Robot navigates Dounreay evaporator cell

05 September 2023

Spot, a robotic quadruped, has completed a trial at the Dounreay site in Scotland, UK, where it successfully navigated an evaporator cell in the Fuel Cycle Area that has been shut off for 25 years.

Spot at Dounreay (Image: Dounreay)

Described as a "mobile agile robot", Spot - developed by Boston Dynamics - negotiated pitch-black conditions and several flights of stairs to complete this latest challenge.

At Dounreay its mission was two-fold; to map out the four-storey cell, collecting important radiological data for the team to use when planning the decommissioning of the facility; and to gain useful experience on how the robot and survey equipment should be used.

The site joiners constructed a wooden mock-up of the evaporator cell entrance and temporary containment in a clean area to test the abilities of the robot and train the operators who would support Spot, before the work moved into the evaporator cell.

Swathed in its protective suit, once inside the evaporator cell the robot collected data to give the team a complete three-dimensional map of the area. It also collected radiological data to create a full dosimetry map showing areas of higher radioactivity, which will enable the team to develop a radiological fingerprint.

"By doing the initial groundwork, Spot has shown us the hazards that might affect workers who are tasked with the decommissioning," said Dounreay Project Manager Bernie Jones. "We will use the data to ensure that we mitigate those hazards and keep our people safe. This work also has the potential to save money on our decommissioning investigation."

"Over the course of five days, we deployed two Spots in multiple entries to the cell," noted Will Newsom, Energy Managing Director of Createc Ltd, the systems integrator for Spot. "The environment we were exploring was complex as it had not been accessed in over 20 years, so the team didn't know what to expect: that's what made the deployment so challenging.

"Using our innovative NV-Explore sensor, the team captured 3D radiation maps. At the same time, one Spot with a robotic arm was used to take several physical samples for lab analysis."

Dounreay's Managing Director Mark Rouse added: "I am really proud that Dounreay is pushing the boundaries of what existing technologies can do and in so doing opening up innovative pathways for the future that will keep our staff even more safe and improve our effectiveness at cleaning up this site."

In June, Dounreay Site Restoration Limited and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority announced they had partnered with Createc to launch an innovative twelve-month programme of work, taking on seven different remote robotic sensing projects, across five different Dounreay teams. The projects - which span security, planning, environmental and safety use cases - all involve the deployment of Spot.

Over the course of twelve months, Dounreay will systematically validate the suitability of several different types of sensors, combined with Spot, to support the digitalisation of existing on-site processes. The use cases will demonstrate the multi-tasking value of the quadruped for nuclear sites, and its ability to carry out practical work for multiple teams.

Dounreay was the UK's centre for experimental fast breeder research and development from 1954 until 1994.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News