NNUF-HR: National Nuclear User Facility for Hot Robotics

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

Abstract

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-lead 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.
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

 
Description The facility, although in its start-up phase has already informed industry about the choice of robotic systems for deployments on nuclear sites. We have provided training and guidance to industry as part of this. As the facility opens fully, we expect to do increasing amounts with nuclear industry partners.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Energy
Impact Types Economic