Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd. (DSRL) and the Robotics and Artificial Intelligence in Nuclear (RAIN) Hub, a consortium of universities led by the University of Manchester, are working together on the development of robots capable of accessing areas that are inaccessible or unsafe for humans to work in. The robots will be used to inspect and characterize Dounreay’s laboratories, buildings, and structures as the United Kingdom prepares to decontaminate and decommission the nuclear site.
Located on the Caithness coast in northern Scotland, the Dounreay site was the U.K.’s center for experimental fast breeder reactor research and development from 1954 until 1994. It comprises three shut down reactors and supporting facilities, including reprocessing plants, and a low-level radioactive waste facility. As a subsidiary of the U.K.’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, DSRL is responsible for the decommissioning and cleanup of Dounreay.
Meet Lyra: In 2020, a group of engineers from RAIN brought a small, remotely operated vehicle equipped with sensors, cameras, and a manipulator arm to Dounreay. Initial trials in an inactive building provided useful information, and a limited survey in the laboratories took place last year.
As a result of this field research, a second-generation robot, named Lyra, was developed, with an improved package of surveying tools, including LIDAR, multiple-angle cameras, and radiation probes, and with the ability to take swabs using the manipulator arm.
In February, the robot was used to carry out a survey of the 459-foot-long duct that runs under the central corridor between the laboratories, providing useful information that will help solve the challenge of decommissioning it.
They said it: “Now the characterization survey is complete, we have built up a very comprehensive picture of the duct, which will help us make informed decisions on how the duct should be decommissioned,” said DSRL project manager Jason Simpson.
Barry Lennox, director of the RAIN Hub, added, “We wanted to demonstrate that the robot could be used successfully in active areas. We added fail-safe devices, including a remote ‘reboot’ switch, and a winch to enable us to physically retrieve the robot if it got stuck on the debris in the duct. The survey has demonstrated Lyra’s reliability in active areas.”