British Teams To Develop Submersible Robots For Fukushima Daiichi

Two British universities have confirmed they are working on developing submersible, remote-controlled vehicles that can detect radiation and identify nuclear fuel for immediate application and employment at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan.

Fukushima Daiichi workersThe Universities of Lancaster and Manchester are both working on the project, which is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), a British organization. Also involved are several Japanese concerns, including the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, the National Maritime Research Institute of Japan and the Nagaoka University of Technology.

In Britain, Lancaster University will work on the radiation detection sensing aspect of the project. Manchester University, an engineering school, will work on developing the remote-controlled vehicle that faces the same basic hurdle that confronted robotic sensing equipment already employed at Fukushima Daiichi last year with limited success.

The most basic hurdle robotic devices used at the plant face is that they are limited to 100 mm (about 4 inches) of diameter space, as they are sent into the crippled reactor containment vessels through access portals and pipes.

Previously used robotic devices have also been abandoned inside the reactor vessels when they begin to fail, as technicians working to decommission the plant would rather leave the robots behind than attempt to bring them back through the pipes, where a failing device might get stuck. It is feared that would impede future efforts at damage assessment.

“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,” said 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.”

The project is expected to take two and a half years. Japan faces “massive” challenges, when it comes to decommissioning the plant where cooling systems failed after an earthquake-triggered tsunami event flooded backup power systems in March 2011, said EPSRC Chief Executive Philip Nelson.

In a statement, the British project participants said submersible, remote-controlled vehicles could also be used at the decaying storage ponds at the Sellafield nuclear site, which would make decommissioning there faster and cheaper.

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