Dounreay's robotic collaboration has been recognized by Time magazine

Dounreay’s robotic collaboration has been recognized by Time magazine

The robot, known as Lyra, was used to examine ventilation ducts and radiological feedback. Human access to this area is currently impossible due to the size of the canal and radiation hazards.

It follows a 3-year collaboration between the Dounreay’s Fuel Cycle Area Shutdown Team (FCA), a consortium of universities led by Professor Barry Lennox of the University of Manchester, and knowledge transfer experts at FIS360, to pilot a small tracked robot at a nuclear facility.

In 2020, robotics specialists conducted preliminary experiments in an inactive building, which were followed by a limited scan inside a radioactively contaminated duct in FCA. As a result of this research, a second generation robot was developed, which improved the reliability of the original robot in a hazardous environment.

Between February and April this year, the robot carried out a follow-up scan of a radioactively contaminated floor channel that ran under the central corridor between the laboratories.

Commenting on this prestigious achievement, Dounreay Project Director Jason Simpson said:

We’re so glad Lyra is recognized in this way. At Dounreay we are always looking for technology that will help us off site and remotely operated vehicles like Lyra are ideal for areas too small or polluted for people to reach. The survey provided us with the necessary information to inform us of the way in which we are going to be able to turn off that area.

Barry Lennox added:

The experiments at Dounreay have been incredibly beneficial and not just for Lyra’s development. There are plenty of reports describing that robots will change how aging nuclear facilities are decommissioned but there are still very few detailed case studies.

The deployment of Lyra has shown many people in the nuclear industry that robots can be used to solve real nuclear challenges, and provided evidence that there can be significant cost savings and reductions in human inputs into hazardous environments.

For Lyra specifically, the experiments at Dounreay helped us advance the technology and allowed us to prove that it works in a truly dangerous environment.

Dr Ian Darby, Director of Innovation at Dounreay, said:

The UK is at the forefront of pioneering the use of robotics in challenging environments. The experimental nature of many of our sites now have redundant facilities meaning that clean-up and demolition require innovation as well as extreme care. I am delighted to see the delivery team’s achievements being recognized by Time and is a great example of what can be achieved when some of the UK’s leading specialists collaborate to tackle real world problems.

Dr Kate Canning, Head of Research and Development at the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, said:

This was a win-win, bringing together a group of partners to develop a solution that benefits everyone involved. The Dounreay site team was able to really focus on an ideal solution to the challenge, and the Manchester researchers brought their knowledge and experience around the site’s complex constraints to develop a technical solution to the problem. Advancing innovation and using new technologies is vital in helping us carry out our mission of safely and securely cleaning and decommissioning the nation’s oldest nuclear sites.

The work was supported by funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council through the Nuclear Program’s Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Program and the National Nuclear User Facility for Hot Robots.

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