBP)
Organisation Royal Academy of Engineering 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2021 
End 02/2026
Description William Penney Fellowship
Amount £120,000 (GBP)
Organisation Atomic Weapons Establishment 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2022 
End 05/2025
Description Sellafield - Opticlean partnership 
Organisation Sellafield Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We are developing the Opticlean (laser cleaning) technology for the benefit of Sellafield, who are seeking to adopt it for post operational decontamination of plant. We regularly present the progress of the project to our Sellafield advisor.
Collaborator Contribution Sellafield provides strategic advice and direction for the development and application of the technology we're developing.
Impact The involvement of Sellafield with the Opticlean project has been via a project advisory mechanism. Their strategic input and guidance has enabled us to develop the technology so it could have utility and adoption both for Sellafield sites as well as Fukushima site.
Start Year 2021
Description UKAEA Detection and Metrology Team 
Organisation Culham Centre for Fusion Energy
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution In relation to the development of the STEP programme we have been sharing aspects of the technology so that they can consider the technology for us in STEP and other associated fusion projects where live neutron dosimetry data, for example in a breeder blanket module, is required to support plant operations.
Collaborator Contribution UKAEA have been providing us with advice as to the operational parameters (especially environmental conditions) that a diamond detector would need to work in to be a useful tool in a fusion powerplant.
Impact Professor Thomas Scott has been awarded a 5-year Royal Academy of Engineering Professorial Research Fellowship, co-funded by UKAEA, to develop the fusion fuel cycle. As part of this fellowship the diamond detector technology is being further supported and developed in partnership with UKAEA, who see it as a potential technology to use within the STEP fusion powerplant.
Start Year 2021
Description University of Tokyo - Opticlean partnership 
Organisation University of Tokyo
Country Japan 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have partnered with the University of Tokyo for the Opticlean grant. Our contribution is our experience in developing and deploying laser cleaning devices and with integrating them with robotic systems. Our NNUF Hot Robotics facility has also been a key contribution and enabler for the project as well as production of test samples for laser cleaning in Tokyo
Collaborator Contribution The University of Tokyo has provided us with access to ATOX Ltd, a Japanese contractor involved with leading the application of laser cleaning technology for the Fukushima reactor clean-up activities. Tokyo has also provided some very useful modelling of aerosol production and dispersion to aid the development of our prototype cleaning system.
Impact We jointly were awarded the Opticlean funding; the UK-side were funded by EPSRC and the Japanese side were funded by MEXT.
Start Year 2021
Description Nuclear Threat Reduction training exercise 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Hot Robotics NNUF facility in Bristol put on a 2-day Nuclear Threat Reduction training exercise, where a University facility to the South of Bristol was used to simulate a nuclear research laboratory that had been ransacked by occupying enemy forces and then later liberated. The exercise was focused on using advanced detectors and robotics available from the hot Robotics facility, alongside prototype scanning systems developed in RAIN+, to help to rapidly survey the facility and determine radiological and other physical/chemical hazards.

The exercise involved participants from the Ukrainian government nuclear department, the EU's nuclear team, Magnox, DNO, AWE, NNL and Sellafield.
The primary aim was to provide training and awareness as to how such a facility, in Ukraine, might be rapidly surveyed either during or after the existing conflict.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022