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Development of Radiation Resilient Ultrasonic Sensors (RRUS)

The goal of the Innovate UK RRUS project, partnered with Precision Acoustic Ltd, University of Sheffield and InnoTec UK was to develop the construction techniques required to manufacture an ultrasonic (UT) sensor for use on nuclear waste containers. These sensors would be deployed and expected to operate continuously without human interaction for between 3 and 20 years, depending on radiation level.


The annual exposure limit for radiation workers is 10mSv[1]; a full body dose of between 2.5Sv and 3.0Sv will result in a death rate of approximately 50% within 30 days, assuming no medical treatment.

Radioactive nuclear waste is categorised as high, intermediate and low level (HLW, ILW and LLW respectively). The contact dose rate for HLW and ILW containers is ≤3.5MGy/yr and 88Gy/yr respectively. For a radiation resilient sensor to operate for three years on a HLW container it must be capable of withstanding ≈10MGy equating to over 20 years on a ILW or LLW container.


Prototype radiation resilient transducer
Prototype radiation resilient transducer


TWI performed a literature review to identify radiation resilient piezo-ceramics  together with methods of joining these crystals to a front wear plate. Trials were undertaken to assess the joining of the different material combinations identified, and the assemblies manufactured were tested in a gamma radiation environment to assess their radiation resilience.

The assemblies remained operational after exposure to ≈12MGy of radiation. Various design options and cabling solutions were investigated to develop an ultrasonic transducer; when the assemblies were incorporated into the prototype they were found to function well.


Ultimately, TWI was able to develop and manufacture an ultrasonic transducer that remained functional after a total radiation dose of ≈12MGy.


[1] The standard SI unit for radiation dose is Gray (Gy) and the factored for unit for biological interaction is Sieverts (Sv). For gamma radiation 1 Gy = 1 Sv.
Ultrasonic response post irradiation (≈12MGy) (76mm calibration block)
Ultrasonic response post irradiation (≈12MGy) (76mm calibration block)
Avatar Dr James H Kern Senior Project Leader, Non-Destructive Testing, Integrity Management Group

James joined TWI in 2014 and worked in the Specialist Materials and Joining group running research projects and industrial programmes related to brazing (similar and dissimilar materials), diffusion bonding and joint characterisation. In 2017 he moved to the NDT section where he manages multi-disciplinary teams in both UK and EU-funded collaborative projects. Previously, James worked as the Chief Material Scientist for APPH (now Heroux Devtech), prior to which he was an advanced technologist at Rolls Royce where he controlled the hot forming process at their Bankfield site and then specialising in non-destructive testing supporting the Ghyll Brow site. He has also worked as a fire investigator and site/lab based metallurgist, overseen multiple failure investigations, and interpreted British and international standards to allow bespoke testing of materials and structures.

James graduated from Sheffield University with a B.Eng. (Hons) in Engineering Materials where he also later obtained a PhD in ‘The processing and properties of amorphous alloy wire and its use in Tyre Reinforcement’.

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