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Cutting-edge technology for nuclear decommissioning

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07 September 2016
LaserSnake trials under way; image courtesy of Sellafield Ltd
Image courtesy Sellafield Ltd

TWI, OC Robotics, NNL, ULO Optics, and Laser Optical Engineering invite you to see results and demonstrations of LaserSnake2, a collaborative project to develop new snake-arm robot and laser cutting technology for confined nuclear spaces.

On 21 September, TWI and project partners will host a demonstration of the latest LaserSnake2 project developments at TWI’s Cambridge headquarters. As well as updates of the results from each project partner, there will be demonstrations using the snake-arm robot and a 10kW laser source. 

In addition, to show the range of future applications, other demonstrations will include a wall-climbing robot from London Southbank University cutting a vertically mounted steel plate, and a Brokk manipulator cutting an array of tubing. 

A demonstration of ‘handheld’ laser cutting will also take place, using a newly developed mini cutting pistol. This tool will help demonstrate recent innovations by Lasermet, regarding laser safety for handheld applications.

There is still time to register for the event

Project background

The research and development phases of the LaserSnake2 project are complete, and the project is now in its demonstration phase. This is formed of two components: 

  • An active demonstration of the LaserSnake technology, size-reducing a large dissolver vessel at the nuclear site at Sellafield, UK
  • A public demonstration of the technology at TWI on 21 September 2016.

For close to two years, the LaserSnake partners have been in discussion with staff from Sellafield about the capabilities of the technology developed in the project and how it might be applied, as a demonstration, in an active environment.   

This has required sourcing a suitable component to be cut, arranging access to it, and establishing the safety case for the work, as well as the logistics of bringing the necessary equipment on-site and making it operational in the field.  

Two possible components were identified by Sellafield, located in the first-generation fuel reprocessing plant: 

  • A set of reagent tanks
  • A large, dual-walled, stainless steel dissolver vessel. 

After careful consideration, the dissolver was selected, as its geometry and wall thickness were such that it was felt to be representative of many such components on-site requiring future size reduction.  

The dissolver, about 1300mm in diameter and 2900mm high, weighing about five tonnes, was partly dual-walled, with an outer skin of 12mm thickness and an inner skin of 32mm thickness separated by an air gap of 40mm. 

In the project, techniques had been developed for cutting this combination in a single pass, using 10kW of laser power. However, for the work at Sellafield, safety called for 5kW maximum laser power. As a result, techniques had to be found to first remove the outer skin, before cutting the thicker inner sections. During cutting the target weight for a part was 25kg. Other challenges involved cutting initial sections at angles not normal to the wall (thereby effectively increasing the thickness of the part being cut), so that the cut parts were released and fell under their own weight, rather than being trapped, unable to fall. The images show the new snake robot and laser in place outside the concrete cell in which the cutting took place. The cell wall at the point of entry was 1000mm thick. 

The LaserSnake2 project is jointly supported by Innovate UK, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). 

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