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Leading robotics research aims to address UK’s legacy nuclear decommissioning challenges

Researchers at the Surrey Technology for Autonomous Systems and Robotics (STAR) lab at the University of Surrey are starting a joint project in collaboration with Sellafield Ltd and the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) looking at the use of autonomous robots in the nuclear decommissioning process.

The STAR Lab at the University of Surrey is at the frontier of industrial robotics research, which could greatly improve the nuclear decommissioning process with the use of high-performing visual imaging systems, as outlined in a recent research paper in collaboration with the Sellafield Ltd and the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL). 

The STAR Lab is currently embarking on a new project jointly funded by the UK Nuclear Industry and Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)’s Impact Acceleration Account in order to lift the scientific research to the maturity required for industrial deployment and tackle nuclear waste reduction. The new project called ‘Automated Robot Waste Processing’ will take innovative research produced from  the 4-year EPSRC-funded "Reconfigurable Autonomy" project (in collaboration with University of Liverpool and Sheffield) and apply it to demonstrate robotic systems autonomously recognising, manipulating, and storing items of decommissioning waste.

The introduction of autonomous robotics to this area promises much greater efficiency and reliability for organisations and governments.

Professor Yang Gao, who leads the Surrey team, said: “This piece of research has the potential to shape the future development of the use of autonomous robotics in the field of nuclear decommissioning. It highlights the inefficiencies in the current decommissioning process and provides valuable solutions as to what can be done to streamline the decommissioning process with the use of high performing visual imaging systems.

With the support of all its industrial and academic partners, the project will also create the opportunity for efficiency savings by implementing this process across relevant Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s sites while the R&D costs are leveraged by technology transfer and collaboration with other sectors like the consumer and industrial waste processing and recycling.

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