New Technology To Improve Used Fuel Monitoring

Robotic technology developed by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) could soon play a significant role in safeguarding spent nuclear fuel across the globe, the agency said.

Used fuel monitoringThe Robotized Cherenkov Viewing Device (RCVD) was created through a collaboration between CSIRO’s data and digital specialist arm Data61, Hungarian robotics company Datastart, and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The RCVD, which runs autonomy-enabling software designed by CSIRO’s Data61, has completed a successful test in an operating nuclear power facility in South America.

CSIRO Technical Program Manager, Rosie Attwell, said the prototype system navigated a spent fuel pond and provided inspectors with real time data that can be used for safeguards verification.

“The test demonstrates that autonomous robots could soon assist with field measurement and analysis of spent nuclear fuel, providing greater protection for human workers,” Atwell said.

“Inspectors currently operate above the pond on a suspended platform, sometimes in 40-degree Celsius heat, using a handheld device to identify hundreds of used nuclear fuel rods.”

A key factor is logistical: “Moving personnel out of harm's way is the most important benefit, but the exceptional data quality and the ability to inspect previously unreachable covered areas is a game changer in nuclear inspection.” Said Peter Kopias, CEO of Datastart.

The RCVD, a floating device, autonomously navigates a path across the pond while updating a real-time map with footage and data of the fuel assemblies.

It analyses each assembly’s position and unique signature to detect if fuel has been removed or replaced. Information is communicated back to human staff members.

The RCVD’s autonomy, navigation and mapping capabilities are underpinned by CSIRO’s Wildcat SLAM (Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping) technology, which achieved less than one per cent deviation from reality in DARPA’s Subterranean Challenge Final Event.

The prototype will continue to be tested, with plans for the device to be outfitted with computer vision to enhance autonomy in the next phase of development.

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