The Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) is a competition run by Innovate UK, in conjunction with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), Sellafield Ltd and Magnox Ltd, to engage relevant organisations and bodies to develop autonomous tools to sort and segregate radioactive waste generated by nuclear waste decommissioning.
Clifton Photonics, as part of a consortium led by Cavendish Nuclear Ltd, have successfully completed the feasibility study phase of the competition and has been selected to move into Phase 2 of the challenge. We are now working on prototype development and testing of the proposed solution, OptiSort.
Significant quantities of legacy waste exist across the nuclear industry, with nearly 5 million tonnes of new waste yet to be produced from future decommissioning activities.
At present, waste items are manually inspected and sorted by operators wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves, coveralls, and air-fed suits. This is labour intensive and reliant on individual operator experience and knowledge. The process also secondary waste in the form of single-use PPE.
Nuclear waste sorting needs to transition towards automation in the same way that domestic waste sorting was revolutionised.
Due to the unique problems of working with radioactive materials, novel techniques and methods need to be developed. We are supporting our project partners by developing an autonomous materials analysis toolkit to identify waste items from their elemental and chemical characteristics.
The waste materials are a mixture of intermediate level (ILW) and low-level waste (LLW); however, unsorted waste is all classed as ILW which is 50 times more expensive to dispose of than LLW but only represents 3% of the material.
OptiSort will ensure that disposal can be done in a more cost-effective way, increasing productivity whilst reducing the need for human intervention.
For further information on the project please see the Cavendish Nuclear Ltd Press Release Cavendish Nuclear Recognised as Innovators in Waste Sorting and Segregation