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News from the UK Power Industry 14th May 2019

Posted by: James Turner
Industry News

Sellafield £770m decommissioning partnerships announced 

Sellafield Ltd has awarded four 20-year decommissioning contracts worth £770 million. The company said it will work collaboratively with Doosan Babcock Ltd, Kellogg Brown & Root Ltd, Morgan Sindall Infrastructure and Wood plc to deliver major projects in support of the site's 100-year decommissioning programme.

Sellafield houses over 1000 buildings and is the largest nuclear complex in Western Europe. The facilities include those connected with the Magnox reprocessing program, the Sellafield mixed-oxide fuel plant, the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant, and nuclear waste treatment plants.

“Within the next year we will complete our reprocessing mission, and our focus will be entirely on high hazard and risk reduction,” Sellafield Ltd said. “The Programme and Project Partners (PPP) model is set to revolutionise project delivery at Sellafield, through newly established long-term partnerships. The new approach will support the transformation of the company from a nuclear operator into a world leader in environmental remediation.” 

The new approach will support faster, more effective project delivery, stability in design and construction supply chains, greater workforce flexibility, and local economic benefit.

The new partnership is made up of four lots, including Integration, Design and Engineering, Civils Construction, and Process Construction Management.

Paul Foster, CEO of Sellafield Ltd said: “Our number one priority is making Sellafield safer, sooner, and a key part of this is establishing closer relationships with other expert organisations. Working side by side with our four long-term partners, as one team, will help transform the way we deliver projects safely, quickly, and cost effectively.” Full story.

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Robots & AI set for nuclear decommissioning

The National Centre for Nuclear Robotics (NCNR) is researching new ways of safely removing nuclear waste, using machine vision, artificial intelligence and advanced robots.

Using current technology the clean-up of nuclear waste generated since 1950 would take around 120 years and require one million human entries into contaminated zones. The total cost would total approximately £234 billion. 

However, the organisation’s vision is to develop robotic solutions that can characterise, handle and decommission this waste. “There’s a large amount of radioactive waste that humans can’t go near at all,” said Professor Rustam Stolkin, co-director of the NCNR. “We have an ethical and moral obligation to stop using humans in these roles. We don’t send Victorian children up chimneys any more. It’s not socially acceptable.”

Because of the specificity of each cleanup task, robotics have rarely been used in this field in the past. Unlike in other industries where robotics are commonplace - such as manufacturing - there’s no structure in place that would allow a universal robot design that can be used in different areas. 

A human worker can easily characterise different types of waste object and deal with them accordingly, but for a robot this will require advanced AI and machine learning for it to be able to operate autonomously. 

“Autonomous robotic grasping is the current forefront frontier in international robotics and AI research,” said Stolkin. “You can’t buy a robot from an industrial robot manufacturer that can do that stuff. Well, we buy the robots but we make them behave in clever ways.”

NCNR’s robotics will be built to withstand high levels of radiation. For a human worker, these environments require air-fed plastic suits, with multiple layers of protection and gloves - making it difficult as well as dangerous to dismantle and clean up heavy equipment. 

Current developments include robots that can grab and lift heavy objects and a design that can cut contaminated steel with a laser. 

Developing and operating the robots is expected to become a major industry in itself, with many more advanced designs required as the nuclear decommissioning sector continues to grow. Full story.

MPs call for wave & tidal support

91 MPs have signed a letter urging Energy and Clean Growth Minister Claire Perry to introduce new policies to support wave and tidal stream technologies.

The letter to Energy and Clean Growth Minister Claire Perry argues marine energy developments have established the UK as a world leader in tidal power technologies. As the industry scales up, costs are set to drop, and the tidal stream industry could bring economic benefits of £1.4bn by 2030, supporting 4,000 jobs, the group argues.

It also suggests wave power technologies could generate an additional £4bn in economic benefits by 2040, creating 8,100 jobs in the process. Much of this development would be concentrated in coastal areas that are in need of economic stimulus.

Advocates of marine energy maintain the sector could emulate the cost reductions experienced by the offshore wind industry following more than a decade of consistent support from the government. They also argue that tidal energy can deliver power predictably, helping to avoid the grid integration challenges faced by variable forms of renewables.

The letter urges the government to include new policies to support wave and tidal stream technologies in its forthcoming Energy White Paper. Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat MPs who signed the letter suggest reforming the CfD system so that marine technologies compete among themselves for government-backed power contracts could allow the sector to scale up while driving competition and reducing costs. Full story.

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