AI nuclear

Game Changers projects aim to solve glovebox challenge

Game Changer nuclear innovation

Gloveboxes pose a unique challenge for Sellafield Ltd and it’s another that the Game Changer process has been called upon in the search for solutions.

As part of the decommissioning programme at the nuclear site, gloveboxes, historically used for research, development and fuel fabrication, need to be dismantled. There are around 700 gloveboxes at Sellafield, some of them up to 60 years old.

They are generally cuboid and the size varies from one to several cubic metres. A glovebox can generally be thought of as a sealed, ventilated container generally comprising a steel frame and panels made from metal or polymers such as Perspex. Gauntlets fit and seal into existing 6” glove ports allowing operators to put their hands in and work on hazardous materials inside the gloveboxes.

Problems associated with the ageing gloveboxes include:

  • Manoeuvrability due to limited access and complex machinery that may be housed within
  • Poor visibility caused by degradation of viewing windows
  • Poor or disconnected lighting
  • Further reduced visibility can be caused by the presence of radiation shielding on the outside of some of the gloveboxes

Gloveboxes may also contain unknown sharp objects which could pose a dismantling danger. These objects could be very simple in nature, for example exposed wire, cropped cables or sharp pipework. 

Through Game Changers, Sellafield issued two challenges designed to help explore technologies enabling the analysis of glovebox contents.

Two of the organisations who successfully stepped up to the challenges were Leicester University and i3D Robotics.

A Leicester University team, headed by Dr Sarah Bugby, achieved Game Changers funding to develop Gamma Optical Video Imaging (GOVI). Based on medical imaging technology originally developed by the Universities of Nottingham and Leicester, GOVI combines optical and gamma imaging to produce a real-time display of the area being scanned.

GOVI can provide the operator with an image showing location, size, shape and relative activity of gamma emitting materials. The design of the camera used means it can be used in video mode, constantly updating images as the camera is moved, removing the need for post-processing.

university nuclear innovation

Now at Loughborough University, Sarah has continued to work with Sellafield and Game Changers to identify the adaptations needed of the original medical technology. Her team are now producing a Proof of Concept device they plan to demonstrate live at Sellafield in an active glovebox trial.

GOVI technology is “postable” through a standard 6-inch glove port, it delivers simultaneous, co-aligned gamma and optical images, provides real time imaging and delivers high spatial resolution.

i3D Robotics (i3dr) have refined intelligent imaging techniques to identify objects in gloveboxes. Based on space technology adapted for terrestrial purposes, i3dr worked with Game Changers, the National Nuclear Laboratory and Sellafield to develop a new 3D imaging system that combines high-resolution imaging with machine learning to identify potentially sharp objects.

AI nuclear

This new generation of imaging systems can produce a 3D map of an environment and can be merged with other sensors capable of highlighting radiation and potentially harmful chemicals. The systems form part of a new imaging toolkit designed to produce safer working conditions.

The information produced can be displayed using VR. It can provide a valuable tool to protect operators in a range of applications, including glovebox decommissioning. It can also be used to monitor the condition of an asset. We shared some of our insights few months ago regarding VR that you can read here.

As with the Loughborough researchers, the i3dr team is also focused on the Proof of Concept stage of their project and will demonstrate their technology to a range of glovebox operators from Sellafield in an inactive deployment later this year.


Independent associate focussed on business analysis and development in the nuclear industry. CEO, Master Brewer at inTechBrew

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