Our thoughts on the latest NDA RD&I report
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) is the UK governmental body with the mission to clean-up the 17 nuclear legacy sites across England, Wales, and Scotland safely, securely and cost-effectively. The most notable sites are the former MAGNOX generating stations, Sellafield and Dounreay. Today, we are going to discuss about the NDA RD&I report.
Every year, the NDA publishes their RD&I (Research, Development & Innovation) report. Englobing a large area of interest, this report gives an excellent overview of current technical trends in the UK nuclear decommissioning industry. Analysing this document can be useful to any company willing to enter this sector and can help them tailor their value proposition.
Every year, the NDA spends more than £90 million on RD&I. Working in partnership with government, regulators, communities around their sites and other stakeholders, the NDA offering involves about 60 industrial partners from the Nuclear sector and beyond (Oil&Gas, Aerospace and Construction).
How to tackle innovation in the nuclear industry
To reduce risk and hazard across its estate, the NDA clearly focuses RD&I on two important lines :
- Risk and hazard reduction across the NDA estate, in particular, the decommissioning of Legacy Ponds and Silos (LP&S) at Sellafield and waste management across a variety of sites;
- Collaborating across sectors for some fields such as infrastructure management, construction, robotics and digital to get the world-class best innovative solutions but also (and that is very important) develop a culture that nurtures innovation.
Clearly, when it comes to driving forward innovation and providing safer, faster and cheaper technological solutions, it is very interesting to notice how significant the NDA strategic approach to encourage innovation is transforming the whole nuclear decommissioning industry. For instance, learning from operational experience and innovation excellence from other industries by using shared learning and innovation communities.
Nurturing collaboration does bring good results as illustrated in the different case studies exposed in this 2020 report. Although some of the themes can be considered “traditional” across the industry (Hot Isostatic Pressing for Plutonium, stochastic Monte Carlo simulation, waste management, etc.), over the years, the NDA RD&I report has shown a growing interest in how remote operations and robotics will be key to the decommissioning efforts. Clearly, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) and ground robotic platforms will soon be the new norm for inspection and characterisation in extreme environments. And it does not stop there, from remote decommissioning of highly contaminated facilities (IIND competition) to ways to empty Magnox spent fuel ponds, you can sense that the nuclear industry in the UK is embracing robotics and that is a sign that the culture is definitively changing and that the acceptance of robotics on the shopfloor might be within reach.
The NDA Grand Challenges
Another interesting bit is the NDA Grand Challenges. No doubt we will see in the coming months and years associated sub-challenges in innovation platforms such as Innovate UK or GameChangers. Nevertheless, by reading the targets defined by the NDA for 2025 and 2030, you can also understand the trends for the industry.
The first one is in-situ characterisation. There is a strong push toward this approach to reduce costs and time. As any successful project needs to first clearly underpin as many parameters as possible to build an efficient strategy, in-situ characterisation is to be key to gather data quickly and safely.
Second of all, IIOT’s (Industrial Internet of Things) will play a significant role. Buildings in the future will be self-monitored, if not possible, monitoring will be done remotely.
Thirdly, removing humans from harm (focusing on remote decommissioning of gloveboxes) is clearly a theme demonstrating a growing interest and trust in robotics for those delicate missions.
Finally, something about data management with 3D virtual models (of all key sites by 2025) and remote data collection (by 2030) being put forward as essentials to decision-making to manage the estate more efficiently.
To conclude, as collaboration is key to nurture innovation communities, I do believe the capability to integrate technologies will be key to innovation success. New technological bricks and digitalisation will drive down the costs in an industry that has projects lasting a hundred years. Unsurprisingly, these innovation trends are not uncommon from those of others in othersome industries and countries. The challenges might be unique but their solutions can be transferred or adapted to others. It is also important to note that the work described in this RD&I report was completed before the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was truly felt (this report covers the April 2019-April 2020 period). In the midst of this unprecedented global event, it is clear that the longer-term consequences are far from clear and its impact on RD&I difficult to measure.
All in all, keeping an eye on the broader scene is essential and may be even more while we are all affected by a rapidly evolving pandemic. These are some of the reasons Axel and I have decided to offer, every month, a selection of innovative technologies that are aligned with the NDA’s Grand Challenges but also of interest to anyone within the nuclear scene.
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