Five projects have been awarded up to £1.5 million to develop prototype robots to develop new ways of tackling some of Sellafield’s most radioactive hotspots.
A search was launched last year by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and government agency Innovate UK to find new technology which could be used in decommissioning.
A shortlist of 15 was drawn up and the five successful consortia, led by Createc Ltd, Nuvia, Wood, Cavendish Nuclear and Barrnon Ltd, will develop prototypes to use in radioactive environments.
The winning project – or projects – could be put to work at Sellafield’s Thorp plant and Magnox reprocessing plant, which are both due to close by 2020.
Melanie Brownridge, the NDA’s head of technology, said: "We were all incredibly excited by the quality and diversity of the submissions, which came from established nuclear organisations as well as industries, such as space and defence sectors, working with us for the first time."
It meant extra funding could be found, increasing the pot from £3m to £8.5m.
Ideas include robots from large industrial giants to small ant-like devices that can work collectively and easily be replaced in the event of a break-down.
One of the auto-mapping systems was developed for use in missions to Mars and will be adapted to scan the interior of a radioactive cell.
Some projects will immerse operatives in a virtual world, where they will intuitively be able to control robots and equipment as if they were actually inside the cells.
After the first series of trials over the next 18 months, those with potential could progress to more rigorous trials in a radioactive environment.
Approval from the nuclear regulators will be required before the integrated system can be deployed at Sellafield or other NDA sites.
Ms Brownridge said: "We’re hopeful that a number may be successful, and could be used in various different situations at our sites as well as in other hazardous scenarios, both here and overseas."
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