UK and Japan sign nuclear energy robotics alliance


The UK and Japan have signed a robotics collaborationà‚ to automateà‚ nuclear decommissioningà‚ and fusion energy production.à‚ à‚ 

In what both countries are calling a “world-leadingà‚ alliance”,à‚ the à‚£12M robotics project named ‘LongOps’ will support delivery of faster and safer decommissioning by using long-reach robotic arms at Sellafield in the UK and the Fukushima Dai-ichi reactors in Japan, where work is ongoing following a tsunami which hit the plant in March 2011.à‚ 

Akira Ono, chief decommissioning officerà‚ at Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) which operates the plant, said: “It hasà‚ been almost a decade since the Fukushima Daiichi accident.

“TEPCO’s decontamination and decommissioning was carried out initially on an emergency response basis, but we now will be entering the stage of taking on challenges in unchartered territory such as fuel debris retrieval.

He said robotics and remote-control technology “is one of the most important key success factors” for fuel debris retrieval.

Remote handling arm inside the JET fusion device

The four-year research collaboration will be funded equally by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and TEPCO.   

The collaboration is also expected to result in direct benefits, such as employment opportunities, advances to “fusion-adjacent” technologies, and upskilling of the UK and Japanese scientific and engineering capabilities.

The decommissioning of legacy nuclear facilities and fusion facilities are complexà‚ large-scale projects that areà‚ time-intensiveà‚ to accomplish safely.à‚ à‚ 

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Robotics and digital twin technologies will play an essential part in carrying them out efficiently with no risk to human health. 

A major feature of theà‚ LongOpsà‚ programme will be the deploymentà‚ ofà‚ sophisticatedà‚ digital twinà‚ technologyà‚ ” virtual models where the pairing of the virtual and physical worlds allows for highly detailed analysis of data,à‚ and the forecasting of potential maintenance and operational issues.à‚ à‚ 

Remote handling manipulator used in nuclear decommissioning.
Credit: Nuclear Decommissioning Authority

The software will show how such machines are controlled in real-time during remote operations. 

Developments from LongOps will also be applied to the upgrading, maintenance and dismantling of fusion devices, such as the Joint European Torus (JET), once their lifespans have ended.  

LongOps forms part of over à‚£450Mà‚ investment by Government intoà‚ robotics and autonomous systems (RAS)à‚ projectsà‚ since 2014.à‚ à‚ 

Adrian Simper, Group Strategy and Technology Director at theà‚ Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, said robotics “offers us new ways to tackle our complex work safely, securely and cost-effectively”.

“This unique international collaboration allows us to pool expertise and experience from Japan, working together and investing in cutting edge ways to find solutions to our shared problems and benefit our clean-up mission.”à‚ 

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