NNL stresses nuclear industry's need to innovate

18 May 2018

Innovation through collaboration was the key message of NNL SciTec 2018, the annual event hosted by the UK National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) and held this week in Liverpool, England. That message, delivered by NNL Chief Science and Technology Officer Andrew Sherry, reflected the challenges he says the industry faces.

NNL's Andrew Sherry speaking at SciTec 2018 (Image: NNL)

While the oil, gas and offshore wind sectors are investing heavily in the future of their industries, the UK nuclear sector is on course to lose significant assets as its fleet of advanced gas cooled reactors is to start closing within the next five years, Sherry told conference delegates. Disruptive change is needed, he said, adding this could only be achieved by collaborating more widely and broadening the nuclear industry's supply chain.

Innovation, digital, collaboration zones

With this focus on broadening the supply chain, several companies working within the nuclear sector for the first time demonstrated how their technologies could be adapted for and applied to the nuclear industry.

SME Cryoroc showed how its ceramic paste techniques could replace grout as a solution for waste storage. If adopted, this could halve the storage space required and halve the cost in the process, NNL said.

Heatric, the energy arm of Meggitt engineering group, showed how design changes to waste containers could reduce the unit costs. Accumulatively this could save tens of millions of pounds at sites like Sellafield, NNL said.

The theme of collaboration continued with experts in digitisation from various industries talking through how technologies, such as digital twinning and additive manufacturing, are making a big difference in their sectors.

Martin Lewis, from the University of Liverpool, also explained how, during its involvement in the design of Beijing's Bird's Nest Stadium for the 2008 Olympics, his team took inspiration from technologies developed by the aerospace industry.

NNL said CINDe (Centre for Innovative Nuclear Decommissioning) - a project it is working on jointly with Selafield Ltd - is a showcase of collaboration in action. The initiative is an opportunity for PhD students from the universities of Manchester, Liverpool, Lancaster and Cumbria to carry out their research within NNL's Workington Laboratory. The centre delivers a five-way benefit, NNL says, enabling students to work in industry, bringing academia closer to the nuclear sector, identifying promising themes for NNL's long-term research and helping to develop novel solutions for Sellafield.

"It's a fantastic way to nurture the next generation of talent," NNL said.

Tek Talks

In the Tek Talk zone, delegates heard from the next generation of nuclear experts, who are pioneering new areas of science, engineering and technology. Attendees were able to hear how NNL has been able to map hydrogen atoms at an atomic scale for the first time, and how this technology could be used to extend the lifespan of nuclear fuels.

Speakers also highlighted how nuclear energy is helping to fuel missions to Mars and how plutonium recycled from used nuclear fuel could be viewed as "energy in the bank" rather than as a hazardous waste, NNL said.

Among closing speeches at the event, Mark Bew, chairman of the Professional Construction Strategies Group, emphasised the need to increase productivity in the UK. He appealed to delegates to be more transparent - with due respect to regulatory concerns - to facilitate greater collaboration.

Guest speaker Sarah Lennon, from the US Department of Energy, also expressed her wish to see change within the industry. She outlined a commitment in the USA to include nuclear in the "clean energy conversation", alongside renewables, NNL said, and to push forward with small modular reactors by 2026.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News