The NDA recognises the benefit of nurturing a culture that promotes creativity and understands the significant part innovation will play in delivering the NDA mission. Accordingly, it has invested in multi-year innovation programmes that will embed new approaches across the group.

Integrated Innovation in Nuclear Decommissioning

In early 2017, the Integrated Innovation in Nuclear Decommissioning (IIND) competition was launched. With £8.5 million of funding provided by the NDA, Innovate UK and BEIS it sought to foster collaborative innovation within the supply chain. Sellafield Limited provided end user input to help define the challenge, be part of the competition assessment process and offer further demonstration opportunities within radioactive environments. The competition was aimed at bringing radically different approaches to decommissioning.

Collaborative project teams were encouraged to develop and demonstrate innovative solutions for end-to-end decommissioning of reprocessing cells that were used for decades to manage spent nuclear fuel. The challenge was to access areas within facilities that have been sealed for a number of years, establish the nature of their contents, accurately measure radioactivity levels, deploy robotic equipment to cut up large items (including large vessels and pipework), segregate the waste and retrieve it for safe storage.

The objective was to develop a decommissioning toolkit of scalable, transferable and integrated solutions which would drive safer, faster and cheaper decommissioning.

The first stage of the competition identified 15 submissions with potential. Five were subsequently shortlisted, comprising almost 30 organisations including large corporations, academic institutions and small businesses, some of which were new to the nuclear sector. Each shortlisted demonstration project received up to £1.5 million and teams spent 2 years taking conceptual ideas from the drawing board to reality by building prototype demonstrators for testing in a simulated radioactive environment.

In 2019, following inactive demonstrations, 2 of the 5 were selected with a view to demonstrating their solutions in one of Sellafield’s radioactive facilities. The winning projects were highly innovative, integrating a range of technologies and capabilities that have the potential to enable a step change for nuclear decommissioning. As well as robots, all the solutions featured virtual reality, 3-dimensional imaging and autonomous navigation.

Potentially, they can be scaled up for larger challenges and transferred to different facilities at Sellafield, as well as other nuclear sites and non-nuclear hazardous environments.

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