There are 4.9m tonnes of legacy nuclear waste in the UK, some of it dating back to the 1950s. Dealing with this using current technologies will take 120 years, cost around £234 billion and require technicians in air-fed suits to enter radioactive areas one million times. The National Centre for Nuclear Robotics (NCNR) is advancing state of the art navigation, sensing, autonomy and human-machine interaction technologies as part of a world-leading programme designed to put human, societal and ethical values front and centre of Britain’s nuclear clean-up task. The £42 million Centre is led by the University of Birmingham, based at its new Extreme Robotics Lab, in partnership with the universities of Bristol, Lancaster, Edinburgh, Essex, Lincoln, Plymouth, the University of the West of England and Queen Mary University of London. Professor Rustam Stolkin, director of the NCNR, says: “Part of the reason why we have the legacy waste problem that a lot of other European countries don’t is because a lot of the early reactors were, sadly, for creating weapons material to go into nuclear bombs. “But the UK pioneered the peaceful use of nuclear energy too, we built the first industrial grade civil nuclear power station for providing electricity.” The NCNR’s co-director, Professor Tom Scott, adds: “We basically tried all the different flavours of nuclear technology that you can think of, using all the different materials you can think of. Because we were the first to do this in a race with the Americans, French and Russians, all the first reactors were basically prototypes. They weren’t designed with decommissioning or waste management in mind and so the challenges of decommissioning and waste management were an afterthought.
Eureka 7th June 2019 read more »