Robots, Drones and Artificial Intelligence for Advanced Decommissioning and Environmental Remediation

The IAEA has selected five best entries of the crowdsourcing challenge that sought original concepts or project outlines for advancing the decommissioning of nuclear facilities or environmental remediation of radiologically contaminated sites. Three of them focused on decommissioning and two on environmental remediation, ranging from characterization toolkits, through instruments for on‑field measurements and collecting 3D radiation data to robots and artificial intelligence. The young people who submitted them come from all over the world and share the same enthusiasm for novel approaches and strategies to make the work in these fields safer, faster and more cost‑effective.

“I have developed a device capable of imaging the radioactivity contaminating the various surfaces such as floors, walls or apparatus encountered in facilities that are being dismantled,” said Sylvain Leblond, a research engineer at the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA). “It will provide a huge help to investigate residual contamination on site and to proceed toward a proper remediation of any contaminated facility.”

Effective management of decommissioning and environmental remediation is vital to the sustainability of nuclear power, in terms of managing liability related to the protection of health and the environment.

Although many nuclear power reactors are undergoing life extensions, considerable decommissioning work as well as the related remediation activities is expected in the years to come. This will include decommissioning of power reactors, research reactors, other fuel cycle facilities, critical assemblies, accelerators and irradiation facilities. Environmental remediation is also needed for sites used in the past for activities involving nuclear research, uranium mining and milling and processing of naturally occurring radioactive materials.

“So far, measuring of contamination has been limited to a small area and was done manually. We want to make a robot that can be used to avoid potential radiation risks to staff,” said Zeni Anggraini from the National Nuclear Energy Agency of Indonesia (BATAN), whose team came up with a concept for a robot for mapping and monitoring of contaminated areas.

Ryo Yokoyama from the University of Tokyo in Japan developed an approach for estimating fuel debris distribution using the experiment and numerical techniques. “Due to severe environmental conditions at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the sampling activity or extracting a part of fuel debris from the reactor is a critical issue. Through the experiment and numerical simulation which can consider the Fukushima Daiichi condition, the fuel debris can be gradually identified, which can help its retrieval,” said Yokoyama.

Both decommissioning and environmental remediation are complex undertakings that can last for many years from the point when a facility is shut down and used for different purpose.

“There is continuous improvement in both decommissioning and environmental remediation, thanks to both proven and new technologies,” said Vladimir Michal, a decommissioning team leader at the IAEA who also coordinated the selection process. “However, there is also need for new ideas and fresh talent to implement them. It is important that young people are aware of many career options in this field and invited to education and training in these fields.” Crowdsourcing challenges like this one can help attract early career scientists and engineers to nuclear related disciplines.

As all proposals are focused on specific technical issues, they have significant potential to be practically used in decommissioning and remediation operations.

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