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Underwater laser cutting

Connect no.172

Last year TWI reported results of a project supported by the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to demonstrate the potential of high power lasers for concrete scabbling and pipe cutting during the Waste Management conference in Phoenix and the European Nuclear conference in Barcelona.

As a consequence of the interest generated within in the industry, particularly with respect to the cutting results, TWI has now demonstrated an additional capability to cut thick section materials and also to cut underwater.


The latter capability has applications where items are either located in a submerged environment, such as a nuclear fuel storage pool or reactor vessel, or due to potential fire risk have to be submerged before cutting can take place. Options for use in off-shore decommissioning are also being investigated.

The laser cutting principle requires, in addition to the laser beam, a gas jet delivered concentric to the beam. TWI has used this gas jet to create a localised gaseous environment immediately adjacent to the steel surface being cut. In preliminary demonstrations, a steel plate 12mm thick, submerged under 300mm of water, has been cut at a speed of approximately 0.4m/min.

The photographs show the cutting in progress and the resulting cut edge TWI is now seeking to develop this technology to a stage where it can be operationally deployed and so is interested in discussing requirements with potential partner companies.

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